Just a few short months ago, you may not have believed anyone if they told you that by March you would be confined to your home, and well into April be asked to manage your own workload whilst juggling home life and looking after your mental wellbeing, all while not being able to really leave the house. Unfortunately, the growing global pandemic has forced us all into a world of crisis and uncertainty with many of us concerned with what happens now. There is not even time for thinking about what happens next.
There is such a huge part of the workforce being relied upon to work from home in a desperate bid to keep the economy afloat. We are doing important jobs that the health, education, business and travel sectors need to keep the world turning. The biggest question is how do you do all of this from the place that was supposed to be your sanctuary? With no physical or immediate support of colleagues and managers, just how can you make working from home work for you?
Each company will have set its own guidelines as well as new policies and practices that have been scrambled together that enable individuals to continue working from home or at the very least manage their expectations of the short-term. Long-term preparations are still being discussed and it may be a while before anyone knows what life will be like when the country eases its strict lockdown measures. How will offices of hundreds of people ensure that social distancing is put into practice when they re-open? How will traveling to work on busy public transport go? Do our work projects carry on from where they left off, or will we have to revise our workloads?
There are too many questions and right now, not enough answers. This is why it is so important for each of us to do our part from home and to make sure we keep motivation levels high so that when the world does come alive again, we are prepared and excited to get back to work.
So, the aspects that we are going to look at include how to manage your motivation, keep your mental wellbeing on track, structure a workday and use technology to keep your own career thriving during these testing times.
Managing Motivation Working from Home
When the majority of the nation went into its first lockdown stages, even though panic was in the air, you would be forgiven for feeling relief and even grateful that you wouldn’t have to endure the commute to work, and long and tiring work hours. In addition, depending on your circumstances, time at home with partners or families to unwind and decompress. It sounds quite heavenly, time away from the office, working to your own schedule and not having to put on a well put together front to colleagues and managers every morning.
But the reality has been far from that heavenly truth and, in fact, is taking a toll on motivation, mental stability, sleep patterns and in general life as you know it has become a bit of a blur. So, just what can you do to stay motivated right now and ensure that even though the light at the end of the lockdown tunnel still seems far away, that motivation sticks with you on this journey?
Wake up Early
Getting into the swing of working from home involves keeping up a routine. It can feel like everything has been thrown off balance, night becomes day and Mondays become Fridays in the blink of an eye. It can be hard to figure out what sleeping pattern is right when you don’t have anywhere to go. Sleep itself may be harder to achieve when uncertainty and doubt sticks to the corner of your mind instead of peaceful thoughts and feelings.
But if you can wake up early, even at the same time you would usually wake up to give you enough time to get ready, eat breakfast or sip a well-needed coffee and then travel to work, you will start to create the ever-important structure to your day. Look at the positives of this structure and the time gained by not having to travel. Use this time to prepare your workday, list your objectives or get set up in your office.
Get Ready for Work
Another important part to your routine is the act of getting yourself showered and dressed for work. This puts you in the mindset that you are going to work. It differentiates your environment and allows you to feel that what you are doing is important and necessary.
Do not take this as literally as putting on a suit and tie or a pair of office shoes every day, but a change of clothes from night wear into daywear is an automatic stimulant to put your mind into work mode. There may be occasions where business wear or smart dress is called for, such as video conference calls or web chats with other colleagues or managers, in which case, dress as you would for these meetings in person.
The act of getting yourself ready for the day ahead is your first accomplishment of the day. As basic as it sounds, this part of the routine is of huge importance to your routine.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
You could be isolating in a large house or a studio apartment, but the premise stays the same: Try not to work where you sleep or relax. This is so important for your structure and routine, so you feel like you are actually going to work in a sense. It also prevents you from feeling like you are forced to mix business with pleasure. Your favourite couch may have been somewhere you sunk into after a hard day at work and a place you associated with relaxation and comfort. If you try to work from there the lines merge and it will no longer be your favourite couch anymore.
This association is important and is why you should find a dedicated space to work from so your comfort is still waiting for you at the end of the workday. If your space allows, keep it bright and airy with an openable window nearby, heating if you require it and comfortable seating that won’t put any additional stress or strain on your body.
