Due to governmental advice regarding Covid-19/Coronavirus, many employers are now facilitating remote working for their employees. If your job is computer based, then you may be one such employee. And even though you feel like you should be grateful to be able to work from home, so far you haven’t really found your groove with it. Going into the office every day was your routine, you knew what you were doing, and you had the support of your colleagues on hand should you need anything. Working from home, though? It’s a different ball game altogether.
If that sounds like you, then you are not alone. The prospect of working remotely for the first time is daunting for many of us and can take some getting used to. It doesn’t help that lately all the social media platforms have been full of content that proclaims your home working routine should mirror your office routine as closely as possible. And while we’re not rubbishing these claims altogether, we think it’s important to acknowledge that there are reasons as to why ‘traditional’ working routines exist which may not quite translate over to home-working.
Do these tips sound familiar?
#1 – “Maintain the same 9-5 hours you are used to”
#2 – “Keep up constant communication with your team through chat tools”
#3 – “Get fully groomed and dressed in your business best as though you were attending the office”
Probably, right? Or at least some version of them. Yet such advice tends to be common regurgitations of the same script. If you have been trying to follow these ‘tips’ and you feel it’s simply not working for you, then it might be time to completely flip that script. Trying to stick too rigidly to previous working patterns could be a cause of increased pressure for first-time home workers.
We think it’s time to examine whether these ‘tips’ have any substance to them, or whether there might be another way to make work from home work for you!
#1 “Maintain the same 9-5 hours you are used to!”
So, before we totally revolutionise the way you’ve been thinking about working hours, let’s first look at the history of the 9-5 day.
First developed waaaay back in the 1800s, the eight-hour working day was the brainchild of a man called Robert Owen, who believed the key to a productive workforce was eight hours work, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest per day. Although this is the norm nowadays, it was likely considered outrageous at the time – the industrial revolution had seen working days as long as 16 hours! Nonetheless, the concept was gradually rolled out over the following decades, and when Ford Motors introduced the eight-hour working day for its workers in 1914, productivity levels soared. Suddenly, it didn’t seem like a bad idea.
Fast forward to over a century later and a lot of workplaces still follow the same working pattern. Although since then there have been hugely significant advances in technology that have been improving efficiencies and, for the most part, allowing us to work whenever we want, the 9 to 5 working day still seems to be the norm. Why is this?
Simply put, we’ve been doing it for so long now that most things in life are built to accommodate these hours. School days with breakfast clubs and homework clubs fit right in. The best television is on after 6pm. Peak gym times are early in the morning, before 9am and again in the evening, after 5pm. The world seems to work based on this recognised and regimented time frame. Even if it is not considered to be the most productive (afternoon slump, we’re looking at you), the fact that it is the norm means that there is a certain level of acceptance that goes with them. Monday mornings are a universal slog we must all get through; Friday afternoon is the worst possible time for an important client meeting. And working in an office environment means you get to voice your dissatisfaction to all your colleagues, and they to you – which is a hugely productive way to spend your time of course.
This compartmentalising of work and play may be a tidy routine, but is it always the most efficient way of completing tasks? We all have different productivity spikes throughout the day. You know the saying that you’re either a night owl or a morning lark? The same is true of productivity. While some of us may be most productive first thing in the morning, for others it may take a little longer to get into the swing of things.
So, how does working remotely allow you to flip the script on this societal norm? Unless you’re working in a role that requires you to work a set block of hours, working from home gives you the freedom to work in the rhythm that is most natural for you. That may mean you go for a jog at 6am, followed by a busy 2-3 hour stretch of work all before breakfast at 10am. Or, it may mean that you roll out of bed at 9am, check emails while making coffee and then do 20 minutes of meditation to prepare for the working day. Or you may not even open the laptop until afternoon time, as you have recognised that your brain fires at its best later in the day. If you can figure out your own productivity cycle, you’ll find your working hours become much more efficient and your productivity will spike. Plus, your life will be richer. After all, how much nicer to end the day, whether it be at 3pm or 9pm, knowing that you have completed a solid eight hours of productive work!
#2 – “Keep up constant communication with your team through chat tools”
For those of us who normally work in an open-plan office – as most office workers do nowadays – the toughest part of working from home may well be the lack of open communication with colleagues. Even if you don’t work in an open-plan office, you may well miss the breaktimes where you can have a bit of banter and a chat. It’s also possible that you are used to having face to face meetings at the drop of a hat, pulled to help on specific projects or just used to shouting out a question and receiving an immediate answer.
