Are you one of the millions of people who have suddenly found themselves engaging in the world of online or remote work? We’re officially living in the age of social distancing, and that means more of us are going virtual than ever before. Working from home can be powerful and freeing, but it can be frustrating too. If you’ve found yourself down, frazzled or otherwise burnt-out with your new working circumstances — don’t despair. You can take charge and get productive again with a little perseverance and know how.
Don’t let the stark new professional realities hold you back from achieving the things you need to achieve. Take charge of your work-from-home routine and get back on track to scoring the wins that can help you feel as though you are still a part of it all. Though it seems the world has stopped turning…it hasn’t. Time marches on and so do we. You can allow yourself to get beat down, or you can take this new opportunity to learn more about yourself and your coworkers than you ever knew before. All it takes is getting creative and putting your nose to the grindstone.
When remote work isn’t what you imagined it to be.
It’s a strange time to be alive and it seems to be getting stranger by the day. Chiefly among the new changes we’re all experiencing is a new surge in the need to work from home. More people are working remotely than ever, but the reality of that can be quite shocking or anxiety-inducing when you aren’t used to it. Despite what we might think, working from home isn’t all pajamas and cuddly coffees. It’s hard work, and there’s a lot of distraction to overcome.
When you work from home, not only are you forced to deal with the normal pressures of a work day — you also have to deal with the pressures of your normal living environment. Working from home means working with kids and pets and partners in-tow. It also means keeping strange hours or working from strange equipment in strange places.
If you’re struggling to work from home, you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world are finding themselves taking a deep dive into the world of work-from-home, and many are struggling to make the jump between the physical work place and the virtual one. You can get pas the aggravation and get yourself back into productivity, but it takes willpower and it takes a lot of creativity. There’s no right or wrong way to stay focused. The only thing you can do wrong is to keep pursuing paths that don’t work.
The difficulties of making the switch to working from home.
While working from home seems rosy when we’re walking to a frigid bus stop, the reality of it is much different. If you’ve been confronted with a new work-from-home situation that is proving to be less than ideal, it’s usually because you’re dealing with distractions, a loss of edge, and so many other subtle frustrations that make it hard to function.
One of the biggest downsides of working from home is the number of distractions that environment provides. Our work environments are relatively sterile places, free from the major time-sucks that cause us to otherwise get off track or lose focus. When you’re working from home, however, kids, pets, partners, creature comforts (like Netflix, pajamas, junk food, and your couch) and even feelings of FOMO can run you right off track when you’re working at home, or attempting to maintain focus for more than just a moment or two.
Losing the edge
Because of the change in environment, and because of the shift in both priorities and expectations — you can find yourself feeling as though you’re losing your edge when it comes to remote work. Maybe you aren’t being asked to meet the same challenges and it’s having an effect on the way you think, respond or react to others around you. Perhaps you feel as though your skills are somehow going “soft”.
It can be hard to manage your time when working from home, especially when there are things like children in play. Time management (on the best of days) requires a great force of will, as well as tight-prioritization and uninterrupted focus. Instead of adhering to a boss who hovers over your shoulder, you have to become your own boss and figure out how you’re both going to manage yourself and do the work.
We’re all isolated right now, but that’s especially true for those who worked in large offices or tightly-knit work spaces. Your work family can become real family to you, and your co-workers can provide everything from a basic sounding board to real pillars of support in your outside life. When you’re used to going into work everyday to see the same people, it can make you feel especially isolated when you no longer have that to rely on. Loneliness is a common side-effect of working from home, but it’s also one of the most easily combatted too.
Frustrated work loads
When you’re working from home, brace yourself for greater distractions (sure) but you also have to prepare for greater frustration from time-to-time. You might notice more mistakes on your part, or even on the part of your team members. You might also notice a slip in communication or a slide in the normal chain of command. This can lead to frustrated work loads, and even more frustrated bosses and co-workers. Someone might lose their cool, and it might be you. Learn to accept it and let it go.
One of the benefits of having a workplace is often the equipment and tools they provide. Businesses can afford things like extra-flashy computers and top-of-the-line high speed internet. Those things aren’t always a possibility when it comes to making the leap to remote work. So we have to do our best and get on with things in the best possible manner that we can (despite the setbacks). Adjust. Ask for what you can. Make it work to the best of your ability.
The longer you work from home, the greater the blur can become between your work-life balance. When we work outside of the home, it’s easy enough to keep work at work and your personal life at home. When the occupy the same physical space, however? Well, that’s when the line between work and life starts to merge and you find yourself pushing boundaries and allowing your professional pressures spill over into your personal relationships.
How working remotely can actually improve your life.
Despite its challenges, there are a number of benefits from working remotely as well. From increased freedom to improved relationship and greater ability to save your money — working from home is a fantastic experience when you get serious about getting it right.
