Working from home may have been a default arrangement for some of us way before the pandemic. But for most of us, it is a reality that we’re still trying to come to terms with and get used to in light of the new normal.
It’s been almost half a year since the first lockdown in Australia was announced (March 12). Since then, we’ve gone through cycles of hope and fear with regard to beating the COVID-19 pandemic. Restrictions were gradually lifted, beaches were reopened, and fast forward to present day, we’re seeing a rise in the number of cases again.
That said, the fight against the virus is far from over. This means that we might have to wait a while longer before we get back to our old routines and habits before the pandemic, and instead start building our lives around the new normal—a life that’s built around social distancing.
For most of us, social distancing is heavily characterised by working from home instead of showing up to an office everyday. While work from home arrangements may change as public health conditions improve, it may become a catalyst for employers to rethink work arrangements for good.
Whether or not everything goes back to the way it was, this is the reality we’re facing now, and the key to success is gearing up for it.
In this guide, we’ll share some tips that will help you equip your home life for success in the new normal.
Tip #1 – Communicate your needs at home
More often than not, working from home is not an endeavor taken upon by a single individual. It’s an experience you share with your partner or spouse, your kids, or even your extended family. After all, you share your home space with everyone almost 24/7.
In Sydney, kids have started going back to physical schools. Depending on the outcomes of the situation, distance learning, an option considered by countries all over the globe, is becoming a possibility that doesn’t seem too far off if the virus isn’t eliminated completely.
With those facts in mind, it’s critical to set ground rules and expectations at home.
Here are some possible points of discussion during your sit-down with your family:
- Work hours
Discussing your work hours is not as straightforward as it seems. Your presence at home signals your availability to talk, play, or do housework. These are things that are clearly off the table when you’re in an office setting, but at home, lines get a little bit blurry.
Aside from that, your work hours are composed of different types of work: meetings, administrative tasks, and deep work.
It’s important for all of you to communicate what exactly happens at certain hours, to avoid conflict. These conflicts can stem from something as simple as asking the kids to turn the television volume down before you dial-in a meeting, to something as troublesome as having plenty of backlog because you never have the luxury to focus on your work due to constant interruptions.
- Division of responsibilities
When you’re at home, it’s easy to fall into the trap of multitasking. At times it’s forgivable. After all, there’s no harm in doing a load of laundry before you jump into a 30-minute meeting.
However, the problem gets very real when you set off smoke alarms because you fell into a flow state of work when you only intended to get something done while waiting for the pot to boil.
Having a division of responsibilities among family members allows you to focus on one thing at a time even if you’re working from home. Rotating these responsibilities depending on each person’s schedule can also lighten up everyone’s mental load.
- Family bonding time
Because work from home is inherently a blended set-up, oftentimes, we forget to make demarcations between work life and home life. Most times it is an integrated reality, but sometimes we all need to put the laptops away and dedicate time for family activities.
It’s important to schedule this bonding time when all members of the family are free, and can be completely untethered from work. Setting this time not only allows you to be closer; it also allows for each one to destress from (and forget about) work, even for just a couple of hours.
Tip #2 – Design your workstations to maximise productivity
This is the harsh truth: most companies don’t prepare employees for remote work.
But instead of waiting for companies to do something (i.e., wait a really really long time), you might want to consider setting up your workstations to stay ahead of the game.
We see this in the context of working: you get to the office, go to your desk, set up your laptop, and go to the pantry to grab a cup of coffee.
Without these cues when you work from home, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the overlaps between your home life (e.g. the sight of unwashed dishes) and your work life (e.g. the incessant chiming of email notifications).
Now that we’ve established the science, you can now use this to your advantage by hacking your work from home environment in a way that resembles your usual work set-up, so you can work seamlessly despite being away from the office.
Our team at Liveable is composed of seasoned remote workers. As such, we know a thing or two about increasing productivity while working from home. We know of a few tools that have helped us power through the work from home game, and we’re happy to share them with you.
