It has been some time since I started telecommuting, because of the COVID-19 situation.
I have always thought that telecommuting brings with it some disadvantages. I am not wrong. Telecommuting carries with it the risk of diminished corporate identity for one. When you do not have sufficient interaction with colleagues, the sense of camaraderie, knowing and understanding each other diminshes.
This post is not about the disadvantages of telecommuting and how to mitigate it. Perhaps that is a post for the future. What I want to write about are some practical steps I took to help maintain productivity during this period of time.
Why pay attention to such steps? For one very simple reason. Just like how the main activity for a bedroom is sleep, so the main activity for a home is …. definitely not work. The concept of home should not be linked to work. Therefore it is important for myself to understand and internalise this, and not let my work productivity slide because of a change in the environment.
Five Steps To Maintain Productivity
1. Establish A Workday Routine. A typical workday means waking up at a specific time, going through a routine to get ready to commute, and then going through the work activities for the day. When you telecommute, this routine will be disrupted. Telecommuting means time taken for travelling is removed. It also means you do not need to wake up at the usual time. You can dress differently from what you wear in an office setting. Even the number of times you take breaks from work can change.
While the idea of sleeping longer sounds appealing, the reality of telecommuting is that it is a different way of work. You should not assume you are working less, or have more time for yourself. There is still work that needs to be done. Which is why setting up a routine is the way to go. Having a routine enables you to look at your productivity and keep a conscious separation of work space and home concepts.
Make it a point to establish a routine that is meaningful for you. Your routine should include the spaces within your home you will use as work spaces. Perhaps the start and end times should be made clear with your family members so that they can support your telecommuting hours. And consider a routine that can integrate the schedule of other family members where possible, especially if you have others who need to telecommute too.
2. Never underestimate the importance of the clock. If you are one of those who can get too engrossed in your work and you need colleagues to drag you out for lunch, then please consider this piece of advice. Place your clock prominently somewhere you can see clearly. The clock should remind you what the current time is. It should remind you of your work activities, including your scheduled meetings.
We have alerts and alarms built into our software, and we have colleagues to remind us when meetings are due. Yet when we telecommute, sometimes we get absorbed in work that we forget about our scheduled meetings. You will not have colleagues to help monitor your time. And since you are at home, you may find your time taken up by personal stuff when you take a break. I find having a clock that is almost in front of me a very useful reminder in these instances. The clock reminds me what to do, of course best if you refresh your memory with the day’s schedule at the start of the day too.
3. Take regular breaks. When you get too comfortable and engrossed in your work, you can get carried away by it. Plus, telecommuting means you may be seated down for a long period of time, depending on your nature of work. For me, as I work on papers and emails very often, I can remain seated for long periods of time. Hence it is important to have breaks. These breaks should not be too short, but enough to help you refresh your mind and recharge your energy for the work.
The opposite can happen too, especially when you have other family members present at home at the same time. Your breaks may became too long as you have to take care of urgent needs or requests. So it would be best to remind yourself how long your breaks should be. 10 to 15 minutes is good for recharging or refreshing. Take an hour long for lunch, or to settle personal matters. Do something outside of work if possible, to tune your mind differently.
One danger I experience is that I get carried away by work after work hours. Of course this can happen even if I work in the office. I can continue work regardless, especially if there are pressing issues to resolve. Who wouldn’t, especially if you have several deadlines to meet? When telecommuting, this danger can worsen, since you are staying at home to work. So I have to remind myself to take a longer break. Have dinner, spend time with the children, catch up on news or other interests, before moving on to work if need be. Commuting back home is the one time I miss when telecommuting, because it allows for a break from thinking about work.
4. Set out a to-do list. There will be days when I have a series of virtual meetings to attend. There will be days when I have urgent queries or papers to respond quickly. But there will also be days when I do not have tight timelines, yet still have project timelines to manage. When you telecommute, without peer pressure, there could be moments when you are tempted to take things a little bit easier. These are the moments I find useful to set out a to-do list for the day, a list of items you want to look through and clear, so that you are on track on the things you are responsible for.
On this topic, I should add that it is not just the tasks you need to complete that should be on the list. I also created a mental list of things to note when telecommuting. For instance, dress appropriately while working, take breaks at specific times, and have lunch at a fixed time. This list should also be present to guide you in effective telecommuting. After all, I also create a list on the dos and don’ts to function in the workplace. This mental list is helpful to remind myself when I am at work at home.
5. Enlist the support of family members. Since I was telecommuting because of the COVID-19 situation, my children were also around at home during this period of time too. They have their lessons to attend everyday, but learning does not occupy their time solely. They have their time for leisure, and that distracts me at times from work. Although my wife can engage them she also has the household chores to do.
So getting the children’s help to support my work schedule is important. And it is not just the periodic request that I have scheduled virtual conferences to attend, where I need their cooperation to be silent. It is also the moments when I have to focus intensely on specific project issues that I need time and space to think. So telling the children what I need to do, how they can help with my work, and providing them with ideas on spending their time meaningfully are important.
Telecommuting may be fine for a while, but it shouldn’t be forever. After all, organisations do need to foster a corporate sense of belonging and identity. It is easier also for colleagues to have face to face discussions and meetings. But if you have to telecommute, I hope these suggestions will work for you.
Do you have any favourite strategies to telecommute effectively? For the entrepreneurs, how do you deal with disruptions to work, especially if you are operating a home office? Do share your tips with me!