To an extent, you get more control and say so over what’s going on and how you handle your work day when you work from home. There’s no more small talk with Cathy over in Cubicle 2; there’s no looking over your back to make sure the boss doesn’t see you scrolling through Instagram. Your office can become what you want it to be, and you can get comfortable and be yourself more than you ever could around other people. There’s freedom in working from home, but you have to be willing to see it.
More financial security
We actually save money when we make the switch to working from home, and that can provide a great comfort when we’re lamenting the loss of that social aspect our workplaces provide. You save money on the constant trips back and forth, both in petrol costs and in the time you save getting ready and making the drive across town. Outside of that, you also save money on things like lunch, coffee and all those other little “excuse purchases” we often find ourselves making in any given day.
While it might seem contrary to our initial feelings about it, working remotely can actually go a long way to increase your focus. Our workplaces can provide a lot of distractions, and that comes in the form of co-workers and required activities (like meetings) which each into our time and productivity. At home, we have a lot more control over our environments, and we have a lot more control over when we work and how. When we tap into this, we can unlock powerful new avenues of focus that help us to work faster and more efficiently.
You might find that working remotely equates to big improvements in both your personal and professional relationships. When it comes to our friends from “the office”, the bonds we share can become fraught with tension as a result of our team projects or the tasks that get set out. When you have a little more distance (such as working remotely) however, it can improve the way you see one another and improve the way you communicate about the work that’s getting accomplished.
How to become a master of the work-from-home game.
Don’t let this new world of remote work get you down. If you’re struggling to get things done, or having a hard time tackling the tasks that are critical to your new routine, then get proactive about taking charge of the way you work. Find your productivity stride and stop letting the distractions get you down. Be creative and tap into your new remote work flow.
1. Stick to office etiquette
For those who are tipping their toes into the “work from home” waters for the first time, you might feel as though are falling through empty space. The structure that our professions provide can be a comfort, but they can also provide us with focus and direction. When we’re suddenly confronted with a day of only confronting ourselves (and our successes or failures) it can be helpful to play it as close to normal as possible, and that starts by sticking to the office etiquette.
Stick to the etiquette you would use in office, and try to adhere to the daily patterns that your brain (in work mode) is used to. For some, this might entail getting up, getting dressed and sitting down at the same time with a the same cup of coffee. For others, it might mean taking a video meeting and staying true to the normal look and etiquette you would use.
Try to trick your brain into looking at it’s current environment in the same way it looked at your previous physical work environment. Retain focus by making it easy for your brain to delineate between what is “work time” and what is “home time” by keeping true to the patterns and paths it’s used to walking every day (figuratively). If you’re used to getting up early and getting washed — do that. Don’t take this opportunity as one to let yourself (and your work) go to pot.
2. Get experimental with your productivity
Chances are, you spend so much time at work that you know the building in and out — as well as all the potential places you can find distraction or escape during the day. You’re more productive at work because there are fewer distractions and your productivity tools are easily to hand. At home, it’s a little more fluid, so one way to improve your remote work relationship is to get experimental with your productivity and the way you work.
Try working in different areas of the home. If you can, try switching up your schedule and complete tasks when you’re feeling more efficient and “up to it”. If getting dressed up and sitting at the kitchen table helps you breeze through your to-do’s, try that. If you work better in your bed, versus on the couch, go for that option instead.
There’s really no right or wrong way to go about testing out the productivity waters. If you think something sounds like a good idea, try it. If you think it’s going to prove too big of a distraction — don’t. There’s no hard-and-fast handbook on what you can do and what you can’t (except for any workbooks your company might provide). Experiment with working at different hours, or working in different rooms of your house. See what happens to your productivity after a nap, versus without one. The world is your oyster when you’re working from home. Try her out. See how she feels.
3. Connect with teammates outside of work
It’s tough to maintain a work relationship through the cold (and often hard to decipher) screen of a phone or computer. Many of us don’t know our team outside of the workplace, and that can make things even harder to stay civil, connected and focused on the same goal. One way to combat this is to start learning more about who your co-workers are outside of work…all through the safety of the internet and social distancing regulations.
If you’ve found yourself working on a large or expansive project, don’t just focus on work, work, work to get the details taken care of. Look to establish genuinely friendly relationships with your coworkers so you can maintain compassion and understanding though any inevitably tough times ahead.
Getting friendlier with your team doesn’t have to take up a lot of time, and it doesn’t have to infringe on your personal life. Don’t start sending friend requests and don’t worry about getting stuck in an endless Zoom loop. Start a private Facebook group and invite your friends to join. Likewise, Reddit and even Instagram have options that allow you to share photo and video privately, or with a group of select “friends”. If none of that is to your taste, consider setting up a “For Fun” channel in Slack, and fill it with ice-breakers that encourage everyone to interact.
