How easy is it really to work from home?

work from home WID

According to Remote Working in South Africa 2020, a study conducted among 400 enterprises by World Wide Worx for Cisco, the shift to remote working has led to improved productivity for 29% of organisations.

Many employees have discovered numerous advantages from working at home during the Covid-19 pandemic, but that does not mean we should ignore the challenges. 

A few advantages are:

  • No commuting time: you can save hours every week by not having to commute. This is extra quality time you can spend with your loved ones.
  • More autonomy: remote work allows you to plan your time how you want. This increases your autonomy and encourages you to play an active role in project management. 
  • Greater flexibility: set up your work environment exactly to your taste. Even relocation is usually feasible as a remote worker.
  • Better work/life balance: often working from home means more proximity to loved ones, which is a huge plus, but you need to set boundaries to remain productive.

During this time we saw a rapid procession of novel technologies marched uninvited into our homes. We had to master Zoom meeting etiquette, compassionate email practices, navigate surveillance, juggle caring responsibilities and home exercise regimes. The list goes on.

But how easy is it really to work from home? How easy is it to stay focused, motivated and positive? Consider these tips for maintaining work-life balance and avoiding professional isolation while social distancing.

How to stay focused

  • Establish Boundaries. Staying focused can be tricky when working alongside partners, kids and pets. Keeping your work and personal life separate will help you stay positive. For example you may want to discuss your working hours and your need for space with the people sharing your home, but be sure to plan breaks to spend with your family.
  • Minimise distractions. Everyone gets distracted at times – and that’s ok! Eliminating distractions completely is unrealistic, but learning to minimise them is totally doable. The key is understanding what usually distracts you. For many of us, its mobile phone and social media notifications. One tip for avoiding mobile phone distractions is to simply leave the device in another room. If you do need to be by your phone, take a bit of time to turn off non-essential notifications in your app settings or set up a do-not-disturb mode where only important calls and notifications trigger an alert.
  • Break tasks up into parts. Large tasks can be daunting in any work environment. One simple but effective productivity hack is to break big tasks down into smaller ones and set a manageable deadline for each one. If a subtask will take longer than half an hour, try breaking up the task into 30-minute sprints. It’s much easier to power through these subtasks with regular breaks than fixate on the larger project.
  • Stick to your working hours. It is important to set a time for starting, pausing and ending the workday. Don’t plan any meeting or tasks outside the working hours you define. A regular rhythm can help the working week go a little quicker and boost your focus.
  • Give mindfulness breaks a try. Practices like yoga, meditation or mindfulness exercises have been shown to boost concentration levels. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s worth a try. If you are unsure how to get started, there are plenty of great beginner’s tutorials on YouTube and a whole host of meditation/mindfulness apps that walk you through step by step. 10-minute sessions are typically enough to have an effect, which makes it perfect for a small break from work. Afterwards, you may find yourself refreshed and ready to go.

How to stay Motivated

  • Create a schedule. Without a structured workday, time can get away from you. You might find that you start shifting your work days later and later as you sip an extra cup of coffee. Then, your work hours extend later into the evenings, which causes you to stay up later at night, as well. Or you might find that you easily get off track or distracted while working. And projects that used to take 20 minutes are suddenly lasting 2 hours. That’s why it’s important to have a clear schedule. 
  • Reward yourself. You might find you work best when you know there’s a little reward waiting for you. For example, tell yourself you can watch your favourite show if you get your work done by 6pm. Or tell yourself you can have a cup of your favorite tea as soon as you finish this report. A little incentive can often go a long way toward helping you get work done efficiently. And it’ll help you see what you’re capable of accomplishing.
  • Challenge yourself. Sometimes, a little challenge can help get you moving, too. For example, you might try to write a certain amount of words in 30 minutes. Once you see how many words you write in 30 minutes, you might try beating that during the next 30-minute time slot.
  • Practice self-care. You’ll never be at your best if you’re exhausted and running on caffeine and sugar only. You need a healthy diet, plenty of rest, regular physical movement and good self-care strategies to perform at your peak. Try to build them into your routine so that these good practices become habits!
  • Regulate your emotions. Research shows we tend to put off tasks that stir up uncomfortable emotions. For example, if you’re anxious about a medical appointment, you might not be motivated to call the doctor. Or, if you’re afraid studying will bring frustration, you might find yourself binge-watching Netflix instead. In these cases, the lack of motivation stems from your desire to avoid discomfort. And when you’re working from home, there are always plenty of opportunities to engage in something more fun than the work you’re supposed to be doing. So consider what emotions you’re trying to avoid feeling.  Acknowledging the emotion might make it feel less scary. Remind yourself that you can handle feeling uncomfortable. Additionally, remind yourself of how good you’ll feel when you get the project done, as opposed to how bad you’ll feel if you don’t do the work. This might remind you to take action regardless of whether you feel like it.

