For a lot of us, we’ve now spent over half a year working from home. I think a lot of us started down this path with if not excitement, at least a sense of relief. The benefits of WFH are self-evident: spend more time with your family, save on commute time and costs, work from the comfort of your home in comfortable clothes, and schedule your day’s work according to what is most comfortable for you.
But has the reality of working from home been as effective as the benefits we thought would accrue? The ongoing COVID19 pandemic seems to be continuing much longer than expected with no clear end-dates in sight. Many companies have decided to extend WFH; some till the end of 2020, and many until mid-2021. We’ve even heard of companies that have decided to give up on office space completely and have employees working from home indefinitely. They’ve decided on weekly/monthly all-hands meetings at co-working locations. While there are major benefits to WFH, there are significant drawbacks too.
And the biggest of those drawbacks are feelings of isolation and loneliness. These feelings are not restricted to people who’ve started working remotely during the pandemic. It affects people who have worked from home for years, either full-time or part-time. This data from Buffer’s State of Remote Work 2020 report that 20% of remote workers suffer from loneliness and another 20% report issues with collaboration and communication. And an almost similar percentage (18), complain of “Not being able to unplug” from work. And these numbers are aggravated with more people working from home because of the pandemic.
Signs of loneliness
Perhaps you are feeling isolated and lonely or perhaps someone on your team is. The signs aren’t always easy to spot. These could include feeling like you don’t belong, that your work is not appreciated, that you are not understood. These kinds of feelings can cause people to become less productive at work, to lash out at meetings or withdraw from group activities. With the pandemic and social distancing guidelines still in place, it’s natural for people to long for experiences that we just can’t have in the near future.
Why is it becoming more common?
Most obviously, it is because more people are working from home. And have fewer chances to go out and have normal social experiences. Burnout is another big issue. When you go “out” to work, there is a definite separation between work and personal life. But when you are working remotely from your kitchen or dining table all day, that separation is lost. One outcome is that people are now working longer hours. Counter-intuitively, without the routine of going to and from work, it becomes harder to maintain work-life balance. 🙂
Tips for coping with working remotely
If you work as a manager of a team, then you really need to do double duty. Handling the issues of remote work for yourself and helping others on your team manage remote working issues. The remainder of this article covers both you as yourself and as a manager.
The big thing to remember is that there is no single way that works for everyone. Each person needs to do what is right for them. So here goes:
Tip # 1: Have a set routine
Set up a routine and practices that help re-create the structure that you’re normally used to. So start work at the same time everyday. If you have a workspace within your home, that automatically gives you a separation between work and personal space. If it helps, set up a 2-minute walk around the house, before you get in to work mode. That “commute” helps to set up context in your mind. If being properly dressed, helps you get into “work” mode, then definitely get dressed in work clothes.
One of the things that we’ve found useful is to have a quick team meeting every morning on Google Meet. That’s when we discuss things that need to get done during the day, any urgent customer issues that need to be solved and so on. But it also gives everyone a sense of structure to the day. And to make sure that we get together with the team at least once each day.
Make sure that you set up coffee break times and lunch breaks. If possible, use your break times to chat informally with colleagues. Or if it makes sense, use that time to catch up with what’s going on at home.
Using a time tracker like Time Tracker for Salesforce, can give you a great understanding of how your people are spending their time. If people are not taking enough breaks, or working too many hours, you’ll see that easily from the Time Tracker reports. That will help you identify and address those issues, before they become major problems.
Tip # 2: Balance your schedule for the day
The biggest perk of working remotely or WFH is the freedom and flexibility that it gives you to plan your day and work according to it. Not everyone is a 9-to-5 person. Schedule your work day and tasks, based on your own energy levels and interests. If early morning is your best, most interruption-free time and you are at your brightest, then schedule your most intense/creative/analytical work for that time. If afternoons are when you are most tired, then take a break at that time. Get some rest or do something else that you enjoy then. One of the best things about working from home is that you get to spend time with your family and kids. If you want to be available for play time with your kids, then schedule your work time around that.
