A lot has been said and published online about remote work in the last two weeks. The social web is rich in posts with lists of tips and how to embrace and hack our work from home. I would like to spend some time exploring specific aspects of remote work relevant to students, freelancers and employed staff working from home at the moment. I would like to share my personal learnings and experiences in all of those areas. For those who wish to use the lockdown period to learn and develop better work habits, I will also recommend a few sources of additional reading – people and books that helped me a lot when I started my full-time work from home many years ago.
Before we look in more detail at those aspects of remote work, let me introduce them all below. Here is what we will look at in the next few days and why.
Working from home is usually considered from a few critical points of view:
- Space – I am not sure how this works nowadays, but when I was a school secondary student for the first time (quite a while ago) my first lesson was on creating a productive and focussed study space in my room at home. A well planned and tested working space in the house is really important for the delivery of our work, but also for our health, so we need to think this through very carefully and – if required – invest time and money into a good design. Of course, nowadays the concept of mobile remote work is quite familiar, so we will also look at how our perception of a functional working space can apply to alternative locations – for example, our balcony or a garden. We will explore the idea of stepping into a mental working headspace to focus well on work and on other activities too.
- Time – the concept so strongly associated with studies and work, yet so underestimated. We are always short of it. We cannot really control it. We feel under a lot of pressure to deliver and cross tasks of our lists. But how does our perception of time really affect the way we work from home? What can we do to make time work not against but for our wellbeing?
- Energy – this fourth, usually overlooked, but possibly most important aspect of remote work is also something we can explore and improve in our lives. Here we will look not just at the very basics of our health (sleep, nutrition, physical and mental health) but also subtle changes in how we work on various activities, in different periods of the day, week, month or season. We will explore the idea of depleting and nurturing activities too.
- Transitions – I read a lot of tips on working and resting after work. We hear loads about a perfect morning or evening routine too. However, to me, personally, the most essential aspect of work from home was learning to transition between different types of activities at home, especially managing subtle changes in activities. Not a lot of focus is placed on those seemingly short moments in the day – sitting down to work, checking the calendar to plan the day, reviewing the number of new emails, finishing a virtual call, ending the last task of the day before we head back to re-join our family in the kitchen. But how we handle those small transitions is crucial to our productivity, as well as wellbeing. And so we need to learn to make time for them, practice and get into some good habits too. The great news is this: once you get the hang of this, it is really easy to do! So stay tuned for more on the topic.
Remote work is a process, so we will also look at the key stages of it:
- Preparation – I am using this term instead of “planning” because it is more inclusive of our personal needs and possible challenges that might occur in our work from home. We will think about the meaning of preparation for various people and teams. We will explore some of the usual challenges and ways to tackle them in advance to avoid stressful situations at home.
- Getting things done – this is not a work productivity course, we will, however, talk about some key assumptions people working from home make about their to-do-lists and tasks. We will talk about the importance of collecting, categorising, planning, executing and finally reviewing tasks. We will think more about various types of tasks and simple techniques to manage them.
- Reflection – high levels of self-awareness can lead to very effective remote work, so we will talk a little bit about reflective practice. What is it? How do we review and reflect? What are the different types and formats of reflection, and how can we find what suits each of us best?
To get the balance of various aspects right, we also need to talk about the self-care, our individual and collective needs:
- Self-care – we will discuss why self-care is essential and how we can access it. We will talk about various types of activities that can help us turn challenges into strengths and practice mental resilience for harder times. We will think about nurturing and depleting activities to spend our working days in a well-balanced way.
- Solitude – we will spend some time thinking about our individual needs, strengths and weaknesses and our preferred ways of working. It is important to stay attuned with ourselves and learn to manage our own habits around remote work
- Collective work – sharing our living, studying, and working space can be really challenging sometimes. We need to think about collectively set and followed the rules in the household. We might want to think more about effective communication and conflict resolution. However, I would also like to talk to you about the opportunities for collective living and work from home.
To start off this journey with me, I strongly encourage you to make time for the reflections mentioned above. You can start now. Take a sheet of paper, your journal or online notebook and list the above aspects of remote work and spend some time thinking (or journaling) about the following questions:
- What are your thoughts about each aspect?
- How are you feeling about it now?
- What do you struggle with?
- What would you like to learn more about?
- What would you like to improve?
- What aspect of remote work is missing from this list?
Keep your thoughts and notes safe. We will need them shortly. Next time I will write more about preparing a functional working space. Until then, stay safe and well!