In a recent LinkedIn post, I shared that, although I have been Working From Home (WFH) for most of the last ten years, since the lockdowns started I have become much less productive. That post on LinkedIn attracted over 38,000 views, more than 470 reactions and over 70 comments. Almost all the comments were from people finding exactly the same thing.
In a recent study by NewMR, it seems that only 5% of insight and research professionals are still working in offices, the rest of us are working from home (or not working at all). For some people, it is quite normal to be WFH, but many of the people now WFH are new to the experience. However, regardless of whether people are familiar or not with WFH, it seems that most of us are finding the current situation difficult.
Some thoughts about what is happening
Here are some thoughts about what is happening at the moment to people trying to WFH, based on feedback from my online discussions and from the recent NewMR study:
• I am used to working from home, but now I am at home, in a crisis, and trying to work.
• I am balancing teaching, childcare and work – and I don’t think I am doing any of them very well.
• The first five minutes of every meeting is ‘how is everybody’.
• Some of my colleagues have fallen ill with COVID-19, shifting the conversation in meetings to who's sick?
• It is the uncertainty that is the problem, how many more birthdays, trips, concerts will I miss? Will the lockdown or WFH be weeks or months?
ESOMAR Vice-President and start-up guru Kristin Luck quoted Barbara Larson from Northeastern University "Trying to require 100% attention is not going to work. This is like wartime. You wouldn't expect people to be at 100% productivity when their houses are getting bombed. Right now, child care and housecleaning and restaurants and all these services that help people buy time have been cut off. Managers need to be extraordinarily sensitive to that." – with the message that managers need to adjust their expectations.
Another great share in the group was a link to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Scott Berinato, called ‘That Discomfort You’re Feeling is Grief’. As was this post by Jelena Kecmanovic in The Washington Post “Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful and angry. Here are tips for coping.” And thirdly, Bethan Blakely shared a link to a blog she has written for Research-Live, called “Embracing Business Un-Usual”.
The key strand in these conversations is that these are not usual times, most people are affected, being impacted makes you normal, not deficient.
So, #BeKindToYourself, most people are struggling at the moment, it is not just you. #BeKindToOthers, most people are struggling at the moment, give then a break and, if you can, give them a hand.
Some suggestions for companies
1. The Golden Rule: Don’t ASSUME, “It makes an ASS out of U and ME”. Don’t assume people can do the same amount of work from home as they could from the office.
2. Don’t assume people are OK. Don’t assume people are reading your messages (for important ones, perhaps include an action that will help you assess its reach). Don’t assume that people can separate their home situation and their worries from their work life.
3. Try to reduce workloads where possible, try to avoid bringing in new/extra procedures. Encourage the use of voice, or preferably video, rather than email. Use video calls between you and your employees, video between employees, and video with clients. Check people have the right hardware, check they have somewhere suitable to work, share tips on how to make easier/better use of the systems (including things like blurring the background when having video meetings in Teams).
4. If you have reduced your employees’ hours and they are WFH, ensure you know what days they are working so you don’t send requests just before they are supposed to be ‘not working’. Encourage your team to set an out of office on non-working days and to avoid turning their work machine on. Schedule things like team meetings and townhalls for days/times when people are scheduled to be working – or adjust schedules to match key dates.
5. Tell people that meetings should finish at least 10 minutes before the hour, to ensure people have a chance for a comfort break before the next meeting.
Some suggestions for you, if you are working from home
1. The Golden Rule: If you are struggling, ask for help, speak to somebody. You are not alone, millions of other people are struggling too, #ItsOKNotToBeOK
2. One of my strategies is to use lists. The way I handle my list is to generally do the least attractive job that I can face doing. Sometimes that means I do the yucky job on my list (e.g. my accounts), but sometimes the only job on my list I can face is the best one (e.g. writing a new blog), so I do that one.
3. If your list has more than 10 things on it, you need to remove some. If you added them, delete them, if your manager added them, you need to tell your manager you can’t do it.
4. Simplify, simplify, simplify! Don’t go for the all singing, all dancing option. At the moment, that old saying that ‘perfect is the enemy of good’ is especially true. What can you reduce from a task that makes your life that little bit easier?
5. As master Yoda might have said in Star Wars, “Work or Do not – there is no try”. Don’t sit with the report open and be watching the news. When you are working, try to close all other distractions on your computer, play music rather than the news. When you are not working, turn your computer and emails off. Sometimes, if I want to stop myself working too long, I set an alarm on my phone and stop when it rings. At other times when I am struggling and want to work non-stop for 30 minutes, I set an alarm on my phone and work until it rings.
6. Another suggestion is to schedule non-work activities into your day. In the UK the Government guidelines say people can only leave their home for four reasons, 1) any medical need to help somebody vulnerable, 2) Shopping for basic needs, 3) To go to work (if essential), and 4) one form of exercise a day (e.g. walk, run, or cycle), along or with members of your household. Consequently, lots of people who might have gone days without exercising have started taking one exercise a day. So, even if you are not limited to one exercise slot, perhaps start treating it as your minimum – and there are lots of online yoga, online Zumba, and online almost any form of exercise you care to think of – you don't have to be running or cycling.
My productivity is a little bit better than it was in the first couple of weeks of the lockdown, but most of my adjustments have been to accept my reduced output without stressing about it. I have simplified things, which means not doing some of the things that I did before, but which did not necessarily need doing so often. I used to listen to work-related podcasts while working, but now if I want to listen to a podcast, I do it while eating, or tidying, or while doing nothing but listening to the podcast. I am going on social less than before and I have broken my day into much more fixed time slots. The cooking, eating, talking to friends, going for a run etc are happening at set times, and the work is shaped by that timetable – in the past, my work shaped my timetable, and the other activities fitted around the work.
But finally, don’t push your stress down to others, pushing things back up the chain is fine, but unless you know that one of your colleagues is looking for extra work, don’t push your overloads downward.
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