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Businesses across the world took a unanimous call to offer work-from home (WFH) to employees in order to stop the novel coronavirus or Covid-19 in its tracks amid infections rising with every passing day. Multinational companies from Apple to Facebook and Twitter to Amazon have advised staff to work remotely even as governments, communities and businesses devise plans to contain the outbreak, which has now entered almost every part of the world. In order to arrest the spread, offices in India have also advised employees to work remotely till the situation improves amid a nationwide lockdown that came into effect on March 25, 2020. The lockdown was further extended till May 30, keeping in the rise in infections. As on May 21, over 1.12 lakh coronavirus infections were reported in India.
As infections grow dramatically, businesses are going to go the remote working way for some time. In a recent survey conducted by property brokerage Knight Frank India, over 70% participants said their companies were considering continuing the work-from-home policy for a percentage of their total staff for the next six months to maintain social distancing and for business continuity. Over 230 executives handling the corporate real estate portfolio in large companies across sectors took part in the survey, unveiled in mid-May.
As efforts are on worldwide to find a cure for the deadly virus that has spread at an extraordinary speed, it may be a while before offices might be open for business. This would be a good time to set some ground rules as work from home becomes mainstay rather than just an aberration in your work life.
What to expect when you are working from home
Towards the start of the decade from 2000 to 2010, technology-fuelled multinationals proved it was possible to offer their staff remote working options, an alternative agreeable to both the employee and the employer. For one, the employee would not have to deal with the onerous task of travel back and forth, and businesses will not have to lease expensive workspaces in various locations and invest millions to run those every year. Somehow, the charm of the WFH concept started to fail by and by, with a majority of companies rolling back this option towards the middle of the 2010s.
Neil Usher, a global workspace design expert, in his book The Elemental Workplace, says that the WFH concept took a backseat in the middle of the decade freshly gone by because companies probably expected technology to act as a cure-it-all panacea. Why that expectation was not fulfilled, says the author, has also to do with the fact that technology has enhanced our ability to physically relate and interact.
Lured as you might have been by the ring of it, there is a possibility that WFH might throw certain challenges at you.
No definite office hours
To be at your office, you have to follow a certain daily routine. Since there is no going to office in remote working, losing track of time is easy. The relief felt at the idea of not having to travel to office in the long run would not compensate for the feeling of losing track of your routine and wondering about what to do do when.
No real human interaction
Isolation has the ability to teach even the staunchest introverts and geeks to learn to appreciate the power of human interaction. While you are definitely in touch with your colleagues through various communication platforms, they would hardly ever make up for the real interaction with your co-workers.
No real division of work and personal work
It is always a good thing to allocate the hours in a day to your personal and professional life. When your home is your workspace, you might be tempted to use your office hours for personal work and vice versa. This might impact your life on both the fronts.
Tips to make your work from home productive
Since we have identified the challenges in your way to work from home, it is easier to find out the solution.
Start your day like before: The first rule to not go crazy in the middle of all office and house work is to treat office hours as office hours. The time before and after that is your personal time. Strictly follow this ground rule to keep things simple and convenient. If you have a 9-to-5 job, don’t be lazy and start at 10 am. Similarly, don’t overcompensate for being at home and work after 5 pm.
Also see: How to design your home office
Quick tip: Your family members should be made acutely conscious of the fact that even though you are around during your office hours, you are not available for personal work.
Create a workstation and stick with it: Since we are now clear about the timing we should also be clear about the place. Running around the whole house in your pajamas with your laptop lying in one corner and its charger plugged in the drawing room is a sure-shot way to kill productivity. So that you don’t tire yourself physically by looking for things and taking trips all across the house, just make one place in the house your workstation and maintain its sanctity.
“As our teams start working remotely, we are continuously encouraging our team members to set aside space at their home as their work place. It may require a little discipline in the beginning, but it is essential to have a dedicated work space,” says Ramesh Nair, CEO and Country Head, JLL India.
“Staying there for a long period might cause feelings of dullness, languor and claustrophobia if your home is a cluttered mess of things. So clear the clutter, pick everything you don’t need and stow it away. A spacious, clean work space will be more relaxing and calming,” says Bhawana Bhatnagar, interior stylist, Founder of Casa Exotique.
Quick tip: It would be best to keep your workstation at home secluded so that you are able to accept office calls or engage in video-based communication.
Keep your work tools handy: The worst part of not being in the office is not having anyone around to assist you in case some software in your laptop stops operating or you feel like having a quick cup of coffee because you are tired of working. In the absence of an office, one realizes the facilities they had easily available. Make sure your Wi-Fi doesn’t fail you and make sure all those tools that enable web, message and video-based communication run flawlessly on your system.
Also, a video-based communication (i.e., Skype) call would mean you and your surrounding are visible to your colleagues. On both counts, be ready to receive that video call.
“A virtual brainstorming session discussing the challenges and opportunities with the team members helps ensure that we continue to work as a team, however remotely. It is also important therefore that when we are sending calendar invites for virtual meetings, we add relevant agenda and documents,” says Nair.
Quick tip: In a WFH scenario, you are only as fast as your internet. Have the best of it.
What not to do when working from home
Don’t multitask: Even if you can do it, multitasking will hamper your professional productivity. Division of work and personal hours is of utmost importance.
Don’t overcompensate: This is for the workaholics —only because you are working remotely, doesn’t mean you have to overcompensate by having no personal life.
“The tendency to over-deliver naturally takes over workers during remote working situations. They want to make up for their supposed absence from the office by way of doing more than they would have if they were present in office. This tendency would hamper your productivity, apart from the obvious repercussion that this is not sustainable,” says Kalpana Asthana, a New-Delhi-based soft skills expert.
Don’t lose contact with superior, co-workers: Consistently keep in touch with your supervisor and co-workers on call, mails, messages and chats. Notify and update your superiors about your work progress.
Don’t forget to take breaks: This is the usual practice at your office, right? A working professional would certainly not need a sermon on why taking breaks during work is important. However, for clarity’s sake it must be reiterated here that the break should not be used to do some other personal work. Treat is as a break and relax before you get back to work.
Pointing out the need for keeping dedicated beginning and end of the day, Nair adds that staying healthy in these times is non-negotiable.
“This begins with knowing and managing our own stress levels. We need to recognise our own behavioural, physical, emotional and cognitive responses to stress and work towards reducing the levels. And how can we do that? Take regular breaks throughout the day. Nothing helps like a few minutes away from the screen,” he says.
Don’t ignore your personal life: Your loved ones would have complained earlier when you brought your work to home. Now that you have turned a part of your home as your workspace, it would be unfair to stay overly occupied in your work and ignore your personal responsibilities.
“Working from home tends to exude an extraordinary pressure on the person’s mind to be available to the imaginary office at all times. The emergence of a sense of guilt from away from your workplace and the paranoia to prove yourself constantly could be fatal to your personal life,” says Asthana.
Could work from home stop Corona outbreak?
Since the virus spreads through social interactions, promotion of work from from strategy can go a long way in containing the outbreak.
What could be the problems with work from home?
Apart from distractions that might hamper your speed and productivity, work from home can also lead to social isolation, causing anxiety.