COVID 19 Survival Guide: 5 Ways To Work Effectively from Home
There are a great number of advantages to working from home. Perhaps we even thought about working from home as “the holy grail” prior to lockdown. For some people the flexibility and independence can feel freeing as you now have more autonomy of your time and schedule. It can provide us with the opportunity to individualize our work schedule and allow for more time to rest and exercise at points throughout the day that suit us. Working from home we can avoid the daily commute, reduce workplace distractions, and can more easily fulfill our family care responsibilities.
There are however also a number of challenges to working from home. These include loneliness, fewer opportunities for information sharing and communication, loss of creativity, and the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life. Loneliness in particular can be challenging as it erodes the social bonds that are necessary for good teamwork and can leave staff feeling less motivated and ultimately less productive.
Of course, some jobs are better suited to remote working than others. Yet, despite our vocation, at this time we find ourselves trying to fit into this new mould and making our roles work remotely.
There are a number of simple and easy things that you can do to increase your own productivity and focus whilst working from home. Here are my top five….
1. Create a Workspace
If you don’t have a home office, and lets be honest most of us didn’t buy our houses with this in mind, do what you can to create one. Whilst working from your bed in your pyjamas may sound enticing it won’t help you to feel focused or productive. Make your office space comfortable and attractive. Think carefully about what you need in order to do your job from home, this may include double monitors or something less tangible than that such as good light quality. How can you try to create this is your new space? Designing a specific place to work not only reduce distractions and improves productivity, but it also serves as an important signal to yourself, and those you are living with, that you are now at work. It creates boundaries and signals to those around you that your focus is now on work and you do not wish to be disturbed. Importantly, when you’re not in your dedicated work space, it signals to yourself and others that you are available and allows you to switch off too.
2. Maintain a Routine
Routines and habits calm our nervous system and help us to feel safe and content. Recently one of our most significant routines has been suddenly and unexpectedly disrupted and as a result we are likely to be feeling several emotions including helplessness, despair, anger and frustration. In order to calm our nervous system we can create new routines at home.
In some ways you have more control over your day to day now than you ever have before and you can create a day and a routine that works for who you are and what you need. Getting up and going to bed around a similar time each day helps to maintain our sleep-wake cycle. Try to stick to some of the healthier habits that you have been engaging in for years, such as showering and dressing for the office. Going to work in your pyjamas may feel like a perk initially, but it will also erode your sense of wellbeing over time. If you don’t get dressed and out of bed in the morning your work day never really begins!
For those that are trying to juggle looking after children whilst working from home, routine is just as important for them as it is for you. It creates expectation and reassurance as well as engaging their own parasympathetic nervous systems, which in turn helps them to feel calm and more relaxed with these new changes.
3. Create Boundaries
A lack of psychological separation now exists between home and work and it is easy for the boundaries to become blurred. This can leave us feeling that there is little time or space to rest, relax or recharge as we are inclined to let our sense of obligation to work interrupt our family or free time. Research indicates that people who work from home log an average of four hours more time working than their office based counterparts. Therefore as we begin to associate our homes with our work, and vice versa, boundaries become an important source of psychological protection from burnout and overwork.
Try setting boundaries by having set working hours and communicating this to your team, as well as friends and family. This last point may seem slightly odd but when friends know that you are working from home they may be more likely to reach out, creating disruption and distraction during the work day, as well as blurring those boundaries. When people know and understand your avaiblity, and you are clear in communicating this, you create a positive expectation and boundary.
Another opportunity to create positive boundaries when working from home is in how you begin and end your work day. Without a boundary in place here it can make it difficult to both get into your work day and also to unplug after the day at the office is over. As your daily commute has effectively been cancelled you could compute the time it takes you to get to work and allocate it differently. For example, use the time to exercise, enjoy a morning coffee ritual, or meditate. These kind of healthy habits help to provide a psychological segue between work and home creating clearer boundaries as well as getting your mind ready for the day ahead, or hep you to wind down and back into your role at home once again.
4. Communication is Key
One of the greatest challenges in working remotely is feelings of loneliness and isolation. On a fundamental level communicating and maintaining relationships with your colleagues should be a priority. Communication is not just about setting clear expectations and boundaries with our teams, but also in staying connected and fostering that team spirit. If you are leading a team it is important to share information and update your team members regularly. It is easy for people to feel uneasy and psychologically unsafe when they are working remotely. We begin to make stories up in our minds, for example “I've not heard from my team lead all week, they must think I am being lazy. Maybe I am going to get fired?”. When we are working from home we don’t have the same opportunities to check out our negative automatic thoughts and can become stuck in our minds. Our once rational and logical brains becoming paranoid and anxious.
5. Practice Self Care
In the midst of juggling being an employee, a parent, an educator, a chef, a cleaner, a nurse, and almost everything else in between, taking care of our own needs can get lost. Working in the office lends itself fairly well to taking care of ourselves. It provides us with opportunities to talk to other people, to laugh and share stories and nurture our professional and social relationships. Our day is naturally broken up for us and taking breaks is often more intentional and easier. Movement is also built into our days when we are at the office in a way that is lacking when we are at home, something our fit-bits are all too happy to remind us of throughout the day. Practicing self care can help you to settle into your new routine and improve your wellbeing, however it is often overlooked when we are creating our new routines. So as you think through the structure of the days ahead remember to consider time to play, rest, connect and move. Disconnection from work, taking care of yourself, and meeting your own needs are an important component in order to feel refreshed and motivated.
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