Know Your Daily Objectives
This can be in the form of a physical list or mental note, but be aware that while working from home in a national lockdown scenario and different environment, time passes differently. There are no colleagues or managers around to give you an indication of when the lunch hour starts or the workday finishes. In a usual office environment phone checking is rare, clock watching is the norm and tasks can become mundane.
Working from home allows you to deviate from doing actual work as often as your please, and procrastination can be a symptom of this disorderly array. So, keep a schedule or a list of objectives that you must achieve so that when the workday ends, you can happily “leave the office” without worrying about piled up work to tackle the next day.
If your work is normally very routine and tasks are set out for you, try to stick to your normal work day structure. Take time away from the desk for lunch and limit personal phone calls while you work to enable deadlines to be met.
This may be one of the most important points to adhere to when working from home. With limited contact and human interaction in this worldwide lockdown due to pandemic, it is easy to slip into the mindset that isolating at home means you are isolated from people. While physically yes this may be true, but virtually you should still be able to connect with your colleagues, managers and mentors just as you would during a normal workday.
Problems that you would encounter at work can feel hugely overwhelming when you are the only one there to tackle them. Having an open forum to discuss tasks, or troubleshooting problems is crucial for you to get your job done to a high standard and feel the same element of support as you would face to face.
Speak to your superiors or peers to discuss this if you haven’t already. Make sure that you all have time boundaries set for queries or work talk that allow you to continue with tasks and collaborative work. It is also good for the mind to have regular chats with friends and colleagues from work so that you don’t feel disconnected and can keep up with each other in a professional and personal way.
Look After your Mind and Body
The adjustment period of working from home was enough to take its toll mentally on anybody in the same boat. So, protecting your personal wellbeing may have slipped to the wayside as you worry about what happens next. Now is really the time to think about how you feel, and what adjustments YOU need and not just in a work sense.
Always remember you can take time away from your desk. Use this time to go outside and exercise, even if it is just a short walk around the garden or just to get some fresh air.
Eat well and stick to regular meals. It can be hard not to raid your pantry for snacks all day when it is so accessible, so plan your lunches and take some fruit to your desk if you find that the sweet treats are calling you.
Keep your mind active with tasks other than work. Practice a skill or try to learn a new one. You will find huge benefit in having something else to thing about each day other than work and chores. While the end is not quite in sight, passing the time in a positive way is important to your mental health.
How to Use Working from Home to your Advantage
There is so much talk of uncertainty and so it is easy to get carried away with feeling lost when it comes to your career. It seems that the world has come to a halt, so it becomes believable that your career has too.
But there are many advantages to the timing of this pandemic and resulting lockdown in that we have the technology to be able to work remotely and connect with each other virtually. Opportunities to collaborate with others, albeit not in person, have arisen from being able to speak to somebody with such ease as we live in an age of smartphones, laptops and high-speed internet access. Just 25 years ago, a national lockdown would have halted the economy and daily working lives, so seizing these opportunities through our modern tech when it’s in our grasp should make progression and learning more easily accessible.
Mentoring software is just one of the examples where programs are designed for convenience, coupled with the fact that it makes connecting people who are not in the same vicinity possible. While most mentoring programs promote face to face coaching and meetings, in times like these the remote mentoring is already in place to help keep mentor/mentee relationships going through video calls, web chats and group conferences.
Employers currently using these platforms are now wise to push the use of technology to stay connected to their employees. There may be tasks that simply cannot be completed from a home environment due to data protection, employer confidentiality or simply due to software that may not be available remotely. So, to really use this time working from home to its advantage, it is time to create learning opportunities through online studies, courses, tests and reading. As an employee looking for opportunities, staying motivated and willing to keep your career going forward, seek advice on what is available and push for activity that will keep you in the loop, connect you to potential mentors and keep your mind active.
This is a vital step for employers to take in order to keep employees’ wellbeing in mind, in building resilience and managing motivation in a virtual capacity. During a tough transitional period for everybody the “what happens now?” question should be answered, and we should be well on our way to answering “what happens next?” to keep employees careers moving, businesses thriving and the world moving forward.
To learn more about how to introduce mentoring into your workplace see our article on virtual mentoring best practices.