Work was work. Home was home. Some of you remember when there was no way to get in touch with you when you were out of the office, no email or direct-message possibility. Working habits have shifted greatly in recent decades, years and – especially – months.
The restrictions on us to limit the spread of the coronavirus have a major impact on our work environments. How do we cope as we are forced to bring our business life into our personal space? Could it be that what most of us have long considered as two separate lives are merging?
What is emerging out of this merging?
A Continuous Blurring of Work and the Personal
Up until and including the previous decade only upper management were normally trusted to work from home as they were seen as being motivated enough. This had changed already before the current coronavirus pandemic. According to a Reuters sponsored poll conducted in 2012, about 17% of all workers at least partly telecommuted. A figure that was estimated to have risen to nearly 37% by 2016. And, as of April, more than 46% of those employed in the UK were working, at least some time, from their home office, according to the Office of National Statistics.
The trend continues.
Collaborating with colleagues in real-time across all time zones wouldn’t be possible without the widespread broadband internet adoption of the past 10 to 15 years. But it is the shift from the strict 9 to 5 office working routine that has really changed the game bringing forth new lifestyle habits. This development has many advantages but the line blurring between our working time and space and our personal time and space brings with it its own challenges.
A Balancing Act
In the past, much focus was given to the need to ensure efficiency. Tracking applications such as Work Examiner, Veriato and InterGuard let employers monitor productivity but often reduce the motivation of employees. In fact, one case study by Harvard Business Review concludes that employees who worked from home over nine months were 13.5% more productive than the counterparts working in the office. Remote workers tend to work longer days and more days. They are also generally more productive when they work, one of the key differences being they are less distracted by their bosses, all according to an Airtasker survey.
Chris Mumford of Cervus Leadership Consulting, a seasoned expert in building impactful teams for organisations in the hospitality sector, adds “The move to home office will have been a challenge for a lot of Managers. Management is about control in the workplace and a freakish dedication to efficiency, rules, SOPs and authority. Leaders however who are focused on culture and purpose and bringing people along with them on a journey are shaping the new work/home/business culture.”
On the other hand, remote employees also reported higher stress levels, loneliness and difficulty in striking a healthy balance between work and personal life than those working in the office. It all seems to pinpoint towards a conscious implementation of home-based workspace and routine.
In my view, this new working culture will be a legacy from the pandemic. Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft – as examples – announced to make remote work option permanent.
How to create a nurturing home office environment
Freedom poses challenges.
Technically you don’t even have to wear trousers (skirts) to go to work these days (!). But this level of freedom also comes with challenges. One question being, do you even need to get out of bed? The freedom can be overwhelming. Many admit that if in comfortable clothing they will feel too relaxed for their mind to be sharp. Solution: Unless you are feeling that with a more relaxed (less sharp) mind you can actually achieve more, stick to work attire also at home when working.
Decision-making is a job in and of itself.
It can be a lot harder to plan the work-day when every decision is yours to make. How to plan and what to prioritise? You may feel overwhelmed when used to having others, such as your colleagues and boss, in the room next to yours for quick chats and advice. Perhaps someone else would normally at least partly dictate the work-day schedule.
Solution: Unless completely convinced that your day will seamlessly flow from one task to the other schedule your working day first thing in the morning, time slots and all. Check in with yourself – your to do list – at the end of your working day. Honouring your progress is a satisfying feeling.
Distractions easily invade our time.
Given most of our work tools are being online, online distractions are some of the worst. Your phone alone is a potential distraction. Consider where best to leave your phone unless it is crucial for your work. If the phone is an important tool, I included a link below to a program called Freedom, which actively blocks distracting websites and apps. But above all: remember what time for work is and what is not. The laundry and the dishes are not for the working time. That said, there is nothing wrong with putting the washing machine on if not used as a deliberate distraction or tool for procrastination. Some people work well with many short pauses in work and may in fact receive great ideas in a state of temporary relaxation. It all depends on you. Know yourself.
Satisfying our need for social interaction.
This is another big topic when working from home. Recognising that human interaction is a basic need for all of us, feelings of being isolated can lead to disempowerment, isolation and even anxiety. To many the office-office can actually contain more distractions than the home office. There are the potentially disruptive conversations, time-wasting meetings and so on. On the other hand, the chats (and some gossip here and there!) at the coffee machine offer up human connection. It is only natural to miss this when working from home.
Solution: Unless fully at peace in only your own company whilst doing your work, consider who else is in your household and schedule some daily interaction(s). Alternatively, talk to friends online. Just keep in mind what will work for you personally in terms of getting the work done. Especially in terms of allowing spontaneity versus scheduling and sticking to it.
Setting up the Space
To focus on the practical steps that we can take to avoid pitfalls and to make the working from home as harmonious as possible, let us look at setting up your home office. There are no hard and fast rules, other than that, clearly, the environment is important.
Two main elements in particular are worth considering:
Separation. It will be important to dedicate a space that has a singular purpose as a home office. Our surroundings influence our psychological states and it’s important to set up a space that is suited to staying on task. If not a room, maybe a corner? (Ideally curtained off). If not a corner, maybe a table?
Isolation. Equally important will be to have a space that allows you to isolate from people who might interrupt you. During the pandemic, home schooling is much more prevalent, and you need to ask yourself, if this is happening in your home, if you are ok with kids popping up in the background during your Zoom meetings. Isolating the workspace will be important if you don’t wish to mix the strictly professional with your personal life. Seeing a young child smile in the background puts a human touch into our previously rather strict professional lives. Is the pandemic humanising our work life?
Leadership communication is changing: Mindfulness is the key
Chris Mumford continues:
“…with a remote workforce at home, leaders need to tread the fine line between upping their communication and invasion of privacy. Those valuable exchanges in the corridor or around the water cooler have disappeared with the result that team communication has had to become a much more mindful act. Sat at their kitchen table or in their home study, leaders these days have to be more deliberate in their reaching out to people and the frequency of engagement.”
“There is a line however and understanding each team member’s individual home arrangements will help prevent a leader from tripping up. Calling a team member with school children at 4-4.30pm may not be ideal as they are caught up with the kids coming home and getting settled.”
Interruptions – what interruptions?
If you don’t have a room to dedicate to be an office, with doors that you can close, you can get creative in terms of creating a space that doubles as one. You can either get into the habit of setting up a temporary workspace each day, making it a part of your morning routine, or clear the space on your kitchen table after breakfast, accepting that this is the best spot you’ve got.
But how to deal with potential interruptions from others who share your living space?
The main answer is: Good communication.
There is also a hack, an idea borrowed from the broadcasting industry:
Radio stations and studios use “on air” lights that inform people that they should not talk but should instead tiptoe around like a catlike burglar. You and your family could, together, set up an equivalent system for all to know when not to disturb.
In my next article I will explore the importance of emotional wellbeing. Microsoft’s own chief executive Satya Nadella said the lack of division between private life and work life meant “it sometimes feels like you are sleeping at work”.
Stay tuned, – stay productive, stay healthy
More about the Author:
Claudia Roth is the founder of Soul Luxury specialising in the area of personal growth & transformation and healing hospitality. She draws her experience as a global executive in luxury hospitality combined with a lifelong interest in how our energy field influenced by our thoughts, beliefs and emotions influence our lives. She works with individuals, facilitates retreats and offers personal change programmes. Claudia runs a global community which – at its heart – holds conversations exploring a future based on a new and deeper understanding of self.