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Re-designing remote work after 12 months of lockdown.

No matter how long it might take before the restrictions are eased, we are unlikely to return to how we worked before, so we need to take time to actively look at how we're working now, and make sure it's working for us.

Author: / Published: February 16th 2021

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.

Some 12 months on - whilst the tools might still be in place - for many there's still very little design in place to make sure we're working remotely as well as we can, leading to what many are calling 'zoom fatigue' after the popular video conferencing tool, but applies really to the explosion of always-on and asynchronous platforms with multiple channels and constant notifications.

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) and as a result, we're seeing no shortage of research showing the number of hours we're putting into work are increasing - due to a feeling of 'lockdown laziness', or that we have to make sure we're visible and "showing up" - a sort of digital presenteeism, and boundaries around the working day blurring, exacerbated by being in the same physical space for work and home.

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.

No matter how long it might take before the restrictions are eased, we are unlikely to return to how we worked before, so we need to take time to actively look at how we're working now, and make sure it's working for us - here are our five suggestions for helping to redesign your day.

1. Journal to gather habits, changes and insights

Take the time to capture data on how you work currently. Use a notebook to journal, and identify any working habits, moments in the day when you're feeling tired or energetic, frustrations and things which motivate you, the time of day you start and end working, any work activities outside of those times, what platforms and channels you're using, how many hours you're in meetings vs working. Do this for a few weeks to get a good broad view of how you're working. If you continue to do this over a longer period of time, you'll start identifying patterns, but also spot any shifts in your wellbeing over time. 

2. Reflect on the design of your day

Once you've captured some data on your working habits, review what you've discovered. Are you happy with this structure and pattern? Does this surprise you? Are there changes you'd like to make? You don't need to make any changes yet, but start with identifying which parts of your working day you're happy with and which you're not. You might not have complete control over yoru working day, but being armed with a list of changes you are in control over, and a list of changes you'd need or want to discuss with others, is the best starting point.

3. Identify and share your communication preferences

Not everyone communicates in the same way, some of us prefer video, others an email. Capturing and sharing how you prefer to communicate for different tasks helps others find the right way to communicate with you. Use a tool like the Manual of Me to share your preferences, or even ask the others in your team to do the same.

4. Use DND modes

It's very easy to see endless online meetings as part of the way we work now, but so many meetings could be an email or quick phonecall. Book in time in your diary where you're blocking out time for focus and work, rather than face time with others - and protect it during the week, so you have a good mix of online, offline, face to face and group time across the week. Even when you're in focus mode, notifications can creep through, so try using the Do Not Disturb mode which exists on most devices and platforms these days. 

5. Schedule in breaks and banter

There's a risk that work is nothing more than transactional interaction, so don't forget to schedule in time where you're catching up with your team on topics which aren't entirely work focused - the same sort of conversation you'd have in a kitchen over coffee, or outside a meeting room before you start the session. These microinteractions are critical to feeling connected and building positive relationships with others, but often eat into working time if they're not designed as part of your day. Create specific time for socials. Do the same for lunch and regular screen breaks. Try to step away from the screen at least once an hour - use a timer or the Pomodoro technique if it helps you remember.

6. Design boundaries between work and home

Add something to your day which creates a very clear and tangible difference between working and non-working times. Use a technique like a mental commute, where you take 30 minutes to complete a task focused on you, rather than work, or a simple break to leave the house for 20 minutes to take a walk and return to the house with a different mindset.

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There are numerous ways you can redesign your day - there's no one structure or pattern which works for all, and our suggestions are just a handful of approaches - but most importantly everyone can take time to actively consider how their workday is working for them, and identify positive changes to enable you to work well during lockdown.

This topic is an extended version of one of the pages in our Working Well during Lockdown - Winter Edition ebook, which is available online.

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