Productivity while working from home

This year, Covid-19 has forced many of us to work from home!  Now that restrictions have been relaxed, some organizations are giving the choice to employees to come into the office.  For others it may be that we realized during the forced lock-down that we can be productive when working from home and as a result are requesting to work remotely.  There are also those of us who found it stressful to be working at home with children needing schooling support and cannot wait to get back to the office and let the educators do the teaching.  I know I fall into this last category.

Remote working is not new, in fact various studies will attest to the fact that productivity can increase when we work remotely.  Employees are happy to work longer hours, there are less distractions and focused, knowledge work can be completed as a result blocking time to complete key projects.  Access to great collaboration tools such as MS Teams, Slack, Zoom or WebEX make it possible to engage with our colleagues and fellow team members.  

Balancing productivity seems so simple, and yet I find that many times I am either working way too much – where I have missed lunch and I am being called to the dinner table by my wife, who has by this point a very short fuse.  Or I am not working at all…distracted, lethargic no ambition to get into real work but happy to clear emails. I find reasons to get up for a coffee more often than usual, stand outside and admire the grass. 

Working too much makes me tired, dare I say miserable and cranky.  This leads to stress.  Working too little makes me feel unproductive, demotivated, and creates a thought process of ‘I should’ve done this or that’, or ‘why didn’t I do this or that’.  This leads to an increase in anxiety and stress.  Why the two extremes? What is the reason I cannot be more consistent in my work processes?  The simple answer is bad working habits.  

We must understand ourselves as individuals to understand our own bad working habits.  Are we disciplined enough to work from home and do we have the inclination to maintain a balance between our work, and personal responsibilities? The same applies if we are leading a team.  Who in our team has the inclination to work productively as part of a remote team, and who is better suited to work from the office? 

From my experience, I truly believe that these 6 tools will assist an individual whether In-Person or 100% virtual.  

1. Start work early:

Get up and get going.  There are many distractions when working from home.  Set a time for everyone to be ready for the day.  For example, if home learning for the kids is what you have chosen to do.  Before covid-19, school started at 8:00am, the bus or car-pool fetched them at 7:30am.  That means everyone has to be done getting ready for their day by 7:30am.  Attitude reflects leadership.  This is true at work and in the home – Be the example for your spouse, partner or significant other and certainly be the example for your children.

2. Structure your day:

Routine creates stability, it also ensures reliability.  I have a work colleague who checks emails 2 times per day.  First thing in the morning and last thing at the end of the workday.  Now that this has been communicated, I know how to correspond with him and when to expect replies.  Urgent items are labeled as such or sent as a text or WhatsApp messages. 

Answer these questions:
• What time will you be at the desk working?
• When will you check emails today?
• What priority items have you blocked time to complete today and is this scheduled in your diary or calendar?
• Do you start your day with your Priority Items and are these scheduled as tasks and has time been allocated to them?
• What meetings are scheduled and are there appropriate breaks in between to ensure you can consolidate your action items and add them into the diary or calendar tomorrow or next week?  • Have you made lunch, prepared lunch or what and when will you eat and with whom? 

The same applies to our children if they are home: What subjects are you doing today? What tasks are due to be completed? What projects need prioritizing and what time do they start and end their day? What extra-curricular activities must they do? How much Technology Time are you allocating versus outside time?  This last question should be asked of all of us now that we have Virtual Meeting Fatigue.  If you are all working and schooling from home, plan to have breaks together.  It allows for social time – talk about plans for the weekend or things others are interested in.  How is school is not a question, and answering the question how is work with fine is not an answer. 

3. Choose a dedicated work spot

This sounds simple but it is super important.  In our home we have a study and the girls have work desks in their rooms.  These were great for when I worked from home and for after school tasks and projects that the girls needed to do.  When Covid-19 hit, I never left the study, and the girls never left their rooms.  This is not good!! 

Having a place for work gets you in the zone for work.  Dress the part and get on with it.  Determine where you will work, eat and sleep.  These should be separated when possible. 

4. Set expectations with everyone at home and work

As I write this, I am in South Africa and waiting on my VISA to get to North Carolina.  Leading the team from here is challenging to say the least.  I want to be there, and they want me there.  Covid-19 is delaying things and we need to be as agile as we go on this journey together.  I work 8:00am-4:00pm ET.  My team knows this, and they can call me, and we can set meetings because we have access to each other’s diaries.  Call me as if I am in North Carolina – I will take the call if I can or return the call when I can

In South Africa 8:00am-4:00pm ET is actually 2:00pm-10:00pm. I have a whole different set of expectations for the family.  They know I am home until 1pm and then I must prepare for my day which starts and 2pm and ends at 10pm.  If I am facing the window, you can come into the study, if I am facing the webcam I am in a virtual meeting. 

Set expectations by asking:
What Time do you start work?
What time do you end Work?
When am I available and how can I be available? 
What must be done, by when and by whom? 
When will you stop working and be home with your family?
What will you do as a family together?

5. Take breaks and time them

It is important to plan breaks.  Have lunch away from your workstation. Step away and go for a walk if needed and ensure that you time it so as to get distracted.  Make statements like, I am having a coffee break for 20 minutes, come join me outside.  You’ll find yourself having a chat while making the coffee and enjoying the company of others sharing your ideas and even gaining ideas from others.   

6. Connect with your colleagues, friends & family

Every day make a point of connecting in meaningful conversations with family and colleagues alike.  These are not scheduled Touch-Base meetings with colleagues or Helping family members with a school project. If they are important connect by getting to know them.  Talk about sport, their interests and make an effort to learn more about them as it increases trust and engagement. This is needed in the home and at work.

This week started off badly for me.  I was discussing a work assignment with a friend living in Spain.  When I shared what a lousy and stressful two days I was having, she quickly suggested let’s catch up at 12:00p tomorrow and just chat.  It was great! Her hubby joined the conversation and so did Caryn (my wife).  After 45 minutes of conversation we felt better and it was easy to do over a WhatsApp video call. 

What are the connecting moments that you can start doing to keep the level of engagement going among your family, friends and work colleagues? These are crazy Covid-19 times we are living in, let’s not forget that the human connection is the most important one of all.

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