We're busy updating our Work Well during Lockdown guides to reflect the situation we find ourselves in after 200+ days in varying states of pandemic restrictions - but the most important section of the guide is Chapter 2 - tips and techniques for working well whilst locked down.
Redesigning remote work
Much of the shift to working remotely occurred overnight - with rapid shifts to working in new ways cobbled together based upon the tools we had access to, and rushed hacks to make things happen. Even for those of us who are used to working remotely were affected as our clients had to switch to new systems and tools, without time for design.
Six months on - and whilst the tools might still be in place - there's still very little design in place to make sure we're working remotely as well as we can.
If anything - work has become more transactional with way more meetings, endless zoom calls, blocked out calendars of catchups and check-ins and chats and touching base - sometimes it's hard to know when you'll actually get the work done (or you end up just waiting until the evening where things are quieter).
Even if you're working for yourself, there are still things you need to consider when you're working with others, to make sure connections, communication and your wellbeing are considered.
It isn't just a few weeks of temporary working like this - we need to take time to actively look at how we're working now, and make sure it's working for us.
Re-establish your boundaries
Working from home needs clear boundaries - this means having a sense of when you're at work, and when you're not.
It can help to have a rough schedule of when you're working. Whilst you don't need to fit to the Monday-Friday 9-5 model, having a pattern of when you're available to respond to emails or slack and when you're not, helps you switch off and helps others to not interrupt your time off.
Use your email signature to show others when you're available, or put your out of office message on during the hours or days you're not willing or able to respond to messages.
Use Do Not Disturb mode on tools like Slack or your email to switch off the notifications during out of hours times. Many apps and devices have an automated "Do not disturb" scheduler, which can help you to remember to 'switch off'.
Likewise, ask others what their schedule is, so you're able to respect their boundaries, and get used to working in a less synchronous way, i.e. don't expect immediate replies to emails sent just because you're working at that time.
Establish those boundaries with people at home too - if you're sharing a space, be clear with people when you're working, when you need to be able to focus, and when you're available to chat or socialise. This can be much easier said than done if you're parenting, perhaps - so break your day into shorter bursts of work.
And don't be afraid to change those boundaries - what might have worked six months ago at the start of lockdown might no longer be working for you. Your first design will rarely be the right design, so observe what works and what doesn't, and look to make changes where you need to - just make sure you're communicating them well to others.
Actually do some work
Yes, we get it - you zoom.
Just because you’re all working remotely does NOT mean you need to be constantly communicating and chatting and running conference calls and status updates and ... oh my gosh.
There’s a risk that we’re all feeling like we need to over-communicate and see each other all of the time, slack is open constantly, email traffic has increased ten- fold, there are calls, texts, voice messages, video chats, google-docs-a-plenty. You’re allowed to switch it all off and actually get down to doing some work. If it means blocking out time in a schedule where you’re focusing, or telling people you’re going to be offline for a while - that’s fine. You’re being paid to do a job, not being paid to tell people what you’re doing. Tools like outlook even have automated 'focus schedulers' to help you find time to keep for you. Managers: Don't forget to let your people breathe and trust them to do the work. Don’t swap presenteeism for over-communication. They are dealing with way more than ever before, and possibly a whole load of things you don’t know behind the laptop.
Understand your energy
Regardless of the pandemic, our days are full of peaks and slumps of energy levels.
We all recognise the 3pm dip, but do you know your own energy levels, and how they flow through the day? It takes conscious effort to keep track of them and then design your day around when you're best to concentrate, best to collaborate and best to rest.
Whilst you might have known when you worked best before, after six months of pandemic behaviours, these energy levels have changed. Our days may now need to be shorter or include more breaks. Have this conversation with your client, team or manager and see how more flexible schedules can help to ensure you don't burnout.
Use an energy journal to understand how you're feeling during the day, restructure your day to suit your energy - and take breaks to rest and replenish.
Don't always be digital
We’re going to need to rethink what our tools are used for, how and when.
Not all tasks we need to undertake right now are best suited to typing and texting.
If you need to have a conversation about how you’re feeling, consider a phone call. If you’re not feeling up to video, that’s fine, you’re allowed to keep it switched off. Realtime tools are amazing, but sometimes you need to consider your thoughts and writing might be better.
Ask to submit a written response to a request if you find it easier, or offer that others can take their time to write, rather than jump on a video call.
Allow for less-functional meetings
As we don't see each other in the hallways or cafe any more - much of the opening of meetings will be people catching up and socialising.
Allow for this, as it's critically important.