How to stay Positive

  • Embrace where you’re at. When times are tough, it’s natural to feel down. Everyone has negative emotions, and accepting – rather than resisting – them is one of the best ways to move through the feelings. Telling yourself that it’s normal to feel stressed while trying to balance remote work with the rest of your life takes the pressure off and enables you to see the brighter side of things as they come. In the same vein, let go of what you can’t change or control and focus on the little wins.
  • Practise gratitude. Research shows that cultivating gratitude in your daily life is one of the quickest paths to a positive, happy outlook. In one study, participants who wrote a few sentences a week for 10 weeks about things they were grateful for were more optimistic and felt better about their lives than those who wrote about what irritated them. Take time every day to end your workday by writing down what you’re thankful for. Maybe it’s a supportive boss or a flexible schedule — whatever it is, focusing on what you’re grateful for will have a positive impact
  • Get out of the house. When you work from the place you live, it’s easy to transition between your two roles without ever having to leave. But it’s important to vary your scenery to avoid feeling stuck, burned out, and generally dissatisfied with your lack of overall change from day-to-day. Getting out of the house doesn’t have to mean a big road trip — or any road trip! Simply walking around the block or visiting a local park can give your mental environment a much-needed refresh and help to create the breaks we are used to from our morning and evening commute. 
  • Make a home office your own. Having a workspace that you can call your own, and that is set up just how you want, can do wonders for your mental attitude. Working from home on the couch while the rest of your household goes about their days around you can make anyone feel the strain, so do what you can to find your own unique office space that sets the tone for a positive, productive workday. While you’re at it, decorate your workspace with things that make you happy – for example, your favourite plants or flowers, pictures of your family, and artwork can be uplifting.
  • Stay connected. Work is work, but to have meaningful relationships with your teammates, you need to connect with them on subjects other than work. Sure, you’ll have meetings and other means of working through projects with your team. But if you don’t make an effort to proactively connect with your colleagues when you’re working remotely, you could find yourself feeling lonely and isolated. Bonding with others and feeling like you’re part of a community is key for staying upbeat, so work on developing your work relationships remotely. Virtual meet-ups, instant messages, group chats, and other forms of remote communication can all help.

How can employers help?

With untold numbers of employees now working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic, employers are being asked to provide emotional support and counselling that can improve employees’ mental and emotional health. Guiding workers through difficulties using new technology can also reduce employees’ stress levels and help them feel more secure about working remotely for the first time.

Employers can therefore take these actions to help alleviate stress and boost productivity from home:

  • Administer small surveys frequently to gauge how your employees are feeling and identify shifts in attitude, so you can adjust communications plans accordingly.
  • Reach out to the entire company with communications on the situation and allow for real-time employee feedback.
  • Provide weekly guidance on key topics like self-care and staying safe
  • Call out relevant company resources such as an employee assistance program (EAP) or hotline
  • Tell the workforce what the company is doing, how you’re doing it and what is likely to happen next. Help them feel confident that any scenario has been accounted for.

Working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic requires patience, creativity and persistence. Keep experimenting to figure out what works best for you during this uncertain period.

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