Many more people are going to be working remotely / from home in the coming weeks and months, and whilst a lot of people do the odd day, it’s quite a different experience doing it full time.
I was due to run a session in London this week on the challenges of remote working and how to overcome them – with a team who do this as their normal operating model, so they’re already very good at it. That tells you a story already – it’s not as easy as it might at first sound. You have to work at it. I know this personally having switched 3 years ago from many years working in corporates (and very flexibly towards the end) to working for myself.
There are also a lot of misconceptions out there about what remote working is really like (and no, I don’t just watch TV all day as my daughter once suggested to me, to my horror!) The good news is there are many upsides too and there are ways to overcome the challenges. So, I wanted to share my thoughts on easing the transition…
1. Acknowledge the challenges – these vary person to person, but most people will experience some challenges. A lot of people find it lonely. It’s hard not being with colleagues every day when you’re used to it, especially those of us at the far end of the extrovert scale. And even more so when we’re going through something extraordinary – we want to connect and really miss the “water cooler” moments. Many find work and home blurring. I think this is a constant battle, even for those of us who have been doing this successfully for years. Even if you’re used to working flexibly, when your home becomes your office it’s harder. Looking after your own health and wellbeing can also get forgotten and there are of course different distractions (household jobs, deliveries, others at home…), the list goes on. The point is noticing what you’re finding challenging and acknowledging it is half the battle.
2. Define clear boundaries – if you take away no other tips from this, take this one. Start by asking yourself “what do you really care about?”. There are lots of upsides to remote working – fitting around exercise, school runs and so on. Build a routine that works for you. I would also encourage you to think about when you do your best work. For me it’s mornings and evenings (I get a second wind around 8pm). Not everyone does - but everyone has times that are better for them and the point is to make sure your routine reflects that where possible. Building on that, it can really help to block your time for different activities i.e. have time each day / week for emails, calls or virtual meetings, project work / creative thinking, admin etc.
3. Know yourself – ask yourself “how much interaction do you need?” Are you thrilled at the chance to get your head down with less distractions or are you already feeling nervous of being cut off? Be honest with yourself about what you need and plan your days / week around this.
4. Use technology – I used to challenge myself with “don’t email if you can call, don’t call if you can see someone face to face” – now I would amend that to “don’t call if you can FaceTime / Zoom / Skype…” you get the idea. It can make a real difference to how you’re feeling – as well as often being more productive and helping avoid any miscommunication. I am still surprised at how a Zoom call really can feel almost as good as a face to face and fill that need - and it is so easy to use - and no I’m not on commission :)
5. Get out and about – on the days I’m working from home I try and get out at least once a day for some fresh air and a change of scenery – even if it’s to run an errand I might have done on the way to or from the office before. Or better still and particularly for those of us who find ourselves starting work earlier, give yourself that time back in the middle of the day and get some exercise / take a walk / FaceTime friends or family.
6. Find others who feel like you do – there’s one thing guaranteed, if you’re struggling with this adjustment, you won’t be alone. Talk to your colleagues, and make time to just catch up, talk through challenges and bounce ideas off each other, like you would whilst making a cuppa. Sometimes that means making a more formal arrangement but not always – you can just pick up the phone, or ping someone a Zoom invite – it’s just a new habit to form and it does get easier.
7. Create a workspace – it really does help to have a dedicated workspace at home – and I realise this is easier for some than others, but even if it’s small, it will help your mindset - get yourself properly set up and importantly, make it a space you like to be in.
8. Set aside time for home admin – in the same way as blocking time for specific work tasks, do the same for home ones – don’t allow them to creep into your working day. For me, I only do washing at the weekend (fun girl huh!) and I try and get all “family admin” done one morning a week. That means anything I can plan for happens then, whether amazon or food deliveries, or someone fixing something (the joys of home ownership). Of course, it doesn’t always work perfectly, but it helps to block out time so that mentally the rest of the week is clear and when the next thing pops up you have time set aside to deal with it.
9. Build in transition time – consider putting 30 mins in the diary at the beginning and end of your working day to give you time to transition in and out of work. This is one I started personally to give me a buffer when I was on school drop off / pick up to try and minimise the stress but it’s actually a great tool I now use whenever I can to allow me to prepare for my day / decompress at the end and be ready for the next and it helps me make that transition and be more present in each.
Get all this right and you probably won’t ever want to look back! OK, I don’t mean everyone will work remotely, but I do believe that out of what is clearly an incredibly challenging time for us all we may find we come out the other side with a greater acceptance and understanding of the benefits of flexible working, for everyone, which will help us moving forward.