COVID-19 has forced workplaces to adopt flexible work arrangements for staff. The problem is, employees might struggle to remain productive and happy once they’ve made the transition from the familiar structure of the office.
Self-discipline is crucial when working at home. If you find it hard to stay on track, you’re going to have to work at building good habits, and quickly. Your boss will still expect you to complete your tasks and projects, whether you’re physically in the office or not.
Also, if you thrive on regular social interactions throughout the day, even with your cat purring behind your laptop screen, your home office may make you feel a little isolated. Therefore, it’s important to keep in touch with colleagues regularly.
The keys to flexible work arrangements are: Stay in touch, stay structured and stay productive.
Here are a few ways to help you smash this new flexible working norm!
Staying healthy when you’re working at home
A healthy body automatically improves your emotional health, so make sure you get some exercise every day. Working at home can take its toll on your physical and mental health if you don’t look after yourself.
So, take the dog – or just yourself – for a brisk walk before you start work, or at lunch time. If you prefer to get your heart rate pumping faster, go for a run or hop on your bike. Just make sure that you do something EVERY day.
Rise and shine
Treat your days just as you would if you were going to work. Set your alarm and get up early. Get ready as you would do normally so when you start work you feel fresh and ready to go. Avoid lounging in bed with your laptop, this really is a recipe for disaster. It’s far too easy to drift in and out of mental productivity if your body is lounging.
Create a designated work-space
Having a home office, or some area of your house that you can go to during work hours, helps to keep you focused and less likely to be distracted by home life. It also helps remind family members or housemates that although you are at home, you are still working.
Before you start your home-based workdays, take some time to create yourself a nice environment to work in. You’ll be far happier and far more productive if you aren’t surrounded by clutter or sharing a desk with your 8-year-old. Ideally, close a door between you and the rest of the house. When you’re in your workspace, it’s work time. When you leave, work is over. This also makes it easy to switch off at the end of the day.
Structuring your workload
It helps to work through a clear to-do list each day when you work alone. This keeps you task orientated and less likely to procrastinate.
Depending on your priorities, you may want to structure your tasks into blocks of time so that you work on certain tasks for a short time or block out larger time slots to complete tasks.
- You might check and reply to emails first thing in the morning and again just after lunch but only spend 20 minutes each time, so you can get on with higher priority projects.
- If you have to write a report, it’s usually easier to research and then write immediately afterwards, so the information is fresh in your mind.
You’ll soon learn how to structure your days to achieve your own optimum productivity. However, it’s important to start your good habits as soon as you can, so bad habits don’t creep in. Bad habits are far harder to break than good!
Stay on track
Flexible work arrangements often mean you have a better work/life balance. You may not need to stick to the strict 9-5 office timetable, but you do need to get the work done.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to become distracted when you’re at home, so you do need to be aware of the dangers. Domestic tasks like washing, cleaning and general life admin can quickly eat into your day. And sitting in front of the TV to ‘Just watch something while you eat your breakfast’ is asking for trouble.
So, make a conscious effort to time your breaks and only focus on work during your work hours. Everything else can be done before or after, just as it is when you are in the office every day.
And then of course, there’s your phone! We all know how watching a ‘crazy fails’ video posted by your mate can lead you to a social media slippery slope for hours. So put your phone away. If you need it to log into work systems, keep it in a draw nearby but make sure it’s out of sight. If you let it draw you in, you will lose hours of your working week.
Take a break
It’s easy to skip breaks when you’re out the office routine, which may sound like an awesome way to get more work done but it’s usually not the case. Our brains need to take a break to be able to stay focused. When we don’t give them a rest, we start making mistakes, without realising it.
Do take a lunch break and a couple of micro breaks during the day. Get up and get away from your computer, go outside, get in touch with a friend or your partner. Just stop thinking about your work for a while. You’ll feel all the better for it when you return to your work zone.
When family, friends or neighbours discover that you work at home some of the time, it’s tempting for them to just drop round or interrupt you during the day. It’s important to be clear with them from the start that you need to work. Tell them to limit interruptions to a particular time of day when you take a break or after you have finished for the day.
Obviously, this is not so easy if you are a parent with children at home, so for extra help for parents, read our blog: Work at home parent – the ultimate balancing act. It has some useful ideas and advice, like ‘time banking’.
Flexible working arrangements aren’t for everybody – and that’s OK
This is probably the most important tip in this post. This way of working isn’t for everybody, flexible work arrangements may seem like a great idea to begin with, but you may find you struggle.
If you feel happier and more productive with the structure and interaction of a workplace, that’s OK. Just don’t suffer in silence. Have a chat with your manager or your HR department to see when you can go back to the office full time. It’s likely the pandemic will continue to throw a few curveballs, so workplaces may need to limit numbers for a while yet, so it may not happen overnight.
In the meantime, keep communicating with your manager. Maybe ask for a check in every morning if you need a little more structure, so you can go over what you need to do that day. Also, if you don’t already have a regular social catch up with your workmates, why not suggest Friday afternoon drinks over Zoom/Teams so you can all keep up to date with what’s going on with everyone.
A final note
Whether you love it or hate it, flexible work arrangements are the new norm for many businesses.
For many of us, working at home is the ideal way of working, giving us a far better work/life balance and making it far easier for parents to work. But it’s a good idea to be mindful of those who aren’t so happy or as productive during their days at home. It’s likely they would really appreciate a friendly check in or a little encouragement now and then. A little kindness goes a very long way.