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Leading the Change: How to Defeat the Challenges of Working from Home

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Many people find themselves in unfamiliar territory as they begin working remotely

Many of us are now living out a scenario we might only have been thinking about – but it certainly didn’t come about in a way we imagined. We’re tasked with working from home. We’re discovering there’s more to it than figuring out what to do with extra time gained by no commute.

Routine and daily tasks are easy to identify when we’re with our co-workers at the office. Most of this gets thrown out the virtual window when we find it necessary to work from home (WFH).

The ability to work from anywhere, at any time, with zero commute are the three top things people who already work remotely say are the biggest benefits. Here are the top WFH challenges you are likely to face, and ways to defeat them.

It’s freakin’ lonely

Between 19-45% of people live alone. Pay attention to how you’re feeling right now. Explore ways to deal with isolation before you try to tackle the challenges of WFH.

Your first choice might be to seek out advice or consolation from friends or family. Place more weight on what experts have to say: astronaut Chris Hadfield, for example. He’s spent time self-isolating aboard an actual spaceship Hadfield offers four tips for staying healthy and productive in a recent YouTube post.

The fear of missing out (FOMO) is real. Nothing can replace the supportive environment of being at the office with co-workers. Lack of distractions may boost productivity, but social connections at the office are what keep you aligned with team objectives and your company’s overall mission.

While some users feel that Slack is a distraction, it does create a virtual “watercooler” location where you and your team can check in to say … well, whatever it is you would have said during a couple of downtime minutes at the office.

Fight back against FOMO with the connectivity tools you have at your disposal. Videoconferencing with Zoom or Skype might seem forced and awkward at first – but think about it. Weren’t those first few personal encounters with folks at work that way, too?

Michael Risse, VP and CMO of completely virtual company Seeq, advises using connectivity tools to “ensure you’re communicating the nonwork parts of life.” He recently told Fast Company that Seeq employees use video conferencing for things ranging from Halloween parties (costumes were encouraged) to baby showers.

Schedule time to check in with your co-workers. If you feel the need to know how they’re doing and what they’re up to, they’re probably feeling that way, too.

It can really be unhealthy

One of the most common observations of those who have recently started a WFH role is, “I can’t stop working!” Talk about counterintuitive. No one’s watching – except maybe your pet or your spouse and kids. They’re not going to tell. What are you still doing in front of the computer at 10 p.m.?

It’s easy to lose sight of separating personal and work life when your home becomes your office. You used to have a delineator, the commute to and from work.

Many new remote workers discover that it’s easy to fall into one of two rabbit holes:

  • You’ll struggle to manage your time
  • You’ll struggle to stop working

Time management

Those with children – who previously might have been at school – must now look for ways to integrate unplanned homeschooling and child care into a brand-new WFH routine. Plus, there can be an entire houseful of domestic distractions.

Productivity experts say that the yin and yang combination of home distractions and isolation quickly destroys our focus. As commonsensical as they seem, right now is a good time to stop and diagram how you can accomplish these four steps to keep your focus.

  1. Establish your goals. You know what your team has to accomplish. What are the actionable task-related goals you must complete during your workday to support this? You can’t manage what you don’t measure.
  2. Get a handle on social media. The Pew Research Center reports that the majority of adults get our news from social media. Social distancing means that these platforms may be the easiest way to keep up with those we care about. You can’t go cold turkey, but maybe it’s time to turn off notifications. You’ll thank us later!
  3. Prioritize distractions. What? Let’s be realistic. You can’t shut off your kids. However, you can push distractions like household chores or the ongoing text messages from your BFF. Bottom line: you will be distracted, but you get to decide which ones deserve your attention.
  4. Motivate and then reward yourself. Decide whether what moves you to action is intrinsic or extrinsic motivation. Strike a balance. Then make sure to treat yourself when you nail it.

How to stop working

Two events shape our usual workday. The morning and afternoon commute. Without these, it’s easy to find yourself – especially if you are among those who live alone – working hours earlier or much later than when you were at the office.

This is no time to disregard your health, and that’s what you put in danger when you neglect to take responsibility and create a remote working structure. Without a daily commute to signal the start and end of your workday, it’s deceptively easy to start working as soon as you awaken and keep at it until bedtime.

Actually scheduling time to get up and stretch, take a lunch break, or to socialize virtually with your co-workers is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s wicked smart.

Remote work offers you more opportunities to enter a flow state of mind. It also makes it easier to let the whole day fly by and only get up from your desk once or twice.

  1. Track your time. There’s an app for it. Platforms like Trello and Asana – which your team may be using for remote project management. You can even do it yourself with your cell phone.
  2. Designate something to represent your daily commutes. These are the two signifiers to start and stop your WFH workday. You might have decided to tell your BFF to cut out daytime texts. Have them hit you up with one when it’s time to call it quits for the day.

We’re all in this together

Everyone is feeling the struggle to wrap the abrupt introduction of working from home with structure. We’re searching for ways to regain productivity and a feeling of accomplishment. It’s too early to say, but WFH might become much more widely adopted as we move forward after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Research already shows that a remote workforce has demonstrable benefits. Physical proximity does foster productivity and collaboration, but technology allows us to replicate those “watercooler” moments. How do we extract the best of both ways to work?

Social distancing and physical disconnection from co-workers is your new temporary reality. You may discover that the freedom of WFH isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. However, it is an opportunity to take remote work for a test drive. There may be some technical glitches along the way, but most of the challenges are surmountable. You’re in charge.

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