4. Become a remote-work mortician
One of the best and greatest things we can do, when learning to work from home, is to become masters of the task-list post-mortem. When you’re making adjustments to the way you work it’s important to look back regularly to figure out what works and what doesn’t. A post-mortem provides just this opportunity, and also provides important insight on who we are as professionals, and what makes us tick (productivity-wise).
Get used to doing regular postmortems on your work patterns and how they are impacting key projects or tasks. At the end of each day, take 10–15 minutes to look back over your day. Take notes on what worked well, or what helped you get things done. Likewise, keep track of distractions or things that contributed to getting you off course.
In the greater scheme of things, doing these little check-ins can lead to greater revelations. Not only do daily post-mortems help us to uncover little details that equal big improvements, but the same can be said for bigger more expansive postmortems as well. For example, checking in on where you’re at professionally every 2 weeks or 2 months can help you keep on top of where you’re feeling and where you’re at within you career. Is it time to make a change? Is it time to finally branch out on you own? These are all things that can be realized in small, incremental improvement deep-dives.
5. Create your own accountability
Accountability is a big one when it comes to the remote working game. One of the reasons that we’re so much more productive in the office vs. our own homes is because we are so much more accountable at work. Your boss is there watching what you do; your co-workers are all around you, and ready to correct you if you step out of line or make a mistake. They hold you accountable, so you have to learn how to hold yourself accountable at home.
Get creative, and learn to rely on yourself and your own willpower when it comes to getting the job done. Time-box each task you have to accomplish by figuring out (ahead of time) how long each task is going to take. Use trackers and alarms, and block calendar out for work and breaks alike. Make task lists your best friend and check off things as you tackle them.
Start sharing your accomplishments with a friend or your coworkers daily on Slack or in another project management software tool like Trello, Freedcamp, etc. There’s no right or wrong way to go about setting up an accountability system for yourself, but it’s imperative that you do so that you don’t miss out on important deadlines, meetings or other professional opportunities that might be going on. Don’t wait until you’re behind and looking for some way out of the hole you’ve dug. Create your own accountability and stop waiting on other people to hold you responsible for the work you need to produce.
6. Get explicit on responsibilities
If you’re someone who happens to be working remotely with a team, it’s critical that you learn how to get explicit about details and what needs to be done. There’s no room for nebulousness when it comes to creating a remote team or interacting with your co-workers from home; you need to get clear on specifics each and every time, and stop skimping on the details when it comes to getting tasks completed with your team
If there’s a task that needs to be done, address the relevant team members outright, and don’t leave time or space for misunderstandings. Be as clear with them as you would with your partner or your children. Don’t talk down to them, but give them as much detail as you would want. Try to anticipate the questions they might ask, and then provide that information before they do.
Getting explicit about responsibilities makes it that much easier to get things done, and helps us to eliminate confrontation, disappointment or misunderstandings. When you’re this level with those around you, it encourages them to level with you — and give you the same level of attention and detail that you gave to them. Efficiency is everything when it comes to managing your new remote work life.
7. Maintain a routine
Above and beyond everything else, the best thing you can do for yourself when struggling with remote work, is to retain a routine of some sort. Even if there’s no set-and-fast meeting you have to attend or deadline you have to meet, set up a routine for yourself and get used to committing to your work in windows and by schedules. The more organized you get and regular you make your routine, the easier things will become.
Once you know when you’re most productive (and how) plot out tasks according to those times and in-sync with your best hours. Set realistic blocks for tasks, and prioritize them so that you can easily drop the less-important things when everything inevitably runs over.
Take it easy on yourself, but also don’t let yourself slip or push things back further than they need to be. Working remotely means, in a great sense, being your own boss. Develop that inner monologue with yourself, and treat yourself like “the boss” would. Demand more out of yourself, and demand respect to; for your work and the time you have to spend with your loved ones. Routines are the be-all and end-all when it comes to remote work. Create a routine that works for you using the tips above.
Putting it all together…
We’re living through strange times, and with that comes the new reality of remote work. Millions of people are dipping their toes into the remote work pool for the first time, and with it they are finding a number of unique frustrations that require unique and committed solutions.
If you’re new to the world of remote work, start by trying to keep to the office routines and etiquettes as much as possible. Get experimental with your productivity and try out new things that help you get the job done. If working from the kitchen table removes the distractions and lets you cut through that task-list with ease — then that’s where you need to work. There’s no right or wrong way to go about setting up a remote work routine that works for you. The only wrong thing to do is to keep beating your head against the wall in frustration. Pull back at the end of each day and do a post-mortem. Figure out what didn’t work, what did and what you want to change tomorrow. If you’re struggling with accountability, be that accountability buddy that you need. Utilize timers, block out your day and leave enough time for your work tasks and your personal tasks. Working from home brings great benefits, but it can be a challenge too. Create a remote work routine that works for you and stop struggling with you don’t have to.