How to Establish and Maintain a Productive Balance When Remote Working
For many, working from home sounds like an idyllic situation. You get to wake up minutes before you start, wear whatever you want, and reheat last nights tuna penne for lunch without fear of co-worker judgement; amazing, right? Working from home is convenient, familiar and, according to research, is where almost half of all employees will be operating from in five years time.
But it’s not all tracksuit pants and mid morning snacks. Being a remote worker can actually pose its own significant challenges, particularly around productivity and maintaining that all-important professional focus. Along with the obvious benefits, i.e wearing slippers and having a cat on your knee, there are also distractions – your family, your TV, the fridge. While you’re at home, all of these things are within easy distance, and without the burden of expectation placed upon you by sitting amongst your peers, some actually find that working from home is more challenging than heading into the office.
If you’re thinking about working from home, or you’re looking to maximise your time as a remote worker, here are three tips to get you going and help you maintain a productive, effective work/life balance and be the best possible remote worker you can be.
1. Step Away from the Distractions
Once you start working from home, all your life is in one place. The dining room or spare bedroom is your office, the stairs your commute. This may save you 90 minutes or so on the M25 or a sweaty sardine style trip down the Northern Line, but it also means there’s no escaping all your usual distractions. Your kids, the TV, your social media networks and even the dog – all of these things are within immediate reach and can draw your attention and sap your productivity at any time. It’s vitally important to set boundaries and to establish a defined space for work. Your family needs to respect this, but more importantly, you need to respect this and ensure you’re allocating your attention to the task. Yes, you could go and scroll down the Facebook timeline, no one’s going to stop you, but that’s not going to help you get the job done. Once you’re in your defined work-space, focus on work and work alone.
2. Don’t Burn Yourself Out
On the flip side, you can also go too far and forget to take breaks altogether. When there’s no defined lunch-time or no one there to remind you to log-off for a moment, it’s far too easy to work straight through to 3pm without so much as a cracker to keep you going. It’s of paramount importance that you do take 5 every so often – studies have shown that the majority of employees feel they are significantly more productive when they take breaks. If you need, you can use something like The Pomodoro Technique which has been shown to help people complete work faster whilst also reducing fatigue. The time management system improves work habits by encouraging regular breaks and advising workers to divide tasks into 25-minute chunks with absolutely no distractions during these times.
3. Take Yourself Seriously
When you start working from home it’s a big shift from the daily rhythm you’re used to in office life. The structure of the work day is similar to school, so that process is a learned behaviour, it’s how you’ve come to understand what work is. When you’re home, you’re not on the clock, and that transition can be difficult to adjust to and can make it hard to take your home-based role seriously. You need to approach your work as you would in an office, to take a professional and serious view of things like your defined work-space and hours. Even though you’re not in an ‘office’, you actually are – your new office is here. Treating your position with that level of respect is key to creating and maintaining the right approach, and producing the quality of work you’re capable of, using your own self-motivation and direction as the guide.
4. Stay Connected
Just because you are working from your own home or the cafe down the road doesn’t mean you need to cut yourself off from the rest of civilisation. There are now loads of ways to create a virtual office. You don’t necessarily have to be within 5 feet of your colleague Mike to know what he’s got planned for the day or what time Paul’s next meeting is etc. The Internet is a wonderful thing and unlike 10 years ago, home or remote working does not have to feel like you are working at the bottom of a well where no one can hear you scream. There are countless online programmes to make sure you, and the rest of your remote working colleagues, can map out your days clearly and converse whilst you work. Programmes such as Slack and Teamweek are great tools for staying as productive as possible at home; by dividing up tasks or clients they ensure everyone is clear on what needs to be completed each day.
There are many other ways to establish and maintain effective home/work balance, and many of them will come through experience and learning what works best for you. The real core challenge is transitioning your mind-set; understanding what you need to do to get the job done, and what you personally need to do to ensure you stay on task without being supervised. Working from home can be a great convenience, and the key to maintaining that convenience is by proving your capacity and ability to manage and maintain your own workflow. It’s in understanding this that you’ll be able to establish your most effective planning and strategy around your work requirements – but it’s on you, you need to adapt your mind-set and establish professional structure.