Over the last few months, those of us, who have the privilege of a job that enables remote working, have seen working from home become our new reality. For some, such as my team, remote working is standard operating procedure, and thus, we have an abundance of remote employees. For others, adapting to this new reality of remote working is one of several new workplace challenges and will require a steep learning curve. According to recent research, employees inexperienced in remote working are more likely to find it difficult to communicate and collaborate.
If you are new to it, a quick search will yield lots of articles out there with tips on being productive while working from home, but while these tips are valuable, and worth trying, they are not a panacea for remote employees new and old.
Figure out what works best for you
Do not feel you have to shoehorn yourself into a working for home routine that works for the majority. Everyone's personal makeup, home situation, preferences, and work context are different. Use trial and error to find out what helps you be productive.
Since you do not have to go to your workplace, unless you have specific service hours or time-constrained commitments, such as meetings, you should work when you are at your most productive. Trust your body's biorhythms.
Productivity is undoubtedly important. But even those of us who are pros at this working from home malarkey, and have been doing it effectively for decades, have had to adapt to the changing landscape brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. For instance, data suggests that nearly 13 percent of even experienced remote workers are struggling to stay productive during the pandemic. Of course, this number is higher for newly remote workers—25 percent—who feel working from home has negatively affected their productivity.
While the challenges are different for those of us who live on our own to the ones faced by people sharing their living space with family or housemates, working from home is a very different proposition when your choices are reduced by (more or less, depending on where you are) enforced confinement.
So, I am not going to go on about how to be productive while working from home. Instead, I am going to share some insights on how to stay sane and feel connected and supported while working remotely.
I am lucky to work with a wonderfully supportive team who understand the power of digital communication tools, the importance of staying connected and having regular check ins, and of prioritizing wellbeing over productivity. In one survey, nearly 27 percent of respondents reported that loneliness was their biggest struggle with working remotely.
Staying connected throughout the day is important, not just with your work colleagues, but also with family and friends. You can use digital communication and remote collaboration tools such as Teams, Slack, WhatsApp, Zoom, or FaceTime, to name a few, to stay connected, using chat/instant message, as well as voice and video calling.
Reach out to deal with the downs
Most of us are feeling heightened levels of stress and anxiety; a good way to deal with those feelings is to voice and share them with others who are in the same situation—a safety valve that we should not underestimate. A call for help is not a sign of weakness.
Recreate helpful workplace routines
Having a semblance of normality also helps. ‘Normal’ workplace routines, such as water cooler chats and having lunch with your work colleagues, are part of the fabric that makes us more than a bunch of people working for the same employer.
You can effectively recreate these social aspects of work with your working-from-home colleagues by scheduling regular morning tea and/or lunch break video calls, to talk about last night's episode of your favorite series, or your efforts at growing your own sourdough starter, or your kid's latest antics.
Empathize with others
Do not feel guilty if you need to take time to check on family, neighbors and friends who are on lockdown or self-isolating. Reaching out to them will help alleviate any worries you may have over their welfare, as well as their sense of isolation.
Set workspace boundaries
If you share your living space with family or housemates, you may need to manage different challenges when working from home. Having a private workspace is not always feasible, and this can create added stress and anxiety.
If you are able to listen to music while you work, your headphones are your best friend if you have to share space with others during the working day.
Negotiating a consensus on a set of agreed principles about the use of shared spaces during 'normal' work hours (for example, no TV in the living room during standard working hours), will help, but may not be realistic if you have children at home.
Learn to blend work and childcare
On the subject of children, now that schools are closing, most parents will need to dedicate some of their working day to looking after them. Again, do not feel guilty about this— it is all about managing priorities.
If both you and your partner work from home, working out a (flexible) schedule for personal time with the children during the day would be a sensible way to go, so you can both be productive and responsive to the children's needs.
Let's face it, going by some of the posts on social media, having some personal time away from the kids will probably be an essential component of parents' mental health hygiene in the weeks to come.
Hold on to those life-saving habits
Don't forget, when working from home it can be easy to let your routine slip. Regular meals, hydration, housekeeping, exercise and leisure activities are important. If you find yourself slipping on these, especially if you live by yourself, set up self-care check-ins with a colleague, friend or family member. Or set reminders on your phone.
And if you manage a dispersed team, whether it is standard working practice or enforced by the pandemic, your first priority should be supporting your team members through this period with empathy and compassion.
Yes, work still needs to be done, but this is a marathon, not a sprint, and the emotional toll of the pandemic on your teams cannot be overestimated.