With the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19), there is a fundamental shift happening in the world. Technology has made it possible for us to work from almost anywhere unless your job is location dependent. Lots of companies, especially in South Africa are still fond of a traditional workday. This relic of the industrial age, where workers reported to a line manager and had to maximise output by working 8 hours, should be relegated to the stone age.
Since most companies are concerned with productivity, this begs the question – does time spent at the workplace really equate productivity? Studies show that remote working can actually improve productivity and boost employee morale.
The first and most obvious advantage is time-saving. Instead of commuting to the office, employees can start their day fresh, without the fatigue that a long commute brings. There is nothing worse than the feeling of being trapped in the daily grind that comes with a long and frustrating commute. This adds value to one’s life that cannot be quantified by a bigger salary..
Working from home, I have found that my daily productivity increases. Instead of a watercooler chat, the coffee station is the kitchen and the lunchbox is my own fridge. There are no unplanned interruptions as distractions can be minimised. It does take some self-control to not get distracted and to manage the environment.
Actively manage the environment
I work best in complete silence for challenging mental work or with music for more creative and repetitive work. Get to know yourself and what works for you. Working from home gives you the power to actively create an ideal working environment.
Working from home is not a marathon
During my days at home, I find it more efficient to work in 50-minute sessions and then reward myself with a 10-minute break in between. Studies have shown that the human attention span drops dramatically after this length of time. Start by breaking your work down into tasks. If a single task will take longer than 50 minutes, break it into subtasks. Turns out there is a method called the Pomodoro Technique that promotes this way of working.
Get into the flow of things
Once your environment is managed to your working style and you are working in shorter, productive bursts, it is time to get into the flow. This state of awareness is what we can call a mindful awareness where we are so engrossed in the task at hand that we forget the time that has passed. If you reach this state in your remote working, you have optimised your workflow.
Take a break to have fun
Since you’re a workflow master now, reward yourself with a nice break. Step away from the computer or watch videos that are inspiring and amusing. Since you’re achieved optimal flow in your workload, you’ve actually saved time by not looking at other websites or distractions so you can afford to indulge a little.
Work smart rather than hard
Another fallacy of working from home is the perception that working harder will achieve more results. In fact, I’ve learned that working smart and setting out your tasks for the day will achieve much more. It’s not about the quantity that you put in, but rather the quality of time that you spend with your work.
Do the hardest tasks first
It can be hard to prioritise tasks when several deadlines are looming. In the software industry, there is a methodology we use called Agile Development. Every morning, we have a short meeting called standup where each team member tells the rest of the team what they will be working on that particular day. During these sessions, other team members will often remind or answer questions that clarify each individual’s tasks in the greater scheme of the project. Even if you do not have a team, have your own standup meeting where you write down or say your own priorities for the day out loud. Then tackle those tasks first. Our mental energy is a limited resource. Spend your best energy on the hardest tasks and go easy on yourself later in the day.
If you are stuck, go for a walk
The brain relies on oxygen and sitting for long periods of time is not conducive to fresh oxygenated blood reaching the brain. Going for a 30-minute walk can do wonders for your productivity and renew your energy, especially when that afternoon slump hits.
Dealing with people
If you’re an introvert, then remote working must be your idea of a working utopia. Jokes aside, as an extrovert, after prolonged periods of time without social contact I start to crave some face time with another human. During a coronavirus lockdown, chances are you will be stuck with other humans of your own clan. Be kind to them and to yourself. After all, you’re in this together.
Work when you are most productive
The beauty of working remotely is that you do not have to work during traditional working hours. Being a morning person, I find that I do my most productive work between 07:00 and 11:00. If you’re a night owl, you might work better during the evening. Experiment and find out what works for you. If you have too many distractions during the day, find some time during the quiet hours to do some productive work or set priorities for the next day.