Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has caused a rapid proliferation of remote work (any full-time, part-time, or project-based job from outside the company’s office), working from home is no new phenomenon. Technological developments over the last decade have rendered working from home more feasible, and even preferable for many, driving a steady rise in remote workers. But whilst national lockdowns have largely come and gone and the need for fully remote work is slowly beginning to decline, coronavirus has driven both organisations and individuals to re-think what it means to ‘go’ to work. One silver lining of the current global pandemic is the realisation that large-scale remote working is not only possible, but also beneficial on an individual and organisational level. Frequently cited benefits include avoiding long and expensive commutes, the ability to devote more time to family and hobbies, and – perhaps most significantly – increased productivity and concentration. That said, adapting to remote work is not seamless or without challenges – a recent Buffer survey highlighted loneliness, collaboration, home distractions, and staying motivated among the most common struggles brought about by remote work.
What with the noisy bustle of family, (often) limited working space, tenuous internet connections, and the absence of the getaway from household responsibilities that a 9-5 day in the office provides, working from home has inevitably blurred the boundaries between our work and personal lives. Respondents in a 2020 World Economic Forum survey found ‘unplugging’ from work whilst at home to be the biggest challenge of adapting to remote work. Angela Kambouris, global leadership consultant and workplace expert, explains the importance of defining both spatial and temporal boundaries when working from home. Kambouris recommends identifying a space in your house specifically for working hours (a separate room or specific desk). This way, you’re telling your mind (and body) that you’ve entered the ‘office’, and it’s time for work, physically and mentally separated from distractions. In short, don’t work in bed – keep your work place separate from places you switch off and relax. Equally important is forming and maintaining proper routines, blocking out time for both work and for yourself. Note your working hours on your calendar, and implement your own boundaries: disabling notifications and emails and turning off your laptop at the end of the working day, and being clear with teammates and colleagues about what your work schedule looks like (be candid about when you’ll disconnect and take time for yourself).
All in all, adapting to remote work doesn’t happen overnight, and it isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation: some prefer to treat remote work just as they would a regular day in the office (enjoying and savouring a work-free lunch hour, for example), whilst some are desk jockeys, and others prefer working late into night. It takes time to find out what works best for you: individual productivity fluctuates, company and team morale and communication can vary, and unavoidable personal circumstances can compromise your working conditions. The sudden transition from in-office to remote work can cause communication problems (both technological and geographical). Using a collaboration tool or message board specific to your colleagues and team such as Slack avoids important points getting lost in endless email chains, and allows for more direct, relevant interactions. Slack is a personalised communication platform designed to make team communication easier, simpler and more streamlined. Communicating within a team spanning continents can bring a host of challenges, organising video calls across time zones not being the least of them. World Time Buddy (WTB) is a convenient time zone converter and an online meeting scheduler designed to make cross-continent communication simpler (no more scheduling video calls at ungodly hours!)
Ultimately, we can embrace the greater freedom and flexibility that remote working can offer - why not experiment by switching up your working hours or workspace, and spend the time saved avoiding gruelling commutes by tapping into interests or hobbies (pick up that book you’ve been putting off reading, get experimental with your breakfasts, or actually go for an early morning run - the possibilities are endless).
This article was brought to you by Dig Detox. Our mission is to help people use technology safely because we believe health is your most valuable asset. Please visit www.digdetox.com for more articles, research and information about the movement.
By Effie Webb
University of Oxford
First Published 2nd September 2020
World Economic Forum
World Time Buddy