Home Office has never been easier. Not only has it become socially acceptable but there are so many tools and tips going around to ease remote work and even help with free-time activities (check out this amazing collection). So what has the experience been like in the last few weeks? The answer is: diverse. While some have been happy about working without office distractions, others find it hard to concentrate at home.
Here are three common challenges and what we can do about them:
Nip distractions in the bud
Tom posted a great Cat in Homeoffice video that is a must-see. Oh and Ben just shared the recording from yesterday’s Zoom conference that I need to catch up on. Lisa sends a list of useful tools that we could try out before our next meeting. My kids have been on the tablet for a while, I’d better check up on them and help with some homework. Sounds familiar? Well, this is something that we have been doing long before Corona. Only may have become worse now that we’re at home, feeling scared of being disconnected from the rest of society or of missing something important.
Focusing is not an easy task. My students know this already before coming to my class and yet find it hard to keep the mobile phone away. So in my class, we work on strategies on how to reduce distractions. There are some useful apps that we try out like Forest and Focus To-Do. They help against procrastination by focusing on one task for a certain amount of time, usually 25 minutes and then making a conscious 5-minute break.
One thing that works well is to focus on your goals. It’s probably especially hard to keep things in perspective during these uncertain times. You can still consciously think about (short-term) goals: what do I want to accomplish by the end of the day/week/this period? Here I don’t just mean making daily to-do lists and prioritizing. Research suggests that making specific goals that are important to us increases commitment to action. These goals do not necessarily need to be easy and what better times than now to aspire to a difficult goal.
- think about what is important to you, how you can perhaps grow or learn a new skill. In one of my posts in German, I share links where you can do this. If you’re non-German speaking, LinkedIn is currently offering free courses related to remote working;
- focus on your children and help them organize and learn for school;
- liaise with colleagues and consider how you can help your organization in times of crisis.
Reminding yourself about the goals will make it easier to come back to your tasks without feeling guilty about the distractions.
Make the most of virtual tools
Have you caught yourself in answering e-mails as soon as they arrive? Or do you say yes to every video-conference invitation? This is perfectly fine, as we need to stay in touch and coordinate. But is this the normal routine? If you are someone who is quick to answer e-mails you can ignore this. But if you normally focus on a task and reply to e-mails when it suits your schedule, then the urge to be as quick as possible now is crisis-related.
Digitalization should not be about being constantly “available” or digitally “present” everywhere even if it makes no sense. The beauty of digitalization is its flexibility. We should use it to foster healthy working relationships and a real work-life balance.
- ask yourself: is this what I would also be doing in the office?
- schedule shorter meetings. Like in “real” life we usually schedule meetings for no less than 60 minutes. Although the topics have been exhausted people feel they need to keep the meeting going. I have the free version of Zoom and whenever I schedule a meeting it’s limited to 40 minutes. Due to the limited time, we brief each other quickly and coordinate effectively on the main action steps. As of recent, Zoom gives extra free minutes, but when done with work you could catch up on some small-talk.
- say NO to invitations. Work-related video meetings are part of the job, but you don’t have to meet colleagues virtually during your break. You can if you wish to, but it’s also perfectly fine to eat lunch alone, enjoying the digital silence.
Make sure your free time is really (digitally) free
When working from home it’s hard to make a strict dividing line between work and free time. This could have two effects. We either end up working longer hours for fear of “resting” too much or we are less productive because of letting too many distractions. In any way, both are not beneficial to our well-being and it is important to make clear boundaries.
Some of the most common suggestions relate to dress code, productive work hours or work space.
I have a few more suggestions:
- Ask yourself if this is a type of activity that you would also be doing in the office. If the answer is yes then you’re probably fine.
- If you’re feeling unproductive, just take 15 minutes off and do some exercise or just daydream. One advantage of homework is flexibility. So we don’t need to wait around until 5 o’clock and can build in official breaks throughout the day.
- Daydreams are known for their positive effects on our focus. Here is a good book on the subject: How We Learn.
- Digitally detox at the end of the day. This last one really worked for me. I realized that private video conferences or continued use of my digital devices for free time activities (reading news, playing games, etc.) can be exhausting. So I’m taking time every day and enjoying the sunny weather on my balcony. If you are not good at doing nothing, reading a book or playing a board game are also good alternatives.
Let me know how you’re surviving homeoffice. What are your strategies?
Have a good start of the new working week!