The “new normal” of people who normally work in an office setting working from their homes is difficult for some people. Dealing with distractions in an office setting is a common challenge. But for those who suddenly find themselves working from home, the distractions are an entirely different animal– and in many cases it is an animal.
In an office you can be distracted by interruptions from co-workers, getting sucked into e-mail, surfing the web, corridor conversations and such. Working from home a couple of those can still be tempting. But add to those all the worthwhile personal tasks that can vie for your attention. Laundry, dishes, pets, children, yard work, cleaning out drawers or rooms, small “fix-it” projects, etc.
The difference is that those tasks are usually a good use of your time. It’s easier to legitimize using your time to do them because it’s not loafing on the couch watching TV. You’re getting useful things taken care of, right? But what is happening with the work you are supposed to do while “working from home.” If your decisions are grounded in procrastination, overwhelm and even guilt can result if you find yourself making the choice to take on personal, rather than work tasks.
But speaking of time, with fewer meetings, no commute time, lunch at home instead of out, etc., you may have a little more time in your workday to handle some personal tasks. Determine what is and isn’t OK for you. Is doing a home-task a helpful mental break? Or is it a procrastination technique? Only you know the answer to that. But once you make that determination you can let go of that guilt or confusion. Your decisions are purposeful and based on what works for you and your job.
Pitfalls of working from home
There are a few problems that can arise when working from home – and it really depends on the individual’s situation. If everyone is now occupying the same space all day, interruptions and distractions are everywhere. Focus is a challenge for people in regular times, but in this new environment it can feel impossible.
Another problem is being overwhelmed by to the complete disruption of a familiar routine. That can leave people trying to figure out how to manage everything in a new way.
The loss of structure can mess with people too. Too much time on their hands can make them feel aimless, lack drive and therefore accomplish little. That’s bad for morale.
Here are a few tips to making working from home, work for you.
Make a Schedule
A schedule, whether written or electronic, is critical. If you are wildly busy it provides a sense of order that combats the craziness of this time.
With too much time on our hands a schedule helps focus attention and energy. That old saying that “If you want to get something done, give it to a busy person” is true. Often the more unstructured time people have, the less they accomplish. If having a lot of free time is your situation, narrow down options by choosing specific projects, tasks or initiatives to devote energy to. Then create a schedule to reach those goals.
When Does Work Stop and Family Time Start?
Routine makes us feel more grounded, but the old routine is out the window – so create a new one. Sit down and talk with all the family members who are old enough to have expectations and opinions. Let everyone weigh in regarding what responsibilities they have and how they’d like to work/study. Maybe it makes sense to keep an 8:00 to 5:00 work day but with some breaks. Perhaps lunch together or an afternoon walk or bike ride. There are options that weren’t available before, so families can create their own boundaries.
So many of us have suddenly been thrust into a new situation. Children, are cooped up in the house being homeschooled while others are working from home. t’s an ideal time to check in with everyone, listen to how each person is managing this new normal and shift expectations accordingly.
Create a Special Workspace
Having spaces dedicated to work and study helps, too. Even if space is very limited, carving out a corner of a table for workspace or a study area during work hours helps. When someone is in their workspace, they’re working and should get focus time. During the evening some spaces can convert back to family territory. It all depends on how many people have to co-exist in how much space.
This may be a long-term new normal
This time where companies are forced to have employees work from home may help them realize it can be a long-term solution; particularly for small and medium sized businesses. Many companies will experience no losses in productivity with their people working from home – even if there may have been a few rocky days in the beginning. If they’ve established new ways of staying connected so teams still feel like teams even working remotely, that will continue. Many people love the flexibility that working from home offers and that is a powerful incentive to attract the best talent. Working entirely virtually used to feel like the future. But all of a sudden it’s now, and it’s working.
Advice For Those Struggling With Working At Home
If you are struggling, it’s important to figure out exactly what’s going on. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly, so what I do as a coach is help you get to the core of the challenge. From there we go to work fixing it. It could be a lack of processes, a jumbled routine, or even more commonly, a mindset that’s getting in their way. All of those have solutions, so as their coach, I partner with them to target, tackle and get them on track. Many of the ideas in the article should go a long way to reduce the struggle.
New time management situations for my clients
The clients I’ve taken on since this COVID-19 situation fall into two categories. For some, this new structure has made life feel out of control and overwhelming. Almost every aspect of their lives has changed in an instant. Everyone is working under the same roof and many have homeschooling responsibilities tacked on as well. Everything is important and they don’t want to fail themselves, their business or their family.
For that group, first, I help them step back and take a breath. Then we work on developing a new normal that allows them to manage everything effectively and have the success they want and need. We really don’t know how long this will last, so tackling this right away saves a lot of stress and confusion.
The other group is people who find themselves with more free time than they are used to having. They still have a job but it’s taking less time. Fewer company meetings, no events, no travel or commute time, no lunch appointments. Even their personal schedules are less encumbered. Very few errands to run, no parties or social engagements, no going to the gym. For this group it’s the perfect time to pursue professional development or skill building. That might be improving leadership or communication skills, more effectively managing time, etc.
For that group it’s also a good time to work “on” the business – which is vitally important but usually gets pushed to some vague time in the future. Business owners and leaders may tackle how teams can collaborate more effectively, how processes can be streamlined and improved, or how culture can be more clearly defined and/or communicated. All of those areas have an enormous positive impact. So, lots of work is being done there.
Mary Kutheis is an executive coach, confidant, author and trainer. For the last two decades she has been working with business owners and leaders who want to accomplish and succeed more, but with less stress, turmoil and drama. Effectively managing time and artfully navigating on-the-job relationships are two keys to getting those results. Visit her website www.MCKCoaching.com for tips and resources and to sign up for her weekly Minute Shift, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.