Tips on teleworking during a pandemic

The rate at which people work from home has been increasing at breakneck speed. Since 2007, there has been a 157% rise in remote working in the US. By the end of 2020, 50% of the UK workforce will start teleworking, under some capacity, but as the pandemic struck, the next few months will accelerate this rate even further. In many ways many people aren’t ready for this change.

I have experience working from home and in many ways it’s not exactly glamorous. Sometimes, my laptop is on a kitchen counter, while chopping onions for lunch. Other times, I’m lying in bed. And then there’s the occasional raiding of the fridge, which means that I can eat through a week’s work of (quarantine) perishables in less than 3 days.

But it’s not doom and gloom. It’s safe to say that most of Europe won’t have to commute in the next few weeks. You can work anywhere… in your place. And you can mostly set up your own schedule, within reason.

Teleworking, or remote working, has the potential to fundamentally shape the future of work. From working in an office to the comfort of the living room, the shift on an individual level isn’t negligeable either, and given the current situation, it can get quite anxiety-inducing, so here are some tips on how to telework during a pandemic.

  • Move around your place while working to stay focused
  • Respect a work schedule
  • Manage your time through techniques such as the Pomodoro technique
  • Use technology to communicate and do your work
  • Communicate on everything and document everything relevant that you do

 

Have a dedicated work space

Bed
You can work in bed… but not only in bed.

Working from home does not mean working from bed. While teleworking allows you more freedom and flexibility than in, say, an office, it’s important to distinguish your spaces to work, and to sleep. According to Harvard Business Review, failure to maintain boundaries leads to remote workers feeling like they are always at work and not at home. This failure altogether reduces your quality of work (you can’t concentrate) and sleep (you can’t sleep).

A simple solution is to try to have a dedicated space for work that’s away from a bed or a comfortable sofa. Having a work desk is preferrable, but a dining table works, too. If you have the privilege of being able to work and move around your place, do that.  A quick change of scenery can help boost your productivity.

 

Set boundaries

Timer

Self-care is essential, both physically and mentally. When working from home, letting go of structure by working as soon as you wake up is not the way to go. This leads to what is known as teleworking depression. While employers are scared of their employees slacking off while working from home, the reality is that many remote workers at first don’t know how to separate the time for work from leisure.

Thing is, you need to know when to start and to stop. You have to set up a time when you can start working (ideally at least an hour after you wake up) and a time to end work. In-between, I use a time management system to pace myself, namely the Pomodoro technique. This involves working in intervals of 25 minutes separated by 5-minute breaks. This also allows me to pace my day accordingly, so that the hours spent do not seem as long.

 

Take advantage of technology

Smart phone

I can’t stress this enough. Using technology to improve upon your processes and to cope with self-isolation is key to teleworking, especially when you’re self-isolating.

Friends can seem far away; you only have your houseplants to talk to; and your colleagues are not there to provide some ambient background noise through their chit-chats. Get remote working buddies you can chat with online and use social media to interact with people online. Use project management tools like Asana and chat platforms like Slack to organize and communicate fast, instead of emailing.

Technology is also the secret to so many successful remote companies, including Buffer, Toptal and Zapier. Teleworking can also be a good period to find novel ways in including technology to your workflow processes. Most of the time, there are tools that exist to automate mundane tasks, and it is only for you to find out about them.

 

Overcommunicate and type everything down

Work space

When it comes to remote working, communicating with your colleagues (and friends) is important, so that no one feels isolated and left out. Within office spaces, we take for granted the non-verbal cues that allow teams to work together effectively.

When working from home, you don’t have such privilege. Aside from team meetings to touch base, your interactions and work processes are also virtually separated between individuals and small groups that regularly work together.

For the sake of transparency, task management apps are important, as it removes the ambiguity of what’s being done and clearly lays out each person’s tasks. Having a channel for team or group updates can also be a good way to figure out what tasks people are currently on, and prevent miscommunicating on priorities.

Overcommunicating is a much easier issue to solve than a lack of, so try to document everything relevant that you do. Be proactive in managing your own tasks and don’t be afraid to enquire whenever confusion arises.

 

Remote working is different from office work

Companies fundamentally need to understand that these two modes of work are not the same, and that they require different ways of collaborating and managing.

Remote work represents a radical paradigm shift that allows people to work from virtually anywhere. This trial run at remote working will determine how people can work together, while being far away from each other and, ultimately, the way we work in the future.