Whilst the world has been plunged into a “new normal,” this “normal” has been my way of working for quite some time. I’ve been lucky enough to work remotely from Italy, the UK and Germany and have learnt the “skill” of remote working along the way!
There is plenty of evidence to support an increase in productivity as a result of working remotely, and the tools which have been developed as well as the existence of “remote first” companies are evidence that there is indeed massive value and a general rise in remote working globally.
Whilst this is an uncertain and scary time for the world – I believe the good to be taken from it is that companies will be forced to deal with the future of work and will be able to explore the potential that remote work holds for them.
The first time I tried remote work, it actually came close to being a disaster!
It’s true! I totally overwhelmed myself. I really battled to switch off, and always had my email connected to my cellphone. My colleagues and I weren’t using Slack yet, so we used Whatsapp as our main communication tool. I also felt guilty that I wasn’t in the office, and felt I needed to compensate for my lack of physical presence.
The fact that remote work didn’t work for me the first time meant that the next time I tried it, I approached it with huge caution, discipline and rules. I mentioned above that remote working is a “skill” and I think this is important – we need to place a big focus on setting rules and boundaries and considering very carefully how we will approach this “new” style of work.
Rule #1: Separate work and personal communication channels
Keep communication channels about work as separate as you can from personal communication channels. Having email and work related WhatsApp’s on my cellphone meant that in non-allocated work times, I was alert and hyper aware to work related issues.
This was anxiety inducing as I was never fully able to “switch off” from the work issues when I had other responsibilities. It’s critical to be able to separate the communication channels. I also think that when you go back to the communication, you are able to respond much more rationally and effectively. If you are “always on,” you aren’t able to “zoom out” on issues and you become hyper aware. This isn’t actually good for anyone.
This brings me to Rule #2. If you are going to keep your communication channels separate, you need to also keep your physical working and relaxing space separate as well.
Rule #2: Create a separate workspace
In the current circumstances, it’s obviously not possible to frequent interesting coffee shops and workspaces – so no one is going to become the next Instagram digital nomad influencer, however it’s extremely important to create a designated work area which will stimulate and inspire you. Advertising Agency, BBDO, has emphasized this and has launched a microsite named: BBDOYOURHOME.COM which lets staff brand their homes as official agency offices.
The value and importance of creating a special, designated work area is that you once again don’t blur the lines between home and work, but also so that your body knows to go into “work mode” once you are in your designated area. I find I am far less inclined to look at my cellphone and procrastinate once I’m in my working area. Also – try keep your cellphone very far away from this area – especially if you’ve followed rule #1 and have created separate communication channels whereby you have all your work communication on your computer.
Lastly, use the time to work OUTSIDE if you have the means to do so – set up your work area on your patio, if you can! Fresh air could do wonders for your creativity.
Rule #3: Trust yourself
This is really important!
Often, when you aren’t in the office, you feel like you need to compensate for NOT being in the office and you end up working MORE. Please trust yourself. You are probably being far more productive than you are in the office. It’s very easy to overwork especially if you don’t create a separate work area and don’t keep communicate channels separate. You may see messages from work pop up whilst you are about to sit down to watch tv in the evening, and because home is now your “office”, you may want to respond. Consider that your response may actually be fresher and more thought out in the morning. Hyper awareness and an “always on” mentality isn’t great for rational and objective thinking.
Rule #4: Plan your time
I used to commute about 1.5 hours a day, and then had this 1.5h as extra time when I worked remotely. This meant I was able to take longer breaks at midday, which actually improved the quality of my afternoon work.
When I was in England, I used to use my “lunch” break to walk around 3-5km a day. During these long walks, I was able to clarify thoughts about work and come up with new ideas. I’ve often found that I create ideas on what to do whilst I am on a “break” and then when I sit down to work, I implement these ideas, rather than sitting at my desk trying to be creative and solve problems.
Consider doing something in the middle of the day which will stimulate you and help you process your thoughts about your morning of work. Remember: you’re not getting the same social stimulation as you would from colleagues or work environment. This stimulation is important! You need to acknowledge this and make an effort to allocate time to stimulating your mind in a non-work way.
Being home bound means, you might not necessarily be able to walk around, but you could use the time to do YouTube Yoga, sit outside in the garden, read, listen to podcasts or learn a new language. When you sit back to work in the afternoon, you will feel far more refreshed and rejuvenated. You need to maintain downtime activities so that you keep your mind fresh.
The above rules are practical tips I’ve worked hard on implementing in my day to day routine. The outcome has been that I’ve come to reconsider the conventional term “work / life” balance. I tend to agree with Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos’s view. Bezos believes that instead of viewing “work” and “life” as a balancing act, it’s more productive to see them as two integrated parts. So much of our “life” IS our work, and with our work coming home with us now, it’s more important than ever to consider what role our work plays in our life. Does it stimulate us? Does it make us happy? If the world were ending, would we still choose this job?
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