• Charlotte Worth

Working from home during lockdown

Reading the posts on one of my flexible working groups on Facebook, I was really saddened to see how many people are having such a hard time juggling working from home. They are spending their whole days chasing their tails and feeling guilty that they haven’t really achieved anything. Worrying that the TV and Nintendo Switch have become their children’s alternate carers. Stressing that their colleagues might think they are skiving because they didn’t get back to them immediately with an answer. On the flip side there are all the people that live on their own, who on paper have plenty of time to do all their work and may be twiddling their thumbs thinking of things to keep them busy. Unlike their colleagues, who might have kids or other caring responsibilities, they might be feeling lonely and craving a little madness and their old interactions with colleagues. Also being on your own and in your own thoughts all day may start to make you doubt your own ability to do your job properly. There is also no one there to suggest or demand that you switch your laptop off and do something more pleasurable. The grass is never greener, just different.

In our normal working day, we have set boundaries. The times we are at work, when we have our lunch, when we stop for a quick catch up with colleagues or have meetings etc. We know where we are and what is expected of us. Since the start of lockdown all this has disappeared, and we have to come to terms with working from home for the foreseeable future.

For some this is the perfect environment. They can simply roll out of bed, grab some breakfast and head straight to their makeshift desk, possibly still in their pyjamas. They might have the tv or radio on or play their favourite music at full blast and just get on with it. In fact, some people are actually complaining of being bored, as they do not have enough work to do and are using this extra time at home to clear cupboards, decorate a room or just catch up on life.

These are the lucky ones. For others they are barely clinging on and are finding the lack of a normal routine very disruptive. It might simply be that they are creatures of habit and need their regular routine and miss the social interactions of other people. Or they are having to juggle the delights of home schooling or caring for relatives, negotiating with their partner on whose turn it is to look after the kids, whilst trying to remain professional at work.

During this lockdown period we need to throw the working rule book out the window and make up a new set of rules that work for us and our company. As working teams, we need to be considerate of all the additional responsibilities that some of our colleagues might have. Managers need to rethink how they manage, take their foot off the pedal a bit and trust that their team will get things done. It just might not be at the same time and pace as normal. Ask yourself who in the department has children? How old are the children? Are they a single parent? Do both parents have full time jobs? Are they caring for someone? Do they live alone? Yes, targets still need to be met and tasks completed, but do they really need to happen in the same way that they happened before all this started. Probably not.

An article that I have just read by Laura M Giurge from the London Business School and Vanessa K Bohns from Cornell University suggests three main things to avoid burnout during this unusual period in our lives.

Firstly, they suggest maintaining social and physical boundaries. By this they mean try and differentiate between the work you and social you. Perhaps get dressed for work as you normally would, brush your hair, maybe put on some make up. Walk around the block before you start and finish work, to replace your usual commute.

Create work boundaries. This is particularly important for those who are juggling children or caring for elderly relatives. The days of 9 to 5 office hours need to be adapted to take into account a colleague’s other responsibilities. Employees need to find a schedule that works for them and the people they work with. Let your colleagues and manager know what your ideal scenario is. If you are tag teaming with a partner, let your team know the hours you would ideally like to plan to do this. If there is a time when you know that your children will be busy, or the person you are caring for has a nap, schedule in meetings or phone calls around that time. Put an out of office message on that alerts people to the fact that due to the current circumstances you might not be able to reply as quickly as you normally would. Whatever you decide to do make sure you discuss it with your manager and team to see if it works for them. Once it has been agreed you may find, for a little while, that you need to remind people, as I am sure some will forget. However, you will hopefully get there in the end.

For those that are working in the evening, particularly managers, be mindful when sending out an email that your colleagues or employees may feel that they need to reply immediately. Perhaps put a note at the end of the email to let them know why you are sending it during the evening and that you do not expect or want a reply until the next day.

Why not replace your regular catch up in the office kitchen, , with a virtual coffee catch up? Or perhaps create virtual workspaces on apps such Zoom or Google Hangouts, so that you can chat to your colleagues and bounce ideas off each other throughout the day and keep those work bonds and the creativity and productivity growing.

Lastly focus on your most important work. Working remotely sometimes creates a sense of urgency or a need to prove to your colleagues that you are doing something and not just catching up on box sets. So, to stop these feelings and worries we tend to work on tasks that are more immediate, but not necessarily the most important. Sometimes the more important tasks have a longer timeframe and a slower build, so the results are not as immediate and therefore harder to prove that you are currently working. However, if you are juggling caring responsibilities at home, then these are definitely the areas that you should be concentrating on. Managers also need to decide what jobs and targets are essential and what can be put on hold or have an extension added to their timeline.

If you are a manager make sure you have regular check ins with your individual staff. This shouldn’t be because you are checking up on them, but more to see that they are coping with this new way of working. It could simply be to tell them about an interesting bit of information you have just heard about or asking them if they need anything from you. Remind them that technology is sometimes slower at home, particularly with everyone using the internet at the moment, so it is OK is it takes a little longer to do something. Most importantly try not to always ask what they have been doing workwise, maybe just ask about their family and how everyone is coping on some of your calls to them. By making the conversations more informal, it may help your team members to hold their hand up and let you know when they are finding it hard to deal with things.

This doesn’t just have to be managers who do this, team members should also do this to each other. I know you are probably thinking that I don’t have time to do this with all the other things I have to do in the day, but by opening up this line of communication with everyone, you might find that someone has more time than you and are happy to take on the task that you really don’t have time to do.

Most importantly be kind, be considerate and think about your fellow team members as you fire off that email. Don’t tut and get annoyed if they don’t pick up the phone when you call. Remember they might be firefighting a toddler melt down, making lunch for their family, or trying to work out how to help their children with their maths homework. Or they could be looking after a sick or elderly relative who is living with them, whose normal carers are unable to attend to their needs because they too are in lockdown. We are all in this together.

#workingfromhome #workingparent #lockdown

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