Working from home is on the increase as technology allows increased flexibility in the office. But for many, this current period of isolation is a new experience and home working is providing some challenges. You've survived the first couple of weeks, but with no clear end date in sight, how can you thrive in the longer term?
As a worker
Maintain normal working hours
Familiarity of routines may help you to feel more focussed and organise your time better. You need to be available to colleagues when you usually are and are more likely to be able to reach others during their standard working timetable. Lack of availability from either party will cause frustration and increase your workload.
Designate a workspace
Unless used to hot-desking, very few of us find we are able to completely clear our desks at the end of every day. Although we are increasingly operating in low-paper environments, there will be inevitable clutter associated with your work time. Have a designated space to carry out your work and somewhere to tidy your things to at the end of the day. Separating work from home physically and mentally as far as possible will help you to switch off at the end of the working day and create less conflict with the people you share your living space with.
Get the right tools for the job
With little or no notice for home working, some workers will be struggling with unsuitable tools to do their job. Accept that things won't be perfect or as you may have them in your usual workplace, but try to make reasonable adjustments to assist you and reduce your frustration or associated problems. If your internet connection is slow, consider upgrading. This can be arranged remotely and although may have additional costs associated with the change, it may be worth the investment and result in better productivity and less frustration. Your employer may be willing to help you with any costs in the short term. Likewise, carry out a basic risk assessment on your workstation. Use cushions and pads to ensure your back is supported if you are using a chair which is not designed for extended periods of sitting. If your screen is not at the correct height and you find yourself with neckache at the end of your shift, stack some books under it to elevate it to a comfortable level.
Take regular breaks
Particularly important if you are not fully comfortable at your temporary workstation, but also as you are likely to be spending more time staring at a screen, even during your leisure time, it is important to take breaks and vary your body stance. If you are on phone calls, stand up, try stretching and doing simple exercises for a few minutes in each hour to ensure your blood is flowing and your body doesn't become stiff. Even a break to make a drink or do the washing up and be a welcome change of posture. Ensure you take advantage of your daily outdoor exercise too for a complete change of scene and for fresh air.
Agree boundries with the others in your living space
Ideally you should be able to work in a separate room away from the other people in your property, but not everyone has this luxury. Therefore it's important to agree when you can and cannot be disturbed. This is particularly difficult if you have young children at home, but if you have another adult with you, enlist their support in ensuring certain times are quiet and uninterrupted, especially when in virtual meetings, unless you want to become a viral YouTube sensation!
Use technology wisely
Try to replicate your usual meeting routine, whilst taking the opportunity to drop anything that isn't productive. Review which meetings are worthwhile and continue them but take the opportunity to stop doing things that are more habit than use. Whilst video chat and telephone meetings are useful, it does mean more time on your phone. Give yourself the same rules as when in your usual workplace and don't let yourself be distracted by social media and personal calls. Activate unavailable messages where appropriate, turn off notifications during your working time and tell friends and family not to contact you during certain hours. This will allow you to be more productive.
Schedule in time to catch up with colleagues
Remote working can present additional challenges in working relationships. Without the same visual clues and social nicities, communication can be misinterpreted, particularly at a time when people may be more axious about their personal or financial situation, their job security, workload, deadlines or are just finding the change a struggle. Be extra sensitive to the possibility of upsetting people, use email to confirm verbal agreements where possible rather than relying on it and check in on people whom you haven't spoken to for a while. It's easy to get caught up in your own silo and forget to advise other stakeholders of what you are doing, so ensure you let people know what you are working on and ask about them, even if at first it may seem they will be unaffected. Ask colleagues how they are. They may welcome the opportunity to offload and appreciate your kindness.
Review your own progress
It might be difficult for your line manager to review and recognise your progress during this period, so ensure you maintain your motivation by setting your own daily goals and reviewing your progress in achieving them. If there are obstacles which are preventing your success and you can't overcome them, allow more time to complete tasks and explain to your line manager what is different, Use your own feedback sandwich, listing your achievements, outlining what may not have been a success and summarising with the positive elements of how you are adjusting what you are doing and what you hope to achieve before you next report back. Don't wait to be asked. Your line manager has additional challenges too.
As a team leader
Check in with people regularly
Speak to all of your team individually and as a group more regularly than you ordinarily might. Remember that these times may be a big change for them with new obstacles and additional workload. Consider that some people may be more prone to bouts of anxiety than others (not always who you imagine) and some may have additional health concerns which affect how well they perform. Try to adapt to the needs of each individual and underline your support for them and that you can be contacted if they need you. Ensure you organise group meetings too, which should allow time for personal interaction and exchange as well as covering the crucial business needs. It's important to make people that they are individuals and they matter and to acknowledge their successes and additional challenges as well as keeping information flowing more than usual.
With less supervision, people tend to gravitate towards the tasks they like to do rather than what is important for the business and if it's all part of their job role, why wouldn't they? Ensure you set SMART objectives as you usually would but think shorter term. Things in this climate are changing on a dailly basis and it's important to review and revise goals regularly, even if you think they may be unchanged. Rather than giving orders, ask where your team see their priorities and why. Work together to ensure the important things are done to deadline. Choose the right time and tone for any discussion about performance and goals.
Your team may need more reassurance at the moment. Give it! You will reap the rewards. Give praise where it is due and ensure successes are recognised. If there are negatives to be highlighted, prioritise what is urgent. Criticism is unlikely to be received as well over a telephone chat or video link (where many visual clues of response are lost on the untrained eye) as in person. Be clear but sensitive. Limit chat about the negative aspects of the news coverage. Some of your team may be struggling with the uncertainty and don't need further reinforcement in their work space. If you want to talk about current affairs, try to offset any negatives with a positive slant and always end any interraction with a positive statement or a light-hearted or humerous mood booster. Together you can do this!