The global health crisis has changed the way we live our lives and has brought in a new normal for us to adjust to. With governments all over the world implementing lockdowns and encouraging social distancing, things have changed significantly – and abruptly.
Work isn’t the same anymore either – most of us are now working remotely from home. Not having the routine or structure to the day that we were habituated to can be quite unsettling. If not managed well, the WFH situation can be difficult and distressing to navigate.
At the same time, an opportunity exists: studies show that employees who work from home are not only more productive but are also able to strike a better balance between work and life. With the right mindset and techniques, one can work through the challenges of WFH and capitalise on the opportunity to live a healthier and more productive life amidst the health crisis.
Challenge #1: Distractions at Home
When you are at home, your work may be disrupted by many other things which require your attention such as household chores, family members and pets. The boundaries between work and life can get blurry, and this can cause stress, frustration, and even anger.
What you can do about it: First and foremost, know that the situation is hard and will take some time to get used to. It’s also important to set boundaries with people – at work as well as at home. Your partner, children or other family members may not understand why you are busy with work even though you are at home. Explain to your family members what WFH means and that they shouldn’t disturb you during work hours. If they forget, you may need to remind them again.
When it comes to work, decide on certain break times and ensure you keep at least a few hours – either at the beginning of the day or towards the end – that are free of work. Make sure that you communicate boundaries with your colleagues and supervisors.
Challenge #2: Lack of Motivation
Working from a personal space might not give you the sense of urgency that you would have otherwise experienced in an office environment. After a while, you might also find your workdays to be long, tedious, and monotonous.
Moreover, some of us might struggle to get clear direction, supervision or feedback about our work. As a result, timelines for projects may get stretched, and you might find yourself becoming disinterested and unmotivated.
What you can do about it: To deal with lack of feedback, you may have to ensure that constant communication is taking place via phone calls, video calls or messages. You may also have to learn how to accommodate and be more flexible regarding timelines.
It could also help you to think of different ways to be motivated about your work. Each morning, make a list of things that you want to accomplish in the day – and check off items as you complete them. This will give you a sense of accomplishment and will keep you going through the day.
You could also set small goals for your work week and decide on rewards to give yourself if you meet them. For example, if you complete a difficult task at work, you could watch a movie, have your favourite dish, or catch up with your friends over the weekend.
Finally, ask yourself why you are working in the role and organisation you have picked, and how your day-to-day tasks link to the broader goal of the organisation. This can help you feel connected to the work you do and can build a sense of internal drive.
Challenge #3: Extended Working Hours
Studies have shown that commuting to and from work gives people the space and time to mentally prepare for work in the mornings and for home in the evenings. However, in the WFH scenario, commute is no longer a part of work life. As a result, we might not only struggle to get work started in the day, but might also have trouble stopping work in the evening or night.
Moreover, since all work is happening online, you might struggle to cut off from work. As long as you have your laptop and a working internet connection, the work can go on and on.
What you can do about it: Establish a routine for your day. Clarify your working hours with supervisors, and communicate your schedule with people at work. To ensure that you stick to your schedule, have a friend, family member or colleague to check in on you at the start and end of your workdays. You could also keep an alarm on your phone to remind you to stop working.
You could also designate a certain space in your home for work. If possible, pick a table and sit on a chair while you work – this can actually make you more focussed and productive. By setting up a specific spot where you will work every day, you can reduce the likelihood of taking work to other spaces – your bed, hall, or the couch. At the end of the workday, spend time in another room or space to unwind and decompress.
A simple productivity tool that you can use to work better is the Pomodoro Technique. The idea is to work in 25-minute periods, and then to follow each work period with a 5 minute break. After 4 work periods, it is recommended that you take a longer break of 20-25 minutes. This technique can give you a sense of urgency to complete work and provides your workday with some structure.
Challenge #4: Loneliness
While staying in lockdown and maintaining social distance, it is natural to experience loneliness and isolation. Even if you are surrounded by family, you might miss interacting with your coworkers. Studies show that having a friend to interact with at work can significantly improve job satisfaction and life well-being.
The restrictions brought by the lockdown have also made in-person interactions really difficult. You may no longer be able to go out for dinners or movies with friends. Without such social contact, your days may seem dull and dry.
What you can do about it: Use technology to your advantage and stay in touch with your coworkers, supervisors and subordinates. If possible, choose video platforms for work calls – being able to see others at work can help you feel more connected.
Additionally, be proactive about being in touch with your friends and spending time with family. Take regular breaks from work and talk to people you are close to.
Think quality over quantity – find ways to do things with the people who are in the same physical space as you. You could cook together, play board games, watch movies, or even go through old photos together.
If you live alone, think of creative ways to spend time online – have lunch with a friend while being on video call or watch a show together using any of the readily available platforms that allow for the same.
You can also get involved with activities and interests beyond work and family to help you stay balanced. However, avoid becoming too busy as this can cause further stress. Engage in activities that help you feel accomplished or give you a feeling of calm. You could try your hand at cooking, practising meditation or learning something new.
Challenge #5: Technical issues
Technical difficulties – like poor internet connectivity or hardware/software issues with your laptop – can make an already difficult work situation even more frustrating and distressing. These concerns can stop you from working efficiently and can also add to stress.
What you can do about it: Communication is key. Inform your supervisor about your struggles and reach out to your IT support team to see what can be done. Have a conversation around what other work you could do until the technical issue is resolved.
It can be very frustrating to encounter these technical issues, so pause and take a deep breath if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed. Make a list of things you can control in this situation, and focus on what you can do as opposed to what’s out of your control.
Remember that even though you might feel otherwise, you are not alone. The world is in a difficult place and everyone is trying to adapt to the new normal. If you find yourself struggling with WFH, try to identify what your specific challenges are. Create a routine, make time for yourself and reach out to loved ones for support. With the right strategies in place, know that you can learn to make the most of working from home.
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