Many countries across the UK and beyond have chosen to work from home for the foreseeable future to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. This new way of working, without the need for face-to-face attendance, has forced employees to adapt to a new routine.
What in the first week seemed like a dream come true (I had always wanted to work from home), gradually revealed its disadvantages. I found it hard to establish a routine, since household chores (cooking, cleaning, shopping, child care, to name but a few…), phone calls, noise and other interruptions all took up time and headspace that I was unable to devote to my paid work. I found it complicated having my family at home with me all the time and my colleagues and business contacts struggled too as the world came to terms with the sudden changes to life as we knew it. Little by little, however, people got to grips with how it was all supposed to work and everything started to improve.
I thought it would be impossible to do the accounts from home, for example, but my company offered me remote access to 100% of the spreadsheets and documents that I needed to complete the task and I found that, with a little innovation and flexibility, I could complete the work at home just as effectively as I could have done if I were at the office.
Here are some truths about working from home that I wish I had known at the start of the coronavirus lockdown.
1. You will have to deal with more distractions
In a company, the whole environment is usually designed to favour work. At home, everything is geared towards family life and moments of relaxation. This means that, at home, you will be subject to more distractions than if you were in the office, as not everyone will understand that you are working and that, even when working from home, you still need to meet deadlines.
This issue can lead to several problems, from constant interruptions to requests to do domestic tasks or help with children’s schoolwork during your working hours. At such challenging times, it is vital to remain focused and disciplined and establish some strict routines to keep the work going.
2. Loneliness is not always insurmountable
Isolation levels and the ability to cope with working alone can vary from person to person. In some cases, a walk down the street is enough to solve the problem, while others need to be surrounded by people all the time to feel happy. It is entirely understandable to struggle with the lack of human contact that this pandemic has brought to many people, but in my case, I found myself experiencing something very different. When I was working in my office pre-lockdown, I often got my head down and got on with things without making time for social interaction. At home, the enforced distance between team members has brought about daily video conference meetings and increased online contact, which has enabled me to develop a better relationship with the rest of my team, taking my interactions with them out of the email inbox and allowing me to get to know more about them as people with real feelings, ambitions and ideas.
Our manager played a crucial role in preventing staff loneliness. Gayle’s Mental Health First Aid training came in handy too, giving us the confidence and enthusiasm to pay more attention to each other, regularly asking how everyone was doing, joining in group activities to ensure healthy minds and bringing us closer together. In our online meetings, we did not just talk about work; we found time to socialise, exchange experiences and discuss our hopes and fears as a team.
3. You will need to create a routine
The idea of not following a routine can be tempting. Working from home offers the tantalising prospect of a freer life, without the commitment to wake up early every day, get ourselves ready and leave enough time for the dreaded commute into and out of the office. However, you still need to create a routine, otherwise, the tendency is to go way beyond your contracted eight or even ten hours of work, with negative consequences for your longer-term health and quality of life.
Throughout lockdown, I have tried to maintain a routine like that of the office. I get up, get dressed and get ready for the day. I sit at the table rather than lounge about on the couch or in bed, to feel professional and ready for a productive working day. It is crucial to establish the right environment to help you sustain the same levels of concentration and dedication as if you were working in an office, alongside a focused, proactive team.
4. Work is more intense
As much as we commit to doing exactly what we did at work/in the office prior to lockdown, when we transfer to a home office environment, we sometimes have the feeling that we are not producing enough work, and yet we can feel more drained and tired by the end of the day. This is because every activity feels more intense at home. We are trying to work in the space that has traditionally been where we relax away from our jobs and yet we don’t have the opportunity to stop and chat to colleagues or pop out for a coffee as before. At home, it can be harder to commit to being fully available to work during our contracted hours due to domestic or childcare responsibilities and this can make us feel guilty. So, we up the intensity of our work when we are able to do it, and so the whole process feels much harder to sustain.
When there is self-awareness and effective planning, working remotely can lead to increased productivity. Less stress, more hours of sleep, less travel and more homemade food are just some of the factors that contribute to potentiate results, since they increase the quality of life of the worker. A happy worker is a more effective worker.
The coronavirus pandemic that we are currently living through will revolutionise some types of work, according to an article published in The Guardian on 13 Mar 2020. According to the piece: “Covid-19 could cause a permanent shift towards home working,” as many of the employees working for companies that have sent all of their staff home to work are already starting to question why they ever had to go in to the office in the first place. A seismic shift to home working in the future could save employers and employees a lot of money in rent, bills and transport costs. Consequently, we can also expect to see many changes to working relationships and processes, not only in terms of technology and access to equipment and resources, but also in the way in which activities are planned and carried out and how we will all relate to our co-workers in the months and years ahead.
Have you found working from home to be a blessing or a curse? Do you have any good advice for people struggling with the changes brought about by lockdown? Join the conversation at firstname.lastname@example.org.