Since the onset of the COVID19 pandemic, lifestyles have changed all around the world. A significant part of that change has been adapting from working in physical office spaces to telecommuting and working remotely.
What was once a perk is now a necessity to continue operations amid strictly enforced lockdowns and stay-at-home orders.
Adapting to change, quickly
While working from home can be an extremely fulfilling experience for some, it is not for everyone. Each individual has distinct preferences when it comes to choosing what they want to pursue and how they want to pursue it.
This article is for anyone who is currently adjusting to the current situation. Whether you own a business, manage a team or simply work within one, this post covers our top tips on how to overcome challenges like distractions and isolation and how to stay productive while working from home.
Setting the stage: Tips for employers
If you are an employer who is dealing with an overnight change in operations, we feel your pain. Even with employees occasionally being allowed to work from home, many employers find it difficult to ward off anxiety related to productivity and motivation.
It helps to remember that this is not a privilege or benefit that you have afforded your employees, but a measure to continue the business. Acknowledging this will help you empathise with employees as they, like you, find their footing during this uncertain time.
Trust is a two-way street. For your employees to earn your trust, you need to allow them the opportunity to prove themselves to you. The best way to do this is to openly discuss what you expect of them and then allow them space to do the right thing.
Most employees will appreciate the gesture and try to exceed expectations.
If you’ve hired the right talent, you’ll find that you don’t need to micro-manage them, remote or otherwise. Responsible employees know what is expected of them and will strive to deliver.
Weekly or bi-weekly catch-up calls and a well-defined task list can do wonders in driving up productivity. Managers aren’t caught up in checking on their teams every day, and employees get the flexibility to work according to their preferences without compromising on their output.
One thing we’ve learned from completely remote companies, like Buffer, HelpScout and Zapier, is that whether in the office or at home, the workspace matters. These companies offer varying budgets to their employees to either rent a co-working space or set up their home office.
Although these are ideas better reserved for the days of pre-social distancing and temporary lockdowns, a little logistical help can go a long way.
At this time, employees will inevitably incur costs that they wouldn’t otherwise. Consider reimbursing their internet bill or providing them with a fair budget to acquire any necessary office equipment for uninterrupted functioning.
Technology has come a long way in keeping us connected and keeping our data secure. Ensure all company data is being transmitted over secure connections. Next, choose the right productivity tools for internal and external processes.
For example, Google Suite’s Chat and Meet apps, among others, allow you to communicate with team members and with people outside your company. Asana is an excellent task-management tool that helps teams collaborate on different projects. The Zoho Suite offers several apps that range from communication platforms to project management, client management and business development.
There is no better time to reiterate what your company stands for than now. With the ensuing chaos and uncertainty, one thing that shouldn’t change is your long term vision of what makes your organisation what it is. Whether it’s your open-door policy or your culture of showing gratitude, you can continue to build your company culture even when you’re operating remotely.
One of the significant struggles that most remote employees face is isolation. Add a lockdown to that, and many people could practically be cut off from other humans altogether. In such times, any form of social interaction is welcome! Set up virtual coffee breaks, online treasure hunts or singing competitions. There are no rules as long as you’re encouraging no work talk.
Here’s how Infosys employees from India, the Philippines and Singapore collaborated remotely:
Working productively: Tips for remote team members
While working from home has many advantages, it does take some getting used to. A person’s home dynamics, role in the organisation and personality have a huge role to play. Someone who lives alone, may not be as easily distracted but may deal with a higher degree of isolation. Employees in positions that demand higher engagement with other team members may feel less socially isolated but may have a harder time communicating effectively over a purely text-based medium.
If you have recently transitioned to working remotely, here are some tips:
If you are fortunate enough to be working with a company that gives you space and flexibility to grow, thank them by being honest at all times.
Ensure that your manager is aware of any changes in your schedule. Communicate if you need the time or help to adjust to your new work dynamic or if you’re caring for children, someone elderly or a family member affected by the coronavirus. Express the desire to find common ground to create a plan that works for all.
This one is tricky but essential. If you want to remain productive (and sane). Have a conversation with anyone you may be sharing your space with and help them understand your situation. This includes when you will be available and how household responsibilities should be divided during the workweek.
Now, this may be difficult if you have young kids around the house who simply can’t understand why you’d rather spend time with a computer than with them. Try to find overlapping time slots when you can budget in some family time.
Experiment with different schedules to see which one works best for you and your employer but make sure you consider the following:
Have definite working hours – try to start and end your day at the same time to maintain a work-life balance.
Plan your week – there are plenty of calendar tools to help you stay on track. Chart out your daily schedule so you can pace yourself and get things done on time.
Schedule meetings strategically – Let’s face it, we all tend to lose a bit of energy at some point in the day. Try scheduling your meetings when you feel least productive, like in the afternoons.
Even with more people becoming familiar with remote working, we’ve all had that awkward moment when a friend or family member has said: “Oh but you work from home, can’t you just slip out early for virtual drinks on Friday?”
Many people still fail to understand that just because your work location changes, it doesn’t mean the rules do too. It’s important to acknowledge that working from home can be just as demanding and mentally taxing as working from anywhere else. So at times, if you find yourself craving a creative break, don’t feel guilty about asking for a day off to rejuvenate.
One of the main advantages (we know there aren’t many) of a daily commute is that it helps you create a divide between your home and work environment.
While we’ve all been guilty of occasionally rolling out of bed and over to the desk, it’s a practice best avoided. Firstly, try your best to have a designated work area that is separate from your bedroom so that you don’t associate sleep, leisure and relaxation with work.
Try to engage in a neutral activity before and after work. Perhaps you could continue to listen to your favourite podcast that you would on your daily commute or do your subway crossword puzzle – anything that helps you create a boundary between your workday and your personal life.
Just like it is essential to take a day off now and then, it is important to budget in time during every workday for any breaks you’d like to take. Do continue to interact with other people in your house like you would in the office but stay wary of how much time you’re spending away from your desk.
Being forced to stay indoors is challenging for most individuals. You may find yourself drastically reducing the amount of energy you expend and yet feeling sluggish. Light physical exercise, healthy eating and engaging in meaningful activities will help.
There are several online apps available for at-home workouts, yoga and meditation. You could also try your hand cooking, baking, or even a bit of gardening if the weather permits. Alternatively, explore the possibility of learning a new language or picking up a new skill via an online course.
And the world continues to remain equally divided on this one! Just like it’s beneficial to separate your work environment from areas in your house that you associate with leisure, it helps to step out of pyjamas, which most people associate with sleep, and into something that helps you feel a little more productive.
There’s no place like home
Whether you’re an employer or an employee, remember that staying at home is the most vital step you can take at this time to regain some amount of normalcy eventually. If you’re not classified as a key or essential worker, if you’re not unemployed and if you’re not unwell, you’re better off than millions of people struggling through this pandemic.
Simply follow some of the basic steps outlined above, stay consistent in your approach and remember, we’re all in this together.