Working from home is rapidly becoming the new normal. For many of us, this new world of carrying out the day job from the kitchen table is a strange one. Remote working, self-isolation – these are terms that semantically at least are only one step away from loneliness and disconnection – particularly when our choice over where and how we work has been taken away.
So what can we do to make the best of this new landscape in the world of business? What is it important to keep in mind and how can we make sure that our performance isn’t limited, just because our movements are?
The joy of today’s technology means that even for the most technophobic among us, it is possible to connect with other people from the comfort of the sofa. There are loads of tools out there that support virtual meetings (e.g. Microsoft Teams, Skype, Zoom) as well as apps that enable us to speak face to face with other people. Keep in mind what happens when our ability to communicate is in some way limited – real communication is not just the words we say, but how we say it. This includes our tone of voice, our pitch, facial expressions, eye contact, use of pauses, gestures etc etc. Many of these are out of scope when we rely solely on email or messaging platforms (there’s a good reason emojis were invented ). So the risk here is that unless we make additional effort to connect – using the tools available to us – misunderstandings and unintended consequences abound.
It’s not enough for us to use our working from home time to diligently answer emails and attend conference calls and virtual meetings. In face to face situations, research shows that a major value add is what might be termed ‘filler’ contact. These are the niceties at the start of the day, the small talk at the coffee machine, the chance to make eye contact with someone to communicate your support for a decision, sharing a joke in the boardroom. With remote working, opportunities for deep, human connection within a business setting are far fewer. What this means is that our options for building rapport with stakeholders, with our clients and our teams are reduced. So too then are our opportunities to create the levels of understanding and trust needed to persuade and influence others in challenging times. Put additional energy into and attention on those you work with during this time. Take an interest. Ask questions, pick up the phone to talk, even when it’s not business critical. It’s time well spent.
No distractions, fewer meetings – a chance to focus in a way that you could only do if you had stayed late at work! So make the most of it. Carve out time to read that article you know is of interest, but you haven’t ever had chance to look at. Put your mind to the strategy paper that needs more than a cursory glance. Make the most of this time out of the daily grind and the commute to think smart, think future. Let your mind wander and see where it goes. A new working environment – and particularly one in which you have space to be creative can be extremely rich in terms of generating new ideas and getting things done
Research indicates that working in sessions of about 90 minutes puts us in tune with our natural ‘ultradian rhythm’. Tests carried out at Florida’s State University, by Professor K Anders Ericsson, show that working in these short, concerted bursts and taking time out in between sessions has a significant impact on our overall rates of productivity. Our brains like breaks. We grow from changing up what we are doing and giving ourselves time out. Go for a walk, make a hot drink, focus on a domestic task, meditate, read a newspaper, grab a snack. Whatever it is that constitutes a break away from your desk is as valuable as the time you spend at it. (And your back will thank you too!)
Reward yourself for a job well done and switch off when the day is done. It’s often tempting to carry on working into the evenings when we work from home and many regular remote workers report that they find it hard to call it day. There’s a clear boundary between the physical space of the office and our homes, and we need to recreate that psychologically speaking when we are at home. Set mindset boundaries and hold yourself accountable to them. If you able to shut the door on your work in your home office, then do so. If not, pack up the laptop and move it off the kitchen table. For many of us, the commute between work and home represents an opportunity to unwind and decompress from the busy-ness and the business of the day. You may want to develop some muscle memory around this when you are working at home. Something which signals, ‘that’s it, I’ve clocked off’. Maybe have a shower, put the PJS on, play a particular song. Whatever it is, if you do it most days, you will quickly come to associate this new logging off ritual with the end of the day and with a virtual – and well earned – pat on the back.