Over the last few years of my career, mainly while idling in traffic for the better part of 3 hours a day conforming to the daily work commute, I dreamed of a better way, a more productive way of ‘doing work’. My thoughts would quickly go to a place where my ideal would be to work from home and avoid the commute altogether and just dial into meetings using the amazing technologies at our disposal, it seemed so simple.
In preparation for this utopia, I setup an ‘office’ in the garden with the necessities of power and good connectivity (I forgot about insulation but did learn this the hard way ). And so, the ‘office’ sat empty, until one day, as the tension was building around COVID-19, we were instructed to be house bound until further notice. At last, I get to use my home office and experience my ‘eutopia’. In this post I share some of my experiences, learnings and what I think my ideal scenario now is, having spent just over two months of working from home.
Daily Schedule & Routine
My typical before COVID-19 daily routine saw me out the house by 7:30am, aiming to return as close to 5:00pm as I could, loosely reliant on the challenges of the day. Given this, the first few days of being homebound felt slightly odd. I had no routine, no structure, and due to that struggled with focus to get the most menial tasks done, let alone the ones that required a bit of brain power.
After about a week of these completely unstructured days, I just had enough of it and needed to change something. I did a bit of research regarding remote working, and two things that stood out for me was a daily routine, and to ensure there is balance (prioritise looking after yourself). I would love to say I jumped right at it, but I didn’t. I pondered, aka procrastinated, over these points for a few days while working long hours, not eating, and drinking lots of coffee. Again, I thought, something has to change. And so, that next Monday (change always happens on a Monday ) I started making changes.
I ensured I gave myself some small luxuries, like no alarm, however I ensured I was at my desk, in my office, from 08:30, spending the first 30 minutes preparing for the day, and the workday would end at 16:30. I made a point of unpacking my work goodies out of my laptop bag each day, and packing away at the end. It was almost like a subtle mental reminder that the workday is over.
Additionally, I make a point of prioritising my wellbeing. I started eating breakfast at a consistent time each morning, tried hard to limit the coffee (work in progress), and ensured I was on my indoor trainer at least 3-4 times a week. These changes helped significantly, especially when it comes to down-time, there is this feeling of I have done my days work and I can now chill.
So, with a daily routine in place, I still observed that, although I was generally physically alone for most of the day, I was not productive. I was very busy, for long periods, but not productive in actual outputs. Day after day I would reflect on what I achieve for the day, and although I was tired and had been busy, I had achieved very little. I put this down to taking to heart some of the research I did around communicating when remote working, and not managing my time effectively. I was making sure I was available all the time, however to the detriment of my own outputs. I would almost instantly reply to WhatsApp messages, Teams notifications, Emails, phone calls, Slack messages, Notion updates. It was draining and left me frazzled.
I made the decision to own this challenge. I created this problem, I needed to solve it. After a bit of reading on how others are overcoming this, I resolved to ensure that all forms of notifications were given the appropriate level of priority and attention. I address my Notification Settings of each app on my Mac and made sure that I was not being notified for each and everything that came up. What this allowed me to do I have about three 90-minute blocks of time where I could give 100% focus on a given task with amazing results. I block-book time where I go through the notifications that have amassed, and reply where required, but manage the inherent need I have to respond straight away. I am now able, for the majority of my working days, to reflect on achieving 2-3 quality outputs compared to before ‘Notification overload’, where I would flap and try do too many things.
In my home, the responsibility I take very seriously is that of provider. I go to work to provide for my family. Pre COVID-19, that entailed me leaving the house, and no-one would see me until that evening, when I would have had a 60-minute drive to deal with the day, and mostly arrive home in a semi decent mood.
In this season, the “leaving for work” part entails me walking down the garden into my office, taking all of 2 minutes. The “commute” home also takes the same time. And in the middle of this, life happens. Work life, home life, kids, dogs, deliveries, technology challenges, home school, meltdowns, teenage moods. I really had to get used to this. Work entailed me “going to work”, no interruptions, kids being quiet, and me anxious that no one can hear the kids fighting about a toy in the garden. I tried really hard to own this, setting unattainable expectations for everyone to toe the line so I can work. It failed miserably.
I had to concede in the end that this is my life, which I love, and it is messy and lovely at the same time. I created a little informal system where I would manage the priority of certain meetings, and which ones I could relax a bit if kids walked in to give me coffee. For the more formal meetings, I locked the door (what a novel idea ) and the rest, I just rolled with the punches. This subtle change helped a great deal. Everyone in the home was more relaxed, as was I, and I get to experience some special moments with my wife and kids, and often spontaneous acts of love and kindness that I miss when I was physically at work.
Within this post, I have aimed to share insights into the common themes I was challenged by when it came to working from home. However, for me the key question I need to answer for myself is: Is this the new normal? Is it my new normal?
Each one of us I believe will own our ‘new normal’. For me, this period of isolation has uncovered some key answers in working remotely from team members. Mainly, through these unique circumstances, virtual has become a mainstream channel to communicate. Previously, it has been the last resort to communicate, but now I see that each and every appointment have a virtual option.
I also firmly believe that my new normal is not a work from home, nor a office bound scenario. My new normal is based in a remote working scenario, whereby I am outcomes based, working wherever I ensure the outcome is achieved. Practically, this means I will be combining working from home, office, coffee shop, car overlooking the beach. I have resolved over this period that my new normal is based in flexibility. The flexibility to decide where to work, keeping the intended outcome as the main focus.
The thought of a world without the energy of social interactions through discovery workshops, informal coffee chats, quick lunch to discuss new ideas really scares me, so when we settle down into the ‘new normal’ I will make sure I own mine!