4 Surprising Lessons from Working at Home

Concentrated biracial guy listening to favorite music while planning workday.

Whether you love working at home or want to know when you can return to the office already, this article from The New Yorker offers insight on Why Remote Work Is So Hard—and How It Can Be Fixed.

Work-life has definitely changed for everyone. Previously, only three percent of US workers did their work primarily at home. During the pandemic, these numbers have swelled to thirty percent or more. All California state universities have moved to a distance-learning model for at least the rest of the year and Twitter has announced that all workers will be remote indefinitely.

The desire to work from anywhere is not new. “Jack Nilles, a physicist turned engineer, built long-range communications systems at the U.S. Air Force’s Aerial Reconnaissance Laboratory and..helped design space probes at NASA that could send messages back to Earth.”

Nilles also published the 1973 book, titled “The Telecommunications-Transportation Tradeoff,” which coined the terms “tele-commuting” and “telework.” But his dreams of remote work replacing office work went a bit awry. “We now work from home while also commuting,” says the article. “We work everywhere.”

Although most employers are unsure how long the work-from-home model is going to last, some clear pain points have emerged.

Leisure time is becoming a thing of the past.

Many experts have noted that when you can work all the time, you do. Computers are ever-ready in the “new normal” of Covid-19. The article sums this state of affairs up succinctly:

“As a newly minted remote worker, you may find that demands on your attention are actually more incessant and intrusive than they used to be—a natural consequence when a workplace depends more than ever on phone calls, e-mails, and video conferences.”

Time management strategies are more important than ever.

Focus is harder to come by with all the intrusiveness of these increased demands on our time. Thankfully,the article offered some creative suggestions:

  • Grouping appointments into a defined block of time allows you to spend the rest of your time doing the work that requires focus.
  • Creating daily “office hours” when you are on hand for your team’s questions or concerns.
  • Benjamin Franklin’s organizational strategy of “time blocking” shows promise. “In this approach, you assign your work to specific blocks of time in which you’ll execute it. Time-blocked schedules can be intense..but they add structure to otherwise chaotic workdays, and can significantly increase the amount you’re able to do in a limited amount of time.”
  • Using time management software, like Acuity.

Work and pre-work rituals are effective

Many people used their morning routine and commute time to switch their brains into “work mode.” When they were at the office they worked. When they got home, they stopped. With no clear line of demarcation, it becomes easy for the line between personal and profession to become blurred.

The article notes a ritual Charles Darwin invented to settle himself into his workday:

“He staked out a meandering path through the most scenic areas of his family estate, outside London, placed a set number of stones at the beginning of the path, then walked circuit after circuit, kicking a stone into the hedgerow after each lap. With every go-round, he pulled his thoughts away from personal concerns and toward evolutionary theory.”

Whether it’s a morning walk, a podcast, or some other ritual you use to ease into the day, it can help to settle your brain into work mode, and set a hard time to “clock out.”

A lot of work gets done in the halls.

There is a psychological trade off to a socially distanced work environment.

“An e-mail that reads ‘Job well done!’ is not the same as a smile. Face-to-face interactions help people communicate and bond, but that’s only part of their value. Drawn-out e-mail conversations can be cut short with just a few minutes of spontaneous hallway conversation. These benefits of the office—these subtle affirmations of our humanity—were easy to overlook, until we abruptly found ourselves deprived of them.”

It is difficult to replace those spontaneous brainstorming sessions and hallway chats with Zoom meetings and scheduled phone calls. It is difficult to continue mentoring and leadership efforts in an environment that is both structured and remote.

Final Thoughts

The longer hours and overflowing inboxes are not unique to this pandemic – they have been a staple in most work environments for a long time. We are blessed to have work we love, and to be able to do that work from anywhere. However, many of us who prefer to do our office work in the office are counting down the days until we’ve moved beyond this pandemic.

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