Nothing screams office more than the sight of a desk with a computer on one side, and a stack of papers on another. Having an office desk at home is the first step to acceptance, and a clear-cut way to let your family know that you’re in work mode.
It should go without saying that the functionality of an office desk is maximised when paired with a comfortable office chair.
Since the start of the pandemic, you might’ve noticed a decline in your physical activity. With most of your activities confined indoors, it’s likely that you’ve spent over 80% of your time sitting.
Sitting is comfortable, but it’s not exactly healthy. One healthy habit you can incorporate in your daily routine is to increase the amount of time you spend standing, even while working.
Having these standing desks help you improve your posture (something we’re all guilty of ignoring but shouldn’t) and keep you in good shape without having to interrupt your work.
Moreover, it’s a helpful tool for those who can’t realistically build a dedicated home office. You can take your standing desk anywhere, whether in the living room, the dining table, or on top of your dresser.
Noise cancelling headphones can increase your productivity in more ways than one.
First, it helps shut the noise out when you’re in calls. It’s critical to pick up every word being said in your calls knowing that you can’t rely on nonverbal cues to completely understand what your colleagues mean.
Second, it also helps when you’re not in calls. If you need to concentrate on a task, putting on deep work music without hearing distracting noise can do wonders for your productivity.
With everyone working from (or stuck at) home, one key thing you share aside from space is internet access. Since you’re all working in different parts of the house, it goes without saying that everyone should get his/her fair share of good bandwidth.
A Mesh WiFi system is yet another miracle of technology—it’ll extend your wifi range from your router’s location to every corner of the house.
With these tools, you’re well underway to building a work from home set-up that inspires maximum productivity.
Tip #3 – Set boundaries, in all aspects of your life
In the past, it’s easy to communicate when you’re no longer working: all you have to do is physically be out of the office.
These days, it’s become commonplace to receive text messages or emails outside of work hours. For the most part, your colleagues don’t mean to do this—they also, very likely (hopefully), just don’t know how to manage working from home as effectively as they’d like.
There’s only one solution: set boundaries. Studies show that lack of boundaries may lead to burnout. This is because having no boundaries means people can send non-stop requests that seem urgent, that you’ll feel you have to respond to, and distracts you from the meaningful work you intend to do.
More than that, now that everyone’s working from home, it’s hard to not feel guilty for working less hours, or wanting more time for yourself, when you can technically work more because you have nowhere else to be.
But just because you’re no longer spending an extra couple of hours on commutes, it doesn’t mean that you should let other people dictate the way you spend your time. During these times of isolation and uncertainty, it’s especially important to look out for your own well-being.
That said, we’ve compiled a list of ways you can set boundaries, both directly and indirectly.
Some direct ways of setting boundaries are:
- Setting out office replies at specific times of the day
- (Politely) telling your teammates to not message you during weekends
- Using your vacation days to get some much needed time off (yes, some people need to be reminded that they’re entitled to their leave benefits even if they’re just at home)
Sometimes, setting boundaries means doing smaller, subtler things just for your peace of mind.
Here are some examples:
- Putting your phone on do not disturb mode until you resume working the next day
- Leaving your work laptop on your work desk (no working in the bedroom!)
- Wearing office clothes during work hours, and changing into pyjamas at the end of the work day – it’s tempting to stay in your pyjamas the entire day; after all, it’s one of the key selling points of working from home. However, changing your clothes before and after working is a symbolic activity that will remind you of the distinction between your work life and home life.
The temptation to work non-stop and attend to your colleagues’ requests is very real. But taking these few easy steps will help you protect your time, regain your personal space, and be more productive in the long run.
Equipping your home for success in the new normal is a game of communication. It’s about communicating your needs to your family and colleagues. It’s also about communicating your boundaries—how you need and want your time and space to be respected.
To more effectively establish your boundaries, it helps to be prepared with tools that will put you in the zone and replicate your office environment, an environment that inspires your peak productivity.
Gearing up for the new normal is the only way to stay ahead, to keep you in your A-game no matter what new changes in restrictions may come your way.