By Manasi Bharati, Content Consultant
Working from home or remote working options may seem like a dream come true for many, especially for the jobs that do not require your physical presence per se for getting the tasks done. The world has seen a 140% increase in the global workforce that is working from home from 2005 until 2016 and during the global pandemic of coronavirus, this number has gone up to 173% (Global Workplace Analytics, 2020).
Working from home (WFH) definitely has its upsides. For organisations, WFH can boost productivity, lower turnover rates, reduce costs and increase working hours. For individuals, WFH can reduce stress, improve the balance between work and life responsibilities and save time and money. In a study by Fundera (2017), 82% of those with working from home arrangements reported lower stress levels, 80% reported higher morale and 69% reported lower absenteeism.
With working from home becoming quite popular and the norm now, the challenges that come with it are also becoming real. Buffer, the social media management platform, published a report titled ‘State of Remote Work’ in 2019 based on around 2500 WFH participants from all over the world. 48% agreed that the biggest work benefit was the flexible schedule, but more than half of them also reported struggling with switching off from work, feeling lonely and difficulties in communicating with colleagues and managers.
In the presence of these challenges, how do you work effectively from home? We have gathered some excellent tips from psychologists and researchers worldwide for you:
- Maintain a regular schedule
Experts suggest that sticking to your regular working hours and maintaining a fixed schedule is often the best way to be productive when working from home. Without any kind of supervision, for some, there might be a tendency to lose focus and discipline and it might become difficult to motivate yourself.
To remedy this, start the day with a ‘To-do’ list and review it at the end of the day. This can be an effective way to keep yourself motivated and focused throughout the day. However, setting realistic expectations is the key to achieve them. Setting goals is the simplest and the most used motivational theory. You can also reward yourself once a task is completed, and taking a break is a good way to reward yourself.
Flexibility is an important feature of WFH but that should not come at the cost of not following any kind of routine as that can make you unproductive. Organisations and teams can work together to set daily task lists and conduct daily check-in sessions wherever possible. The focus of these should be productivity, not lack of trust. Encouragement through a daily call can act as a motivator for the employees.
- Define clear boundaries
Often while working from home, the boundary between tasks and responsibilities at work and home is blurred. There is no place to ‘come home to’ after work as you are already at home. Thus, it is essential to demarcate clear boundaries between work and family lives to minimise distractions and frustrations.
This mental overlap can interestingly be reduced by a physical solution. You can assign a separate room if possible or a secluded place or a corner in the house which is used only for work. Once you step into it, you automatically become more focussed on your work and you ‘get in the zone’. Lee and Brand (2005) observed that such perceived control over the physical work environment and the perceived privacy allows for employees to be more productive and satisfied.
However, separating home and work responsibilities may not be convenient or even possible for some. Realistically, it is difficult to not have work and home tasks interfere with each other. For employees with childcare responsibilities, it is not uncommon to see them get called by their kids for something while they are working. Organisations and colleagues need to be compassionate and understanding in such situations and make the employees feel comfortable with having multiple responsibilities. Conveying that their work is appreciated and that their home situations do not determine their working skills or exclude them from the rest of the organisation is something that can be done by the team members. After all the lines between home and work lives are becoming increasingly blurred.
- Take regular breaks:
Following a strict schedule and setting goals can often mean not taking breaks from work. Research shows that this is ineffective in boosting productivity and, in fact, continuous working can lead to more errors and decreased productivity and creativity.
120 minutes of continuous work without any breaks is less productive than 30 minutes of work followed by even 5 minutes of breaks. Such restorative breaks are crucial for the brain to relax and get back to work. Taking breaks as a part of your work schedule is something that you must consider. It can be a five-minute break or a 20-minute break according to what works for you. You can simply walk around, stretch your legs, socialise with family or friends or simply even stare out of the window or a blank wall if you prefer!
For your physical and mental well-being, taking regular breaks can be more productive. The breaks can be used to get home tasks done which otherwise would not have been possible in regular 9-5 working hours. Intense work hours can be followed by small breaks to do chores or to relax or to prep your meals or exercise. Such a schedule can be followed and suggested by the organisations to make the most of the employees’ time while they work from home. It’s also important to remember how important physical activity is, especially for those of us that spend a long time with a screen and keyboard. Getting up and moving helps us physically, mentally and in terms of our work productivity.
- Stay connected
It is essential that in the absence of visibility in offices, you maintain regular contact with your team from your home. Research suggests that prolonged working hours on your own can lead to a feeling of self-isolation and, thus, decrease motivation in the long run as well as having a detrimental impact on your mental health.
An extra effort to stay in touch with your colleagues is essential. Employees can regularly check in about their progress and share learning with the colleagues. You can also create a web space for your team to have talks apart from work and to just have fun and unwind. The corridor talks and break talks in the offices can be replaced by such a virtual place to interact with your team. Psychologists suggest that such regular virtual socialising is important not only for an individual’s career but also for their mental well-being.
Managers can also make efforts to reach out to their employees and allow for multiple channels of communication. Limiting to a single mode of communication like e-mail or office chat groups can dissuade employees from reaching out. The higher the number of available options of communication, the higher the probability that at least one of them would be utilised. Technological tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom, Google suite, etc. offer opportunities for teams to collaborate on tasks and to have virtual meetings.
- Get the required resources
In order to carry out the tasks efficiently, it is vital to ensure the hardware and software tools and the skills required to perform the tasks are available. Though it may seem trivial and basic, often such things are the factors that cause the most frustration.
Psychologists Bakker and Demerouti (2006) termed this the ‘Job Demand-Resources model’. It means that to avoid strain on employees, they should be given the proper resources to meet their job demands. Employers need to make sure that they provide home workers with the required resources and provide support for IT to ensure effective working. Additionally, new skills and training can be provided online to ensure workers are kept up to date and skills are developed.
Leaders should ensure that they don’t fall prey to bias and assume all employees have equal access to technology and knowledge around how to use it. To be more inclusive, documents and live support could be shared before virtual meetings so that everybody can prepare their opinion on the topic.
Of the 5 tips above, consider the ones you feel that you are already paying attention to, and those that would warrant greater attention.
This article is adapted from our learning programme on ‘Working from Home Effectively’ available on our platform Include LXP. To know more, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo by Canva
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