With the COVID-19 coronavirus now classified a pandemic, some workforces are being told to do their … [+]
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The likelihood that you’ll get to experience working remotely in 2020 just went up.
With the COVID-19 coronavirus now classified a pandemic, some workforces are being told to do their jobs from home to limit the spread of the virus.
But those who aren’t fully prepared for the change can encounter the downsides to working at home, which can include loneliness, feelings of disengagement, and reduced productivity.
Here are five ways first-time remote workers can stay positive and efficient, from doing a fake commute, to scheduling virtual ‘watercooler moments’.
Expect to encounter distractions
In the office, our co-workers are the biggest distraction. At home, it can be just anything, from the urgent need to clean out the refrigerator to the lure of the PS4 to a needy pet.
Expect to need military levels of discipline in order to focus. Set realistic goals at the beginning of each day, and share them with a manager or colleague to hold you accountable to completing them. Try working in short timed bursts of 25 to 45 minutes, followed by an enforced 10-minute break.
Those who find it a struggle to focus may find value in spending a few minutes each morning loading tasks into their calendars. Nir Eyal, author of Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life recommends a technique called “timeboxing”, which involves timetabling your day down to the half hour.
On his blog, Eyal explained: “The fact is, we perform better under constraints. Schedules give us a framework, while nothingness torments us with the tyranny of choice.”
Don’t fritter away your commute hours
An extra two hours in my day! The things I could do… Except you won’t do any of them without careful planning. Lay out your gym kit and water bottle the night before. There’s nothing like losing your shoes to convince yourself that going on that morning run is a terrible idea.
Some remote workers swear by a ‘fake commute’, walking, running or cycling to get some fresh air and sunlight before starting work, in a bid to boost productivity. This will also wake your mind and body up says Dr Michael Breus, The Sleep Doctor, who recommends getting at least 15 minutes of sunlight every morning to help regulate the production of melatonin, the sleep hormone. He said: “Your internal body clock (the circadian rhythm) runs on a 24-hour schedule and functions best when you are exposed to a regular pattern of light and dark.”
Schedule ‘watercooler moments’
When working from home, it can be really easy to go an entire day having only spoken to the mailman. Either arrange a coffee or lunch with another local home worker, or schedule short video calls with your colleagues with no other intention than to shoot the breeze.
Some 100% remote companies set up social Slack channels for this very reason, with themes spanning Netflix recommendations to recipe sharing. But what these channels don’t give you are the psychological benefits of real human connection. Video calls are the next best thing to meeting in person.
North Carolina based organizational psychologist Katy Caselli, founder of Building Giants, warns that workers who are used to collaboration, mutual brain picking and social lunches, can find the sudden transitioning to working at home lonely and isolating. She adds: “Energy becomes depleted for extroverts and introverts alike, leaving employees open to distractions, aimless web surfing and reading the same paragraph over and over.”
To help people stay productive, she suggests regular team check ins, perhaps in the format of an activity. She says: “This could be serious, like virtual brainstorming on a problem, or it could be light hearted, like a meme contest, joke of the day, or funny pet pictures.”
New environments can prevent remote workers from sinking into low-energy states, say experts
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Seek out new environments
Some home workers find solace in the comfort of routine, while others prefer localised nomadism. Once the latter group has exhausted the various home ‘workstations’ (bed, kitchen table, garden, sofa) they’ll seek new environments that best suit deep work. As long as there’s a fast internet connection, or a smartphone can be tethered, there is no reason (other than self-isolation) not to test different environments.
Caselli says finding the best spot to work in, such as a part of the house with the best view, or closest to the houseplants, offers novelty, which can prevent a person from sinking into a low-energy state. She adds:
“I’ve seen people participate in virtual meetings while sitting on the beach, near lakes and amongst trees. As long as Wi-Fi is there, work can happen. Companies should encourage employees to be safe yet creative as to how they get the work done.”
For those who can’t get out and about, try a sound effects app such as Noisli, which can recreate the sounds of your ideal working environment–such as the bustle of a coffee shop–at home.
Respect boundaries & structure
A 2017 study led by the University of Exeter Business School found that using an empowered style of leadership can be detrimental and create uncertainty and even chaos if used for workers who are doing non-creative tasks. For these employees, promoting good relationships between bosses and staff was likely to be a more effective way to make them more efficient than giving them autonomy, academics found.
With that in mind, managers should aim to have regular video catch ups with those they oversee to offer support and guidance and create accountability.