We are living in unprecedented times. Millions of people across the world are in lockdown, experiencing the removal of our usual freedoms that we take for granted, in particular the ability to move about and spend time where and with whom we choose.
For most of us, lockdown means that we need to work from home. WFH is the new acronym, not in common use before March this year. Here are some tips on how to WFH well, preserving our own sanity and the welfare of those we share our confinement with.
- Sort your tech set-up. This is hopefully facilitated by taking home some kit from your normal place of work. For your home office you will somehow have to find space at home (using bedrooms, attics, the garden shed). Some creative desk ideas we know of include buying a cheap picnic table from Amazon; re-purposing an old toy cabinet with make-shift planking to create a standing desk; and use of the ironing board (with the built-in advantage of height adjustment). Home office set-up may also require buying higher rate internet access to cope with the temporary increased demand at home.
- So you have the physical ability to WFH. Now the negotiation begins with other family members to enable work with a reasonable degree of productivity. This includes deciding who has access to the best office space for which period of time. I recently experienced a team member dialling in from his bathroom “to restrict background noise” he said, omitting to mention the need to secure instant access to conveniences!
- For families with children WFH also means finding useful ways to occupy the children home from school, supervising schoolwork, devising creative play. This is not generally an issue of scarcity of ideas but rather overload and constitutes a management job in itself. Heard from one mother of a baby and toddler with WFH husband “There are so many virtual games, videos and online activities to engage my 3-year old that I would need a PA to sort it all out!”
- The next level in challenge is the mental one – how to find the discipline and stay focused at your “new workplace”. I count in the ranks of sole traders and small business owners who have worked from the Home Office for years, so am well-practiced in this domain. Not however to sharing precious set-up and space with other family members. I can offer time-management practices which work for me, what is key though is less about time-management and more self-management.
- Prioritisation – easy to say, much harder to do when surrounded by so many distractions. High on the pull list currently seems to be the sorting of cupboards and drawers, engaging in the kind of spring cleaning such as has rarely been experienced for decades. There’s a resemblance to the nesting syndrome that mothers will recognise when preparing for the arrival of a baby. My guess is that our current situation of uncertainty and loss of control over normal life releases a craving to create any order we possibly can, even if this only amounts to sorting the sock drawer!
- Reframing – whatever our situation, we can always choose how to view it. Our human tendency toward over-emphasizing the negative can run rampant now with so much to be miserable about. The bigger stretch is to “reframe” our interpretation of any situation. So I’m working from home and miss my colleagues and my desk, the buzz of being together and getting work done. I miss the ad hoc meetings, the coffee breaks, the mutual support when I need to ask a quick question and so the list goes on. On the other hand, I can appreciate how quiet it is here (fewer disturbances, easier to concentrate) or the ability to have more family chats over lunch, to work the hours that make most sense for me without being seen to be at/away from my desk. It helps to become clear about what you don’t miss (the daily commute, being distracted by time-wasters). And to count your blessings. What do you appreciate? The habit of writing a daily gratitude list is a very powerful one.
- The highest level of challenge in such times of turmoil is to grow our muscles of empathy and patience through emotional self-control. The key to doing so is the acceptance of what is, what I cannot change or influence and what adjustments I can reasonably make to improve the situation for myself and others. In any change there’s an opportunity for learning and renewal. Stretching a muscle in order to grow requires exercise and some discomfort – whether in sport or emotionally. So in feeling the pain, we acknowledge the opportunity to develop and are reminded to focus on the smallest things that make a difference and to employ the techniques that we know work.
Stop when you notice inner negativity like stress, anxiety, anger or frustration and
Take a deep breath.
Observe what you are thinking / feeling / reacting to. Tune in and sit with whatever is coming up for a few minutes.
Perspective: consider the bigger picture. Objectively consider what is really going on here. Is my truth the only truth?
Proceed. Practice what works, by choosing the best thing you can do next, for yourself/others/the situation. Take one small step at a time.
- Acknowledge that working virtually non-stop is exhausting. We may be saving time from the commute or office distractions but through the nature of virtual work, we’re automatically working harder to connect inter-personally. This is especially the case when WFH is new to us. And in addition to our work, socializing has gone online too. Despite the wonders of modern technology, we are less able to project warmth and trust or to correctly interpret emotion from a screen. Much less so from an audio call. Even if we’re not aware of it, we will be more tired at the end of an hour’s virtual meeting than the same meeting face to face. We need to acknowledge this when booking back to back sessions and plan in more short breaks.
Tip: Define 50-minute work slots (for meetings or focus work) allowing for more short breaks. Build in space, stretch your legs, say something kind to the cat – do whatever works for you!
It is likely that post-Covid working will contain a higher virtual element to sustain some of the benefits it brings (less congestion, pollution etc). The lessons you are forced to learn now can stand you in good stead for the long term.
So note the benefits of virtual versus co-located working and be ready to import those learnings back into the workplace when WFH is a choice rather than a mandate.
Keep safe and Good Luck!
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