Remember to add additional time, and make sure you're not rushing people to get the job done in the remaining time.
Alternatively, schedule in additional meetings where the aim is to nothing more than to catchup and socialise.
This happened in the workplace without effort: making a cup of tea for someone else, waiting at the printer, standing at the lifts - all of these small microinteractions are essential for a sense of belonging, but are lacking when we're remote. So put them back in.
Schedule a time in the morning for a team catchup - that first bit of banter you have in the morning, before you get stuck in to work; put something in mid-afternoon over a cup of tea to just chat about nothing; spend lunch breaks with others over skype or google hangouts.
Working apart together
Working remotely means there’s less likelihood of ‘bumping into someone’, offers of a cup of tea, or uncovering random facts about your colleagues.
Whether you’re a new starter, an established team member, or working as a freelancer - getting to know your fellow humans beyond the task at hand helps reduce feelings of isolation.
Book in some one-on-one chats with teammates, that aren’t work focused, but just hanging out.
Use a tool like Manual of Me to kickoff a conversation and discover things about your fellow workers that you might not have know about.
Some of these questions are fun (Who would play you in the movie of your life? What is your nerdiest hobby?), some are important (What else are you juggling at home which you’d like us to be aware of? How can we help in times of stress?), some are useful (How do you like getting feedback? What times of day would you prefer us to let you focus?).
There’s a free weekly question available at manualof.me/at/home
Reintroduce the Commute
OK - this one seems really odd, bear with me.
The commute actually had some benefits for us: not the being crammed into a train carriage or enforced travelling from A to B and back to A again, but rather as a clear distinction between "work" and "home" - a time where we could switch from one mental state to another and a solid block of time where we can just be.
Many use it for reading, listening, staying in touch with others, snoozing, daydreaming.
When you work from home - you lose these boundaries - so considering putting back in a 'mental' commute whilst working under lockdown can be useful - perhaps just a 30 minute window where you give yourself time to do something for you, and switch modes.
Read that magazine. Stare out of the window. Plan a holiday. Play Candy Crush. Text a friend. Listen to a podcast. Putting an activity in-between helps to create boundaries between working and not-working, but also a good chunk of time for ourselves.
Embrace the mental commute.
Parenting and Covid
We know that homeschooling and work was, well, let's admit it, not ideal.
Whilst we're hoping, for the sake of both our children and our own stress levels, that schools continue to remain open in a safe way, if decisions are made to reduce the number of days where your children are at school - you'll need to make plans for how to manage this again.
Don't put it off until it happens - start to consider what options are available, and what your ideal solution would be. Create some possible scenarios and discuss with other working parents in your class bubbles about what could be done to help each other out.
Talk to your boss - explain your home situation, and discuss a way which allows you to manage time with family, and time with work. Perhaps this is reduced hours, or a flexible working pattern, or simply just respecting that you cannot work all day.
Create a routine - find a new schedule where you’re creating space for family, space for work, and space for you. We know this isn’t easy, but a routine can help everyone understand.
Tasks to engage - there are so many amazing resources and activities which have been shared for kids to spend time doing. Make full use of them, and let your kids play.
Use the community - lean on wonderful supportive communities like Doing it for the kids, for advice, resources and connecting with other parents.
Don’t aim for superparent - give yourself a break, and be kind to yourself. You’re already doing an amazing job under hard circumstances. Bravo.
Anxiety around returning to a workspace.
If you're being encouraged to return to a workspace by your client or employer, you might be experiencing feelings of anxiety around this.
Perhaps this might be around using public transport, spending time with groups of others outside of your own bubble, you might be feeling pressure to return when you're not ready, or perhaps it's just another period of change and uncertainty.
This is to be expected - it's important not to disregard your concerns, and not everyone will be experiencing the same feelings.
Try to communicate how you're feeling to those who are expecting you to return to a workspace, and express what would be an acceptable way of returning to a workspace. Discuss what you feel works best for you. There's no 'normal' or 'right' way of working - everyone has different needs, so working with your employer to reach something that allows you to feel comfortable whilst also being able to get your work done, is important.
See if you can run a trial return to the workspace - and see how you feel when you give it a go - sometimes the reality of the experience isn't as bad as your concerns about it.
Consider options like: working compressed hours in a workspace to reduce travel time when others might be travelling too; one day in a shared workspace where others are joining too to maintain connections; agree key meetings or working sessions where face to face time is important.
And no matter what you agree - put in a time to discuss and review how you're working a few weeks after you've started, to see how you and your employer feel about the new approach.