Are you working from home? Or do you know someone who is? Work-from-home became the buzzword of 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic which took the world by surprise. Employers were forced to reimagine business models, instituting the new norm of working from home, or rather remote working, in compliance with heightened safety regulations that mandated reduced social interactions.
While remote work was an idea born from the pandemic, it is an idea likely to stay. The circumstances merely kickstarted and accelerated a digital transformation of the workplace that was bound to occur. In fact, work-from-home became a permanent reality for Twitter employees last year as the company announced that remote work would remain as an option for employees even after the pandemic. A closer prediction of the future of work would probably be that of a hybrid nature — with both physical and remote work, as supported by the analysis of the McKinsey Global Institute. Regardless, what it signifies is that remote work will be here to stay, so let us share how we can navigate these new waters.
I’m sure many of us rejoiced when the news of remote work first broke as it sketched a future of us doing work in our pyjamas and waking up 5 minutes before work, with the elimination of the hour-long commute to work. It meant a future whereby we could be our own boss, which is a dream-come-true for many of us! Aside from our personal gains, there are practical benefits to remote work that can be reaped. In a study conducted by scholars from the University of Minnesota and Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2016, employees are happier and less prone to burnout and stress in the remote work setting as compared to their counterparts in the physical workplace. What’s more, the greater autonomy granted to remote workers facilitated the attainment of work-life balance. With all these benefits, it seems as if work-from-home is the holy grail of the working world. However, these benefits are only possible if we are confident in navigating the nuances of this novel work arrangement, straying from the norm of being physically present in order to perform a job. Here are some tips that we have collated to beat the humdrum and achieve the most out of work-from-home!
Set a work routine
One of the greatest bonuses of remote work is the flexible schedule entailed, allowing employees to plan their own time. Given this, I’m sure that it will be tempting for many of us to dawdle and only start on work when we feel ready — which could be 9 am in the morning for some and reach till 1pm in the afternoon for us late risers! While this may not be an issue in the short run, ultimately, it only serves to prolong our working hours as we end up working till late to finish the same amount of things and deter productivity.
Instead, what we can do is to set a regular schedule, even during our work-from-home days. Simulate the office hours and set aside a fixed period of time that you wish to dedicate to work. In deciding this block of time, experiment and pick a time when you are the most productive, allowing you to make the best use of your time. This schedule does not need to be fixed and can differ on each day, but make it a habit to communicate with your bosses and colleagues to keep them apprised of your updated schedule so that they would know when to contact you for work enquiries.
While maintaining a regular schedule, be sure to intersperse work with short breaks! Breaks have been proven to be handy in taking the stress away from the pressure at work and helping employees recharge for better focus subsequently. In fact, a survey by Tork revealed that breaks are positively associated with productivity, creating a better workplace. In the physical workplace, we have our stipulated lunch breaks and to add on, the small chats and water-cooler conversations all serve as a reprieve from work. When working-from-home, these privileges are removed and employees could be inclined to skip these breaks in order to complete their work earlier. Hence, we should inject regular breaks throughout the day even when working from home, making it a point to take a pause from the frenzy of work. The breaks do not have to be elaborate; it could be as simple as browsing the social media platforms, watching a short video or even playing one round of your favourite game — Candy Crush or Call of Duty, whatever is up your alley!
Most of all, keep track of your working hours and make a mental note to end on time. Prior to the institution of remote working, we could leave our responsibilities at the workplace and there is a clear segregation between work and our personal lives. But, now, by bringing the work into our homes, we risk the encroachment of work into our personal time as we extend work beyond the stipulated hours. Hence, beware of falling into this trap and end work punctually even if you have not completed your work.
Instill productive practices in your working from home routine
On the other end of the spectrum, away from your office and colleagues, it could be easy to lose focus and be distracted from your tasks. This is exacerbated by the lack of supervision, which eliminates the sense of urgency that comes with being at work physically.
One major source of distraction is our smartphones. With tantalising games, buzzing social media platforms and more embedded in a single device, it is inevitable that we find it hard to pluck ourselves away from the mobile. However, this forms an issue when we let this entertainment device distract us from our daily tasks at work. As a matter of fact, a survey done by the Universities of Würzburg and Nottingham Trent revealed that employees are 26% more productive without their mobile phones.
Aside from the mobile phones, other distractions such as the television, the easy access to the kitchen and the comfort of our beds, are presented to us when we work from home. At home, these distractions are amplified, making it a challenge to devote our attention to our work tasks.
To counter this, we can start by laying down ground rules in our work-from-home routine. Identify the areas of distraction and seek to isolate yourself from it. For instance, if I find myself being easily distracted by the mobile, I can throw it to a corner and only use it during the breaks. By distancing ourselves from these distractions, we compel ourselves to stay focused on the work tasks.
In an attempt to further motivate ourselves for a day of work at home, it is useful to start the day by creating a list of tasks that we seek to accomplish. Not only does this instill purpose in the work day, it provides a sense of accomplishment when we manage to fulfil these tasks.
To end off, a pro tip given by veterans of remote working is to dress up at home, just as if you were going for work. Often, people feel lethargic when they work from home due to the fact that they work in their pyjamas and it does not put them in the right mood to start work. Instead, by dressing up for work as per the usual practice, it sends the appropriate signals to their mind and sets the right mindset to start work, overcoming the inertia that many remote workers do.
Set up a comfortable work environment
For a smooth working experience at home, it is pivotal to set up a comfortable work environment. At the office, there are desks, laptops and utilities geared to facilitate work. Other than setting the right tone for a day of work, they allow us to work with ease, without worrying about the lack of space or equipment.
At home, we should strive to do the same and set up a ‘mini home office’! Should there be a lack of space, it would suffice to simply segregate an area, such as the counter, for yourself. Bring in the necessary equipment, such as the computers and request equipment from the company if need be. Additionally, one of the most important steps is to invest in a cozy chair with good back support as we will be spending long hours working on the chair. A comfortable chair will help avoid back pains in the future but even if you have a good chair, don’t forget to get up regularly for a stretch! Lastly, we should make it a point to communicate with our family members to give us the space we need during the scheduled hours and to avoid any interruptions.
In the present day, work-from-home equates one thing — Zoom. Instead of having physical meetings, companies have adopted teleconferencing as a solution, relying on the trusty platform Zoom. Over the past year, it is not uncommon to hear recounts of remote workers having to partake in almost 8 hours of Zoom meetings and having to face the computer the whole day. If one is new to this, it could be overwhelming and the long hours on Zoom and on the computer might be mentally draining, subjecting the employee to burnout.
To avoid this, you should make time for yourself to rest amidst the flurry of work. After a day of working at home, get outside and have a fresh breath of air. Take a walk in the park and enjoy the scenery instead of being cooped up at home. This breaks the monotony of working from home and gives you a nice reprieve.
Other than that, make use of the time freed up from the commute to and fro work to do things that you like. It could be a yoga or even a baking session; do something that you enjoy to help clear up your mind from the stresses of work.
Utilize the remote working opportunity well and gauge your limits. If you ever feel overwhelmed, don’t be afraid to raise the issue to your superiors and request for a break from work. A short break can make a big difference in avoiding burnout in the long run.
To conclude, working from home can be a breeze if you want it so follow these tips today and make your own remote working experience a fun and meaningful one!