According to a Gallup survey, 43% of the American workforce work from home at least occasionally. Occasionally is of course the key word – the same survey found that only 5.2% of workers do their jobs from home full time. But in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the vast majority of employees in numerous countries are working completely remotely. It’s an abrupt adjustment, and it can add more anxiety to an already stressful situation. So it’s important to make some changes to your workday when telecommuting. Not only are many of us now dealing with sudden and indefinite total remote working, in addition, most of are unable to leave our home for more than essentials. So your workday cannot be simply moved from your office to your kitchen table. Working from home is different in these difficult circumstances and there are things you weren’t doing before, that you should do now.
Four changes to your workday when telecommuting full time to help you cope
Create a commute. If you already work from home it may seem unnecessary to create some artificial distance from your home and your (perhaps new) workspace. But many people who work from home normally do have a commute of sorts. They drop off their children at school, then come home and start their day. They go to the gym when they wrap up work. But if you’re living under a stay-at-home order, those kinds of bookends aren’t available. So these days you’re going to have to make changes to your workday when telecommuting that match these circumstances.
Your days still need a transition into work, and out of it. If you usually listen to a podcast or audiobook on the way to the office, continue to do that before you start scrolling through emails. If you have a back garden, substitute the morning stop at a café with a cup of tea out there. But don’t roll out of bed and open your laptop, just because you can. You need to warm up mentally to the workday. Your brain associates certain routines with certain tasks. Try to maintain a semblance of the rhythm of your day.
Shorten your day. If at all possible, shave an hour – or more if you can responsibly – off your working hours. Why? Because normally the actual time you do active work at full throttle is less than the time you’re at the office. You walk down a long corridor for a bathroom break or to grab a cup of tea. You pop out to grab lunch. You chat about last night’s game with a colleague. Now you’ve got none of those distractions. And that’s good, to a point. But your mind needs breaks. Usually the normal disruptions are unplanned. However, you’ll feel exhausted if you work non-stop at home. Then you’ll feel frustrated that you’re exhausted. So before you start berating yourself for suddenly being unable to do a job you’ve done for years, realise that you’re not really doing the job you’ve been doing for years. Because part of that job is the environment, the commute, the people you see and the conference room biscuits you eat. Take all that away, and you’re going to feel it.
Speak live to a person. It’s pretty rare to not speak to someone in the course of a workday. It might be the barista in the morning, or just saying hello to a colleague in the lift. You still need regular verbal interactions. So one of the changes to your workday when telecommuting is to make more conscious efforts at live communication. Yes, you can ping people over Slack since you can’t pop your head into their office. But you should pick up the phone and hear a real voice. You need to get out of your head. You need external stimuli. You need to feed the basic human instinct to socialise. Ideally, you should speak to someone about work. If you start talking to your partner or children or flatmate, you don’t keep your head in your workday mode. Besides, if you’re under a stay-at-home order, you’ve got no one else to talk to the rest of the day, so save them as one of your few personal outlets. (Sorry.)
Be disciplined and forgiving. On the one hand, it’s tempting to have a bit of a lie-in during the time you would have been commuting. And it’s hard not to spend hours watching the news during such a uniquely difficult time. The forced structure of normal life has largely disappeared, and it takes a lot of effort to build strict parameters. On the other hand. . .the forced structure of normal life has largely disappeared, and so you have to cut yourself some slack as you find ways to normalise extreme living and working conditions. It might seem like working from home is fully supported by today’s technology, but the mere tools to do your job are only part of the equation.
Try to accept the necessary changes to your workday when telecommuting during this time
Adjust your expectations (downward, this is not the time to challenge yourself to be more productive), and then try to adhere to them. You have been yanked out of a routine you’ve likely had for years. Balancing demands of work, home, family – life, basically – is a dance you learn over time. Suddenly the music has stopped. Until it starts to play again, give yourself a break.
Robert Kovach is the Director of Leader Success for Cisco’s Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area. He has been an advisor to leadership teams of Fortune 500, FTSE 100 and FTSE Global 500 companies on driving business strategy through executive leadership effectiveness and organizational agility. The opinions expressed in this blog are his own and not those of Cisco. Contact him for speaking enquiries.