I used to really enjoy working from home. Work-from-home days were reserved for those occasions when a particularly challenging task would just refuse to complete itself in the office. My home was this sacred place where I could clear hundreds of emails off my inbox, write annual reviews for the team, or formulate a compelling business case for a new project. It was a place free from office drama and from the usual distractions. A place where great things happened.
Now that I’m working from home every day, things aren’t as exciting anymore. Some days are productive, but other days, not so much. It made me wonder to what extent it’s possible to engineer a working environment at home that fosters both high job satisfaction and high achievement. Here’s what I learned over the last 6 weeks of working from home.
Fitness and Well-Being
In times of crisis, well-being and health should be the top priority for everyone. Even under normal circumstances, for example, depression among people who work in the tech sector is five times the U.K. national average, and their high levels of work-related stress are likened to those of health professionals. The COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty that it brings further increase the risk of anxiety and depression. So if you ever thought about stepping up your game in terms of health and fitness, now is the time. It will make you more resilient and help you to cope with stress.
When the lockdown started, I tried to stick to my daily routine and replaced my usual 1-hour cycling commute with a morning ride of similar length near my home. As time went on, I experimented with different regimens, and found that a longer exercise period at the end of the work day is more beneficial because it acts as a natural divider between my busy working day and a relaxing evening with my family. It helps me to switch off from work and get a proper rest.
If finding enough time for fitness is an issue, try the scientific 7-minute workout, which is a set of simple, well-known exercises such as push-ups, squats, lunges, and crunches. It claims to provide similar benefits to longer workouts due to the high-intensity effort needed to complete it, and it doesn’t require expensive equipment or a lot of space.
For mental health, it is important to carry on doing things you enjoy. When we feel worried, anxious, or low, it’s easy to forget about the good things in life. Make a conscious effort to plan your free time in a similar way to how you plan your working day—and stick to it. My favorite activities during the lockdown have been jigsaw puzzles and listening to audiobooks by the fire in the backyard.
If, like me, you find yourself struggling with anxiety from time to time, consider the book Worry No More! by Bruce Van Horn. Van Horn invites you to see yourself as a director of the play of your life—as the person in charge who has the power to rewrite the script, leading to performances free of failures, anxieties, and insecurities. With practice, Van Horn argues, it is entirely within your power to change the script, to change your life. Worry is such a waste of imagination.
Once you’re in the right place physically and mentally, you can consider factors that influence your productivity. According to a survey by Airtasker conducted in 2019, remote staffers work the equivalent of 1.4 days more every month than people who work in an office, which adds up to more than 3 additional weeks a year.
However, productivity isn’t just about being busy for a certain number of hours; it implies achieving what you set out to do. A productive day starts with a clear, meaningful, and achievable to-do list. Choose three to five things to do and aim to get most of them done by 3 p.m. Then review and reprioritize what you can realistically accomplish in the remaining hours of your working day, when your energy is naturally lower.
If you’ve not yet developed a habit of ruthless prioritization, check out The Bullet Journal Method. It takes you through goal-setting, scheduling, and decision-making principles in a way that feels like written meditation.
Once your goals are clear, the next trick is to get into a habit of taking regular breaks. No one can be productive indefinitely; we all go through peaks of concentration that inevitably subside and fade into long periods of inattention and fatigue. According to a study by the Draugiem Group, the ideal work rhythm is 52 minutes of work time followed by a 17-minute break.
People and Social Interactions
Working from home certainly distances you from distractions such as small talk, gossip, and office drama. And yet, being “out of sight, out of mind” all the time isn’t always where you want to be either! Effective relationships at work involve a mixture of formal discussions and informal chat. Good managers are consistent with their approach to communication regardless of whether they work remotely, and they should maintain the same structure of project meetings, team meetings, and one-to-ones. However, if you are not getting as many opportunities to build and maintain relationships as you should, take the initiative: Ask for more feedback, create a “water cooler” chat online, or organize a meeting or an event around a common hobby or a good cause. Online quizzes, online book clubs, and virtual running relays are some ideas that you can use to connect with your colleagues remotely on a personal level.
The situation we have found ourselves in amid the COVID-19 pandemic is unprecedented. Remote working in the middle of the crisis is not necessarily what you would have planned it out to be—you may be lacking good equipment or adequate home office space. You may be lonely if you are living by yourself, or your mind may be all over the place if you work in a house full of children. Whatever your circumstances, every crisis brings risks as well as opportunities. With the right attitude, there is something we can all learn from this situation that will help us grow and transition into new way of working together.