Cast your mind back to a few weeks ago and imagine someone telling you the following: within the next few days, your child's school or day-care will be closed. You won't be able to leave your house unless it's deemed “critical". Essential and non-essential services will be redefined. You will work from home for an extended period.
How does this sound? New? Unbelievable? Overwhelming? These are common terms used to describe the current state of affairs, which have quite surprisingly become our 'new normal' in a very short period. We can all agree that COVID-19 is fundamentally changing our business operations, and our response to it will largely influence the outcome.
Because of this, remote work is the new reality for many of us. Quite a number of individuals have had an odd 'working-from-home day' here and there, however, the reality of working remotely every single day, sometimes in the presence of your kids, could present a steep learning curve. This reminds me of the quote by Jodi Picoult, a seasoned American fiction writer who said, “The human capacity for burden is like bamboo – far more flexible than you'd ever believe at first glance." This is an inspiring reminder that the human ability to adapt is our greatest asset and that we should leverage from it.
So, how do we respond to this sudden shift in the way we work? Working from home has several advantages - you save a lot of time and frustration by not commuting to the office. There are no office distractions, you have access to your own kitchen, can dress more comfortably and have more flexibility in your work schedule, only to mention but a few. Amidst all of this, you need to recreate new 'ways of doing things' to ensure you remain productive and deliver on the same outputs as if you were based in the office.
To start with, you require 'connectivity' to be able to do your work, so confirm upfront that you have access to the needed platforms to be able to support remote operations and to be accessible during working hours.
Now that your infrastructure is set up, you need to create structure and boundaries for yourself as a way of enforcing discipline. Ensure that you do all the things you would typically do to prepare when going to the office, i.e. waking up at the same time, getting dressed and having breakfast. And be sure to do this rigorously.
A dedicated workspace is critical - just because you are not working at the office, doesn't mean you don't need a 'home office'. Choose a separate room from you're bedroom or living area that you don't associate with leisure, to work from. To get you in the right 'frame of mind', it is essential to have a place you specifically use for work only.
Eight to five might be something of the past - you need to restructure your working hours according to your new reality. Someone may instead work from 04:00 – 08:00, and then look after their kids for 2-3 hours, and pick up their work again after that for a specified period. However, proper communication is required with your line manager to ensure that you are aligned on this. It goes without saying that line managers have to trust their team members 100% and believe they are working and fulfilling their responsibility, evidently reinforced by their outputs.
Without frequent communication and informal check-ins at the office, you might be more inclined to lose focus. To prevent this from happening, it is imperative to keep yourself focused by creating a task list each day and completing it. It will provide you with a measurable indication of how effective you are in working from home and allowing you to evaluate your performance and set new tasks for the following day.
Social interaction is a natural occurrence in the workplace. Just because we aren't based in the same room, doesn't mean we don't need interaction anymore. Especially now that the team is geographically dispersed, it is better to over-communicate rather than under-communicate. Fortunately, many video platforms are available for collaboration – Microsoft Teams, Zoom, WebEx and Skype, amongst others. There is no right or wrong time to use this, use it when you quickly want to check-in, ask for help or even to share an idea.
If you're getting started working from home, keep in mind that every person has a different working ethic, and it will take some time to find a structure that works best for you. Stay committed to your goals, and eventually, you'll create a near-perfect system. To practice working remotely is an excellent opportunity for you to build rapport and trust, amongst both your line manager as well as your colleagues, extending beyond the COVID-19 situation.
So, if there's a tiny positive aspect to this pandemonium we're finding ourselves in, it's that we're certainly developing skills that will be helpful in the future world of work.