If you have experience of working freelance, running your own company or even travelling a lot for work, the recent shift to a more remote working style that many companies across the world have adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic may have been an easy one. If, however, you’ve only ever worked in an office, classroom or any form of desk-bound role, then perhaps your new working environment has taken some getting used to.
During my time as a university student, I found myself working part-time as a blog writer for a company overseas. The company expected me to write a set number of articles for their website per month, and I was paid hourly using special ‘time spent’ tracking software that monitored my activity levels whenever I told the company that I was working. This was my first experience of ‘remote working’, and at first it took a considerable period of adjustment; with no one around to keep an eye on me and a lack of set working hours, finding the motivation to sit at my desk and knock out an article was not as easy as you might expect.
Having said that, the year that I spent writing those articles taught me some very important things in regards to self-discipline, effective remote working practices and the important skill of entering a work-focussed state of mind even when surrounded by everyday distractions. Thanks to my experience, I found the recent corona-prompted switch to remote work relatively straight-forward; when the travel company I worked for announced that we were going to begin a new system of Skype meetings and Google docs while working from home, my transition seemed far quicker than that of some of my colleagues.
So, how can you learn to thrive in your new working environment? It’s easier than you think.
1. Find your workspace
This is one of the simplest steps to successfully adapting to remote work, but it’s also the one that can provide the most trouble. If you’ve always been an office-worker, then chances are that you might not have a suitable desk in your apartment for use; even if you do have one, you may soon discover that the chair you’re using – while comfortable enough for occasional use – starts to feel like a torture device after a couple hours of sitting on it.
It’s important to find the right balance when you pick a workspace, and there are a few things that you’ll need to keep in mind. You should be comfortable, but not too comfortable – no risk of falling asleep – and your chair should provide enough posture support that you won’t be in pain after sitting still for hours on end. While you may be tempted to sit on your bed with your computer on your lap, this will blur the boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘rest’ (see point number 5) and ultimately work against you in your quest for success.
If you really don’t have a desk to work at then a kitchen table may be a good replacement, but even then there are several distractions to consider; if family members will constantly be entering the room and attempting to talk to you, or you can’t trust yourself not to take advantage of your proximity to the fridge and snack all day long, then perhaps you may need to think a little harder about where to set up your new remote ‘office’.
2. Remove the distractions
I’ve already mentioned some of the most common distractions that a remote worker may face (chatty family members, tempting snacks and comfortable beds), but there are plenty of others that you need to consider when you prepare to start working in your chosen environment.
In terms of physical distractions, it’s best to avoid turning on the TV, keeping magazines/books on your desk or even placing your phone within close proximity. If, for example, you have a tendency to lose track of time while watching the world pass by your window, then perhaps you should shuffle your furniture in order to avoid sitting directly in front of it.
Distractions on your computer should be kept to a minimum as well. The temptation to just quickly check at your social media timeline or Google an interesting topic you remember hearing about on the radio can soon lead to several lost hours surfing the net or chatting with friends over messenger. In order to avoid such scenarios, consider temporarily blocking your favourite websites using an app or browser extension such as Freedom for Mac or StayFocused.
3. Keep your routine
If you have a meeting at 9:30am, it’s tempting to roll out of bed at 9:27 and brush a comb through your hair after enjoying a bit of extra sleep. The issue with this is that you’ll be just as tempted to return to your bed when the meeting finishes, and even if you do decide to get up and dressed at that point, this will eat into your working time and reduce your productivity even more.
While it’s true that the lack of commuting time that comes with remote work can afford you a bit of extra time in bed, you should still attempt to stick to a routine that at least somewhat resembles your usual working schedule.
Taking the time to shower, dress well, have some breakfast and even apply a bit of make-up before your meeting will help you to not only ‘wake up’ in the morning, but it can also push you into the ‘ready for work’ state of mind that seems so impossible to achieve while still wearing the pyjamas you slept in the night before.
4. Hold yourself accountable
If no one is around to keep an eye on you, the temptation to slack off and have fun rather than work diligently can soon take over and encourage you to spend hours ‘resting’ when you should be filling out excel spreadsheets or contacting clients.
While it’s important to remember that working from home and working at the office are different and that it’s perfectly okay to take short breaks every so often to stretch and re-focus your wandering mind, you shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that your boss and colleagues are trusting you to stay on-task.
If your department is using a work-centric messenger such as Slack for communication, try to post in it at least a few times a day to keep up-to-date with what others are doing and to let them know what tasks you’re working on/how long you expect to take. If a colleague seems a bit overwhelmed while you have nothing to do, don’t use that as an excuse to get distracted – ask them if you can help, and then promise to have the task completed by a set deadline that will push you to put in some effort and focus.
5. Switch off on time
I’ve spoken a lot about distractions so far, but you may find that you have the opposite issue: you’re so absorbed in your work that you forget to clock off. When working at home, it’s easy to let the boundaries between ‘work’ and ‘rest’ blur; if your phone pings while you’re cooking dinner or a colleague asks for help just as you’re about to head to bed, then you may feel that you ought to respond or continue working long past the time when you would usually have left the office.
In order to retain plenty of time to rest and unwind after a hard day of forcing yourself to focus on work, you need to set a strict ‘clocking out’ time when your computer is switched off and you stop responding to work-related messages. Provided that you’ve had a productive day and you’re on track to meet any looming deadlines, there should be no real reason for overwork, and that includes the pressure you may experience from colleagues who either lack work-life balance or have struggled so much with their productivity that they need to work longer than usual just to complete their work.
Additionally, you should try to physically distance yourself from your workspace when the day is finished and it’s time to relax. By using the same area for both work and play, it can be difficult to ‘switch off’ from your job mentally and leave the stresses of deadlines etc. behind. For this reason, always avoid working from your bed – your mind will soon start to associate your bed with your job, and it will then become harder to switch into ‘sleep mode’ when the time comes at night. Setting up a workspace far from the most relaxing areas of your home will save you significant unnecessary stress in the long run!
Working from home can be a difficult thing to adjust to, no matter how focused and motivated you may consider yourself to be. There are many distractions (both obvious and otherwise) that can get in the way of your productivity, and a failure to separate work and rest can lead to mounting stress levels and a frustrating inability to think of anything other than your job, no matter what time of the day or night it may be.
The five steps above may seem overly simple and even a bit patronising, but they’re effective and many successful and productive remote workers incorporate them into their lives every single day. Give them a try, and see whether or not they help – you may be surprised to find just how much of a difference a small and easy change can make to how you adjust to the working style that has so quickly become a new form of ‘normal‘.