By Frith Thomas
The office will never be the same. Right now, your desk might be at the dining table and you’re wearing sweatpants and a smart blouse as you talk to colleagues over a Zoom call.
Working from home, it seems, is set to linger for a while, and it’s anyone’s guess whether we’ll ever return to office environments the way they were. McKinsey’s latest report on the future of remote work states that more than 20% of the workforce could work remotely between three to five days a week, as effectively as they could if working from an office.
In the past, many of us yearned for the chance to work from home, even if just to be able to focus on a project away from the distractions of the office. In general, companies were sceptical of the notion, with the view that employees working unsupervised weren’t working as effectively as they would in the office.
It’s a perception that has been shattered by COVID-19. In a survey Mecer recently did of 800 employers with employees working remotely, 94% said that productivity was the same as or higher than it was before the pandemic, with workers channeling time saved on traffic commutes and water cooler chats into productivity.
For employees, it comes as no surprise that they can be trusted to get work done from home. What seems more incredible is how they have managed to be more productive, or at least as productive, while working from home under the testing conditions of dealing with a global health pandemic and with partners and children at home and around them as they work.
Concerns are now growing about remote workers’ ability to maintain a healthy work-life balance. When there is no break from the culture of non-stop achievement, it can be exhausting.
“If the pace never seems to let up, and you don’t have time for a calmer, happier you at home, it starts feeling as if you’re conducting life at breakneck speed,” says Aisha Pandor, CEO of SweepSouth, an on-demand home cleaning service. As a working mom of three, Aisha has practical advice for career women working from home on attaining a calmer work-life balance.
In an office environment there are trays and filing systems galore. At home, don’t allow your desk to become cluttered with bits of paper. Arrange paperwork in a three-tier system: an in-pile for current matters, a folder for ongoing projects and a large box file for longer-term, but important documents you may need to reference.
Another way to keep your home office organised is to take as many functions paperless as possible. An app like Zoho Notebook allows you to take beautiful multimedia notes, as well as organise, share and collaborate across them.
Keep set working hours
Have you ever noticed how productive you are in the count-down days to a holiday? Having less time to do something can have the result of making you more efficient. Stick to strict ‘office’ hours and set yourself mini deadlines throughout the day to make sure you stay on track.
Get it out of your head, make notes
At the start of every day, write down what needs to be done so that you can clear your mind, knowing important matters have been listed. Cross off the things you’ve completed successfully but don’t punish yourself for tasks undone. The sky isn’t going to cave in because they haven’t all been ticked off.
Something needs to give
“It’s easy to let all the responsibilities of the house become part of your workday. Suddenly the dishes, hanging out the washing and making lunch is added to your pile of work commitments. Take time to calmly look at everything on your To Do list and say, I can’t do it all,” says Aisha.
Prepare ahead as much as you can to avoid work commitments colliding with home responsibilities. For example, make children’s lunches over the weekend and freeze them, and delegate responsibilities to others.
Most of us are much better at solving problems when they are distant as opposed to close to us in our lives, so try to view stressful moments that occur in your household through the eyes of others. Visualise the problem, then mentally step ‘out’ of the picture of your life and assess the situation objectively. How would your sister or mom solve this problem? How would a life coach manage it? View it through a few filters until you feel you’ve hit on a solution you feel comfortable with.
Take breaks throughout the day
Your concentration wanes if you work for long stretches of time, so take regular breaks throughout the day to boost your productivity. Short, frequent breaks are better than less frequent longer breaks, so a 10-minute break away from your screen every hour is ideal.
While working, change your posture regularly and stretch to help avoid aches and pains. Every 15 minutes briefly look away from the computer screen for a minute or two to a more distant scene, to allow the muscles inside the eye to relax.
Edit meetings and commitments
“Always be on the lookout for which meetings can be cut from your schedule,” says Aisha. Similarly, in your home life, do an audit of all the commitments you’ve taken on, like heading up your book club as well as being on the school’s PTA. Identify which of these makes you feel really fulfilled, then do a commitment cull so that you can enjoy life without being too tired to do so.
It doesn’t always need to be perfect
For perfectionists and driven souls, it’s a hard lesson to learn that perfection in many areas of life is not necessary, not expected and may even go unnoticed. “Now isn’t the time to over-manage your household,” advises Aisha. “Give kids tasks to do and trust them to do it. From tidying their bedrooms to making the family breakfast on a Saturday morning. The eggs may be a bit runny and the toast may be burned but you’ll have had more free time and they’ll feel more confident and independent.”
Change gears during the day
Make a conscious effort to change down a gear to a calmer pace a few times during a workday. If you are breaking for lunch, say the words, “I’m going to have a calm 30 minutes for lunch now.” The words we speak are powerful, and by speaking your intention out loud, you reinforce it.
Make a list of things you really want to do, like meditating or doing pottery, and book time on the weekend to do it, advises Aisha. “With our busy schedules, it’s often the simple pleasures that get shunted off the radar, so schedule a time to devote to your interests. Treat it as an important meeting and stick to it. The trick in making this all a success is to achieve a relaxing activity that has a set time span and is achievable.
“Now free up some time for it by getting family members involved in household tasks you’d normally be doing. And hire in help, even if it is just once a week. We all have the same number of hours in the day. If you use only your own time, there is a limit to what you can do but if you leverage other people’s time and help, you’re able to achieve so much more. By looking after yourself you’ll have more to offer others,” she says.
And finally, yes, the economy is dire, the world is an uncertain place and having kids at home all the time is driving you mad but for a calmer, more balanced approach to it all, remember that the only thing you can control is yourself.