Is this really an office behaviour that we want to mirror, though? Too much chat can be extremely distracting, and frustrating for anyone who is not directly involved in it. It is said to take between 20 and 25 minutes to regain concentration after a distraction, which doesn’t exactly make for a high level of productivity. What about all those meetings? Do you think that the meetings you have attended recently have been the best use of your time? Or do you just tend to sit there, thinking about what you’ll have for dinner later?
A huge advantage of working from home means that you are no longer either at the mercy of your colleagues’ focus levels or their spontaneous meeting requests. However, you have no doubt been encouraged to use online chat/collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams or Skype, in order to maintain open lines of communication and mirror your ‘always on’ office availability. Using collaboration tools for communication purposes while working from home can be both a good thing and a bad thing. They can offer you and your colleagues a vital method for staying in touch about projects and work-related matters. They tend to be much easier to use than email with interfaces that encourage you to use them for instant messaging. They are considered a godsend by those of us who enjoy social interaction, and they certainly make collaborating on projects remotely a lot easier.
Unfortunately, because they are so like social media platforms, you may find yourself using them an awful lot more than you need to. Although these tools are touted to offer close to the same level of personal connection that you have in the office, having an always-on chat environment can be a huge time-killer. It takes time to read and to formulate a response to each message you receive, much longer than actually speaking with someone. And it is much easier to slip into ‘texting mode’ than it would be with emails, particularly because these are ‘instant messaging’ platforms.
Instead, you might find it more productive to have a set amount of time each day in which you use such apps. You could give yourself 5 minutes every hour to check in on your chats and reply, for instance. You could also try ruling out instant chat altogether and have video/phone calls instead. Implementing this rule means that your communications will be much richer. If you don’t like the idea of having video calls (it’s ok to admit this, they can seem a little awkward at the best of times), then why not send video chats or voice notes? At the very least, you can make sure that your notifications are off, and that your colleagues have your phone number in case of any urgent matters.
#3 – “Get fully groomed and dressed in your business best as though you were going to the office”
There are a few different sides to this statement to be explored. On the one hand, it is important to establish a good morning routine that can help us mentally ease into the day ahead. On the other hand, is there really a need to sit in our home office in full business attire if no one else is likely to be seeing us?
There are several reasons why most businesses request employees to wear business clothes. Having a dress code in place means that everyone is meeting the same expectation, and it creates a kind of visual collectiveness. It means that employees must meet a certain minimum standard and removes the risk of employees going rogue by wearing clothing that may be inappropriate or offensive. Another reason for this dress standard in office environments is that our clothes become a representation of how we would like to appear to colleagues, bosses and clients. There are certain connotations that come with certain outfits, and many still believe that a suit and tie appears more professional than jeans and trainers. Although there has been a trend in other parts of the world for a more casual dress code, in Ireland most employers request employees to adhere to a ‘business smart’ dress code that often includes a tie for men, and smart dress or trousers for women.
If you are working from home though, you are likely not seeing as many people as you would when working in an office. Unless you are required to do a lot of video calls each day, the likelihood of anyone seeing what you are wearing or the effort that you have gone to is quite slim. If no one is around to see what you are wearing, then surely that means you can wear whatever you want?
Working from home offers far greater levels of flexibility than going into a workplace every day. That means that you are free to wear whatever you like on the days that you’re not expected to be on video. However, just because you can wear whatever you like doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a good idea to stay in your pyjamas all day. Working from home means that you are mixing your professional life with your personal life, and this can have far reaching effects on maintaining a good work/life balance. It is therefore important that you keep certain boundaries in place that will help your subconscious brain differentiate between recreation, working and rest hours. The physical act of getting up each morning and putting on an outfit for the day’s work can really help with this. Additionally, establishing this as part of your daily routine can help you to get in the frame of mind for working. If you are doing it for these reasons, then what you wear during working hours is less important than the act of actually getting ready for the work, so you can wear whatever you feel most comfortable in. Plus, wearing fresh, clean clothes just feels so much better.
Of course, there is also another element that you may wish to consider, and that is the connection that we may have to a certain type of clothing. If you are used to wearing a shirt and a pair of slacks to go to work, then putting them on for home working may well help you to adjust to the new norm. It will also be less of a readjustment for you when restrictions lift, and we are able to attend the office again. However, if you have already been doing this, and you don’t feel it is helping, then try wearing something you are a bit more comfortable in and see if that helps!
Working from home is a completely different ball game to attending an office every single day. For some people, keeping as similar a routine as possible may well help them ease into remote working. However, if you have been doing that and still haven’t quite got into the swing of things, then it could well be worth changing your mindset and your approach to remote working.
If you need any HR related advice or have any questions about flexible working, we are fully operational. You can contact us as usual by email or phone. Stay safe!