Working from home (WFH) because you have to, not because you’ve chosen to—it’s a curveball for sure. I only recently finished my PhD and joined Gloo a month ago, so having to do a 180° back to my home desk has been challenging. What I’ve been wondering is how to get something out of it, rather than digging my heels in the sand.
Even before coronavirus, people were dipping their toes in the WFH waters, but it was hard to commit completely. Flexible working has been getting more popular as a sort of middle option—it’s not like you’re never in the office, and you can shift your hours around a bit. But what’s happening right now is definitely inflexible—it’s WFH without a choice.
When you can choose to work from home, it can be great. But when the terms are not your own, it’s stifling. Add to that the possibility your job doesn’t translate well to WFH, you’ve got three kids running around, and you aren’t able to get out of the house at the end of the day. Not much fun.
It’s difficult, but try and separate the situation from the task at hand. You can’t control what’s happening. You can control how you deal with it. Creating a new normal is possible—you’ll find new ways of communicating, and more productive ways of using your time. You might even find you work better long after the virus has gone.
Don’t wait for “this all to blow over”
Has anyone noticed that this is the catchphrase of the moment? We can blame Simon Pegg for that!
Before you panic, I’m not suggesting the pandemic won’t come to an end. I’m suggesting we think of WFH as an opportunity to invest in some personal development, rather than something to cope with until we’ve “turned the tide”.
Easier said than done, I know. But thinking otherwise will make you feel you’re just treading water. Use WFH as a way to move forward—think about which of your skills could use some TLC rather than giving a load of energy trying to recreate how you usually do things.
I say this with some conviction, because I’m doing it myself. Academia operates at a pretty relaxed rhythm, and shifting to industry has been a learning curve which has become a lot steeper since we packed up. But not being able to grab the nearest person for help has made me more resourceful. As a result, I’m more confident figuring stuff out on my own—and that’s an improvement I can hold on to for the long term.
Address connectivity problems
No, this isn’t about flaky Wi-Fi or the go-slow that everybody feared. Human connection is a major sticking point with WFH. You’re separated from everyone. You talk on the phone but it’s definitely not the same (take a look at this conference call in real life to get an idea).
There are reasons for this. We communicate with people in ways that go further than what we actually say. Body language and eye contact are important for connection. Being next to the person makes a huge difference, too—that’s why even video calling doesn’t quite cut it.
Because replicating real face-time is difficult, it’s easy to feel invisible. And then it’s easy to procrastinate.
It helps to attach connectivity to accountability—this kills two birds with one stone. You can become more productive simply by getting closer to your team. Find ways of chatting that work, and switch the camera on. Don’t be shy. Has one of your colleagues got a cute dog you can get a peek at? Doing this kind of thing frequently will not only help you feel more involved—it’ll help you hold each other accountable for getting stuff done.
Adjust to losing the office frenzy
Possibly one of the hardest things about WFH is the loss of the fast-paced office environment. We’re part of a culture that chases that frenzied lifestyle. We love it. We hate it. It feels like an itch that can’t quite be scratched. And to have it taken away is more than a little jarring.
WFH is a different ballgame—and it’ll take some adjustment. Home is (hopefully) a peaceful outlet that’s separate from work. But now everything’s taking place inside the same four walls. Bad day at the office? Tough—it’s also your living room. Throughout the day, your computer screen will be a mosaic of chat platforms and notifications popping up. And you can’t go out for a beer with a friend to unwind.
That said, it’ll be quiet around you. If you’re anything like me, you’ll struggle to work with noise. Make the most of the quiet by eliminating other things that usually drain your focus—tidy up your workspace, your desktop, and aggressively limit how much you engage with social media (try the app SelfControl).
Three things that work for me
- Pastoral care is important. Make time for personal chat as well as the workload. At Gloo, we’ve shared pictures of our surroundings, our pets, and interesting articles. As a content agency, we need to keep our creative juices flowing (take a look at our blog on why curiosity is essential for brilliant marketing). It just so happens that these discussions help us feel supported as well.
- Learn how to work smarter, not harder. It’s easy to get distracted by chat in the office, but not so much at home. Try finding a time management app that helps you compartmentalise your day. I use Rescue Time—it helps you uncover which activities are “stealing” your time.
- Take breaks! You know how we’re always getting advice to get up from our desks to stretch? Now’s the time to heed it. Take your usual “water-cooler” moment and touch your toes without worrying what anyone thinks of you. Remember that your work is locked inside a screen—you can mute those notifications for a bit. Take stock of the day, and take a deep breath (just don’t forget to unmute them!).
WFH—a better working future?
WFH doesn’t have to be a coping mechanism—it can be a strategy for developing efficiency. When you return to the office, you’ll have identified your best working patterns and you’ll feel happier handling your workload as a result. Who knows—maybe after this all “blows over”, being a WFH wallflower will be more popular than it was before.
Posted by John on 1 April 2020