Productivity in the time of Covid-19: working remotely
A couple of weeks ago Covid-19 seemed like a distant threat, but now we’re dealing with a very serious reality. Since President Ramaphosa’s speech on Sunday, organisations across the country are taking steps to protect their stakeholders, while trying to continue like “business as usual”.
We’ve implemented the recommended health and safety measures so our teams are all working remotely. It’s going to be a learning curve for everyone, a new lifestyle, but there are several straightforward ways to make working from home as efficient, enjoyable and productive as possible. Our Financial Director, Jacques Le Roux, who lives in Malta has become pretty well-versed in this area over the last year and a half. Check out his tips for working remotely.
Routine & Structure
It’s been proven that working remotely is most effective when you introduce routine and structure into your day. This is neither difficult; nor impossible. Think of it this way: nothing should change, except where you work.
If you find yourself spending more money, or changing your morning/evening routine too much, you’re probably doing it wrong and overkilling. Do your normal morning chores, eat your breakfast and have your coffee in your kitchen, then move over to the area you dedicated to work at your house. Spend your normal working hours here and do not forget to take lunch. If you normally work 8am to 5pm, keep doing this. If you take an hour lunch at 12:00, keep it. If you stop working at 5pm, stand up and do so. If you’ve set daily and weekly meetings, still have them. Invest sometime in investigating the best workflow platforms and communication tools for your needs. You’ve probably seen the Monday.com ad on YouTube a hundred times, but maybe it’s a good time to check it out.
Many people fail because they see remote working as an opportunity to sleep-in, or take longer breaks — this never works. This brings us to the 2nd point.
You will be tempted, but stay strong! Yes, it may be convenient to fix that leaking pipe at home, catch up on a series, or shorten your workday, however, you have an ethical responsibility. Being able to work from home is a privilege. I’m not saying that your schedule shouldn’t be flexible (life happens!), but it’s important that you align your day to those of the leadership team, your colleagues and external parties. The easiest way to do this is to dedicate a spot in your house to work — your “home office”. Now not everyone will have a desk, a printer or a large screen at their house, it can even be a makeshift table with a mousepad! As long as it’s your space to work and do nothing else but work. I can’t overstress this. Many studies show that by isolating your workspace from the space you relax or sleep in, you ensure that your levels of productivity don’t “dip” when you change your work environment. In other words, having your home office in your bedroom, or in front of the television is asking for trouble!
Believe me, I miss being able to glance over to a colleague’s desk to see if he/she is busy, or being able to quickly pop my head into someone else’s office and ask a question. This is probably the most challenging factor to consider and will take some time to master. Just remember, communication goes both ways:
- Decide on a communication channel and stick to it. In my first few weeks, I had people calling me on Skype, while others chatted on Hangouts and WhatsApp, while I was busy on a Zoom call. It was chaotic, confusing and everyone was frustrated. The default perception will always be that someone is either ignoring you or that you are not at your desk (it’s a human response). Decide upfront that, for instance, WhatsApp is the primary messaging app and Zoom the dedicated video channel.
- Now that you have decided on your apps and channels, keep them open. Use the desktop versions as far as possible to make it easier to manage. Update your status on each (e.g. “busy” while on a planned call, “away” when tending to something).
- There is a difference between micro-management and effective communication. Although it isn’t expected that you update your manager each time you will be away from your desk to make a cup of coffee, prolonged absence should be communicated. This is not only respectful of everyone’s time but really a requirement if you have deadlines and expectations to manage.
- Have your daily standups, weekly meetings and actually all other meetings as per normal. These check-ins ensure that you are aligned and keeps everyone informed.
- Have a casual chat or two as well. The “watercooler” talk or non-work related check-ins are important too. Start group chats and use them.
- Working from home can have a downside too; not being able to “switch off” at the end of the day. It may be tempting for some to extend their working day to beyond what they normally work. The laptop is there, so while you watch your 9pm movie, why not respond to a few emails?! Doing this too regularly is not advised. You need to relax and rest (tomorrow is another day), your kids/pets need attention, your life needs to continue. Again to repeat, if you find yourself changing your after-hours routine too much, you’re probably doing it wrong.
- We are not all the same. Introverts may jump at the opportunity to work from home and thrive in the environment. Extroverts may experience this as torture. Find what works for you: switch on the radio/television in the background for ambient noise if it’s too quiet where you work, arrange your desk so that you look out of the window, etc. Perhaps you might need to switch-it-up every now and again by changing the location of your desk. We move our desks to follow the sun, so we have a summer and winter spot. Just be careful not to disrupt your routine too much.
- It’s essential to protect your eyes by having adequate lighting where you work. Natural light is the best. Important too is your chair: you probably do not have an ergonomically designed chair at home, so get up regularly, stretch and walk.
With just a few simple changes, in both attitude and physical set-up, we can have a comfortable and productive period during this unprecedented time.
Jacques will be hosting a webinar this Thursday at 3pm SAST where he’ll elaborate on how to make the most out of working remotely and will answer any questions you may have. Pop over to this link and pre-register now. We can only accommodate 100 people so it’s first come first serve.