Getting some structure

Working from home is becoming one of the ‘new normals’ very quickly.

We know this is new for many people, and not everyone is comfortable or feels they have the right mind set for working from home, or the right conditions.

Going to a place of work gives structure, reasonable order, socialisation, boundaries, timeframes and hierarchies making decisions. Now much of that has been handed over for self-management and re-organisation.

Having structure helps for a number of reasons

  • you can manage your wellbeing
  • you have the opportunity to work flexibly
  • travel times are gone – that’s ‘time back’
  • you can plan for and hold communications, meetings and discussions more flexibly and more swiftly
  • you can time block more effectively
  • you have more control and choice over your day

We recognise that those who now have extra caring responsibilities at home will have some different and additional pressures. Having structure should still help.

Top tips for having structure

  • Self-management and self-discipline: get up and do work within a planned time frame. This can be flexible, of course, but have a plan, say the night before, of when you will start work, and some broad goals. This is largely a ‘thinking’ task.
  • Have a plan for the day and factor in breaks and other activities as the norm. Taking 5 minutes to remind yourself of your goals for the day (NOT TASKS) will help you focus and not rush in. If you can, allocate time for different tasks. Audit and adjust if things take longer/less time.
  • Don’t be tempted to check your inbox first. Ditto the above point and have a plan so you prioritise what you need to do at the start of the day. These are good, self-managed time actions.
  • No fake breaks such as eating over a desk or laptop.
  • Wellbeing breaks: our minds and bodies need a break every hour and a half. Get up, make a drink, go into the garden, do a different activity for 5 minutes. You get the idea. Breaks are a key part of being productive. No guilt needed. Factor into your plan for the day.
  • Have a lunch break. Ditto the above point.
  • Turn off reminders and close down all tabs on your laptop screen so there are minimum distractions. Turn on at set times. Tell others if you need to by setting auto reply messages. Stick to it. Audit. Adjust if needed.
  • Shared calendars: use time blocking so people know when you are available and when you are not (e.g. doing quality work, not working as you are having a break). Do not be tempted to keep checking in or letting yourself be interrupted during blocked time.
  • Set yourself the goal of completing a task or part of it without checking the inbox or phone until the job is done. These are things you have 100% control over.
  • If you don’t know where to start go back to creating a plan and break the day into bite size pieces. Go for one and a half hour slots, followed by a break.
  • Social isolation is a real issue. Factor a contact into the day where you are speaking to a colleague, perhaps using WhatsApp. Form a WhatsApp group and speak for a 5 minute start of/end of day meet up every day. Your manager is still your manager, even if they are now working remotely. They have a job to support you and communicate regularly.
  • Maintain your development. At least once a week, do something for your CPD, such as watch a 20 minute TED talk, do some online learning, google a topic you need to learn about, do a MOOC (they are free). Keep a record. This helps with many things – wellbeing, isolation, upskilling, being a bit stretched (helps with motivation), and so on. Put it into your plan and time-block it.
  • Physical structure is needed. Have a set space with boundaries within where ‘work’ takes place. Ideally it is in a separate room, but if that’s not possible, find a dedicated space, set boundaries for its use, and have what you need set up and organised around you all in one place.
  • Boundaries conversations with others in your household will be needed so you have ground rules, especially around interruptions and noise.
  • Rewards. Reward yourself for doing things well, completing work. Plan rewards say for the end of each week or when something has been completed.

Your team mates aren’t next to you any more for a quick chat or question

Being part of a team which is dispersed when you are not used to it takes some getting used to. I worked in jobs in the past where being in a dispersed workforce automatically meant thinking about communications in more structured and better ways. Two useful points from this that have helped me are:

  1. Save up day to day queries and share in one go. I found that often some of these solved themselves anyway, plus I became a better problem solver myself and more self-reliant.
  2. Have a WhatsApp or chat facility or set up a buddy system using your employer’s virtual communications systems. Have planned, quality communication time.

Lockdown isn’t nice but it is an opportunity

Choice about going to a place of work has been taken away for many of us. WFH is here for a while. We think it will change the way we work in the longer term, hopefully in good and better ways, as new practices and self-management, with good remote support, will remain.


Ideas and resources

Two items from CIPD, first the latest research report on the shift towards remote and flexible working, the second a guide to home and remote working from the employer’s perspective.

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