A few weeks ago something we never could have imagined took over our lives. A worldwide pandemic was rapidly spreading and getting closer home. Amidst chaos, confusion and caution, the country went into lockdown and we were all forced to work remotely. I have romanticised the notion of working from the comfort of my home many times – dressed in jammies and wearing my glasses with copious amounts of tea and music on the side to keep me going. But is it really the same when you have to switch to remote working not out of choice but due to volatile circumstances?
As I logged in at 7.30 am on 16 March, I was about to find out that working from home is more than it’s made out to be. And now 3 weeks into it, as we settle into our new routines and take on unfamiliar responsibilities (read household chores), it is important to keep our sanity in these unpredictable times.
Here is my list of revelations in the order that they occurred to me.
As inviting as it may be, the bed is not the best place to work on.
Not only will it kill your back, it will also kill your productivity. The first few days I struggled to find the right spot – the bed, outdoors, different kinds of chairs and even the couch. None of them seemed right until I created a space that closely resembled my work station. I found a comfortable spot on the table, propped my laptop up on books, got my vertical mouse out, set my papers in order and got going.
Simulate your working space and keep it sacred and free of clutter to trick your brain into believing it’s business as usual. Don’t forget to sit up straight!
You can still have coffee breaks with your colleagues.
Replace water cooler conversations or chats down the corridor with catching up sessions with co-workers. To rely on an aphorism, man is a social animal. We are used to seeing our teams, colleagues and work friends on a daily basis. Not having direct access to them or not seeing familiar faces around can affect how we operate.
Spend a few minutes at the start of each meeting to check in on your colleagues. Invite toddlers and furry friends to say hello – it helps break monotony. Let people know you are there for them and try to keep interactions as ‘normal’ as possible. Sometimes, simply asking after someone’s wellbeing can go a long way in bringing them comfort.
Your productivity will get impacted.
The office environment is charged and fast paced with everyone scurrying around trying to cram in as much as possible in their day. Home, on the other hand, is your safe space where you can relax, be yourself and take it slow. It requires far greater discipline than the office. Chances are, you will face distractions and struggle to stay driven and focused. Employers, too, realise that work will slow down, timelines may have to be shifted and lags factored into planning.
What does that mean for you? A change of pace in work does not have to equate to lowered standards, tardiness and an ever increasing to-do list. Start your day with checking your mailbox and actioning urgent items. Next, get on to your tasks for the day. Lastly, tackle other bigger jobs that require more time, energy and headspace. At regular intervals, check your inbox for anything that needs your attention. Set timelines for yourself and stick to them. In the absence of an external push, you will have to play your own best motivator.
There is such a thing as missing dressing up. Believe me.
All our lives we have been conditioned to dress for the occasion to make the right impact. No matter how we are feeling, we are expected to get up, dress up and show up. In many ways, it reflects a person who has their act together. This line that defines the differentiation between going out and winning, and staying in and taking it easy appears to be getting blurred. That feeling of getting out to take on the world seems to be missing for me right now.
If like me, you too miss getting ready to go about your business, give in when you feel your work clothes are calling out to you. Get back to the trusted morning essential and let it set the tone for your day. You will see a surge in your concentration levels and efficiency.
You will feel unbelievably tired and sleepy.
Over the last few days, I have heard a surprising number of friends complain ‘I am tired of being tired all the time.’ We are accustomed to having external factors that keep us going. Left to our own devices with minimal human interaction and little checks and balances, it is easy to feel directionless and fall into the trap of procrastination. Whether you learn from chaos or thrive in a structured environment, sudden ambiguity can be worrisome and finding passion while sitting at home a struggle. Create a schedule for yourself that is easy to follow and keep to your usual working day routine as closely as possible. Having a set schedule will also help you organise your scattered thoughts and push you in the right direction to achieve your goals.
Remember to factor in snack breaks, physical movement and lots of drinking of water. And if you really need it, take that power nap.
Take your headphones off.
Whether it is for meetings, keeping distractions away or listening to music to help you focus, headphones are a handy lot. However, your ears are not used to continuous pressure so remember to take a break from them. Also, while you are at it, keep them clean!
It is easy to feel alienated and have FOMO.
That’s fear of missing out. For as long as I can remember, we have been advised against working in silos. Social distancing and forced remote working must be the stuff of nightmares for HR professionals and organisational leaders, after all they spend hours of their valuable time building effective teams. Working from home is simply not conducive to creating a cohesive working culture and building relationships. As teams get disjointed, it becomes imperative to continue with your daily/weekly team meetings as before.
Don’t disconnect emotionally – check in on your teammates and colleagues, especially those who live by themselves. Even in the comfort of our homes, it is easy to feel disconcerted as we find ourselves in an alien situation we have never learnt how to handle.
Lastly, self-care remains paramount. Do not hesitate to call upon help from friends if you are feeling lonely. This is unchartered territory for many of us and it is ok to have occasional bouts of disquietude. However, if you think it is getting in the way of your routine tasks and daily life, please call a friend or a trusted colleague, or seek professional help.
All said, we will perhaps be the only ones for many generations to come who get to save the world by simply staying in. My heart goes out to those affected by the virus and everyone in essential services working round the clock to keep us safe. Help them by staying in and make the most of this moment by keeping healthy, pursuing your interests, enjoying some down time and catching up (virtually) with friends and family.
For soon, it will be back to the grind and, dare I say, simpler times when we get back to complaining about traffic and not having enough time.