Most importantly, keep your colleagues aware of your work times, so that they know when they can get ahold of you. Make sure that you schedule in group meetings and calls in to your day, but schedule the rest of your day around things that you may need to do. If you are a team leader or manager, empower your team members to set their own schedules and work your assignments around them.
At the beginning of the lockdown, many people set goals for weight loss, getting into better shape and so on. If you are sticking with those plans, more power to you. If you’ve been losing steam, then break into smaller activity chunks.
- Do some simple exercises at your desk
- Run up and down the stairs before your coffee breaks
- Walk around when you are on calls
- Make sure that you stand up and stretch at least every 2 hours.
Tip # 3: Stay in touch virtually
Get a bunch of your work colleagues together and join an online Pilates/Zumba/exercise/yoga class via Zoom. If you or one of you colleagues can run the class, that’s even better. if you can get your company to agree to it, perhaps you can set this up as a regular work task for your team. If not, at least make sure that your team members get some time for informal catch up and exercise. Schedule a common walking time with a friend, and speak with them as you walk. Great way to multi-task and keep in touch. :).
Set up a regularly scheduled call where members from different teams can talk about what they’ve been working on. This is a great way to replicate those water cooler / lunch room discussions that played a great role amongst teams. Set up a “brainstorming” meeting schedule, when team members can bring up technical issues/problems that they need help with. Encourage other members to provide solutions, so that individuals can get over those issues.
Organize a weekly trivia quiz for your teams. Even include a small prize for the winner to make it more competitive. Have simple games that you can play on an online Zoom / Google Meets call. Organize a team lunch. Have food delivered to your team members and set up an online call where everyone can eat and chat online. This is something that I’ve seen an aunt’s Rotary Club group use to fantastic effect.
Tip # 4: Schedule time and stay in touch
When you are in the office, chances for communication are constant. You lean over and speak to someone at the next desk, you meet people in the elevator and in the lobby, in the break room, even in the rest room. You go out for lunch with your team, you walk with co-workers during your lunch break. The chances for conversation are endless. These conversations and interactions play a crucial part in building a sense of belonging and camaraderie. So how can you do this when you are working remotely?
If you know your colleague welcomes impromptu calls, then call them up when you think of them. But with most people juggling multiple responsibilities, you’re better off scheduling a specific time for these calls. These calls don’t have to have a specific reason. They are just for catch up and keeping in touch. You get updates on what your colleague is working on but also what’s going on in their lives. If you regularly walked with a co-worker, then perhaps you can schedule a time when you walk and talk with them. Whenever possible, try a video chat. There’s something to be said for actually seeing a person. The connect is always better. And as everyone grapples with issues of loneliness while working from home, these catch-up sessions can be invaluable.
Tip #5: Learn something new
If you’ve ignored your interests and hobbies because you’ve been too busy, this is a great time to start / re-start on them. Put the time that you would otherwise use for commuting to good use. Whether it’s to learn a new language, learn an instrument, start to bake, learn financial planning or a new cuisine, there are plenty of online classes to choose from, for whatever your interest may be. So if you are looking for something new, go ahead and start right away. This is something that will stay with you, whether you continue to work from home or you get back into the office. If you need additional encouragement, a great way is to get together with a group of friends and challenge yourselves to achieve something specific every week. If you don’t have too much time available, then do it in small steps. Don’t sign up for expensive classes, but look for free lessons on Youtube. Do as much as you can. If you like to write, keep a journal. Or start a blog and post your thoughts, poetry. Share your achievements with your friends for a quick high.
There is still no clear time frame on when work from home will end. It looks like a lot of us will continue this for the next few months, perhaps until mid-2021. So we need to make sure that we can work from home successfully and deal with loneliness issues. The good news is that it’s POSSIBLE! It needs some effort and conscious thought, though. Both organizations and individuals need to put in effort to make remote working successful.
Follow some simple steps, like a daily routine, regular formal and informal contact with colleagues and friends, scheduling our work day around our energy levels and other commitments. All of these will enable us to tackle work from home with fewer issues and be more productive at work.
If you’ve found some specific ways to cope with work from home, do share it with us. We’d love to hear from you.