We find ourselves in unchartered territory amid this temporary lockdown, with many of us working at home for the first time over the last few weeks.
Those of us who are seasoned remote workers may be more used to working from home than others but there will a few issues for those who aren't used to this way of working. With so many distractions, there's every opportunity for your attention to be diverted, negatively impacting on your productivity. So, as Catapult has numerous distributed dev teams, who are always productive, we wanted to share some work from home ideas which will keep your focus.
Business as usual
Now that we have been on lockdown for a few weeks and the novelty of working in our pyjamas has worn off, it's time to consider your working day in much the same way as if you were in the office. So it is with regret when I say, you going to have to ditch those pjs.
It's probably a good idea to have a shower as well.
And put some smart casual clothes on. You should never underestimate how dressing for public interaction when working from home can help you be more productive. The last thing you want is a video call disaster where you're caught in bed, wearing a stained Fleetwood Mac t-shirt which should have probably been thrown away in 2008.
There is a silver lining however, you may not have to get up so early. That isn't to say you should just laze around in bed and crawl out just before the clock strikes nine before your morning stand up. Take advantage of those extra sleeping minutes, so when you wake (with plenty of time before the morning stand up) you feel refreshed and ready to take on the day.
Now, some people work differently; some work better in the morning compared to the evening, so it's important to play to your strengths. If you have a preference and can demonstrate you're being super productive, ask your boss if, with the exception of essential meetings, they will allow you to work more flexible hours.
We can all agree though, that removing the daily fight to get to work on our morning commute will help reduce stress levels before your workday begins.
Separate work and home life
It's crucial for productivity and your own wellbeing that you switch off once your working day is done. In a CIPD report in 2019, 32% of people surveyed struggled to switch off in their personal time when remote working. Unfortunately, if you don't fully disconnect from work, not only will your productivity suffer but your home life will as well.
Outside of a lockdown, separating work and home life is much easier - your office is in a different physical location, so the time spent on your normal commute can help prepare yourself for the day ahead. This has been removed now you're working from home, so take those additional minutes to refresh your mind. Sure, get up a bit later if you can, but don't waste the extra time you have lying in bed.
Once up, showered and dressed, you could choose your daily activity and go for a walk to replicate your journey to the office to get mentally prepared for work. Once you get back, get your tea or coffee and settle in like you would when you arrive at the office. If you'd prefer to do your daily exercise after your working day, then why not listen to some music or read a book as you normally would on your commute. Classical music can help relax us on a stressful commute, ensuring our head is clear of distractions and mentally prepared for work.
This kind separation also applies to your workspace. Obviously, some living arrangements won't allow for this but, even if you live in a small studio flat, try and find an area - maybe a corner somewhere - where you can create the illusion of separation. Similar to replicating your walk to the office, it's much easier to switch on and get down to work when having a separate space compared to plonking yourself down on the sofa and switching your laptop on.
Blurring the lines between work and home life can negatively impact productivity, so when you can, and we know that circumstances won't always allow it, try to keep that separation.
Working from home poses a few challenges but one of the biggest is something we generally aren't used to when working in an office. Sure, there are some distractions but most offices don't have Netflix or an enticing, comfy sofa. As long as you have separated your workspace from your home life, you should be fine.
Now don't worry about taking a few breaks here and there; in fact, we would actively encourage it and this is something you would naturally do in the office. Staring at a screen all day, be it in an office or at home, isn't advisable. The same applies for your body. Being sat down for hours on end isn't great either. So taking regular breaks away from your screen, and physically getting up and stretching is a must for psychological safety and our general wellbeing. However, don't see it as an opportunity to finally address the shambolic state of your wardrobe or begin the building of that shed - try and remain focused.
But as we are in uncertain times with the coronavirus pandemic, our focus can be massively disrupted by the news. As a lot of you reading this will be working remotely due to COVID-19, checking the latest news is completely understandable. And some jobs might be based around the news, so getting distracted will be that much easier. It's ok to stay up-to-date with developments but avoid getting stuck down a current affairs rabbit hole. Perhaps turn notifications off on your phone if you are easily distracted. Remember, you can catch up with the news when your workday is done.
With most people working closely with their team and boss when at the office, communication normally isn't a problem. But now we are on lockdown, it's a good idea to discuss how communication continues and what is expected of you. Things need to be flexible, so don't panic if communication channels change. As long as video calls, instant messaging, or whatever else you might use, are in place and set up correctly, everyone will know what is expected and how to continue effective communication that doesn't hinder productivity.
First and foremost, stay connected. A lot of us will have been using applications like Zoom or Google Hangouts, so make sure you're getting the most out of them. For instance, at Catapult will still conduct stand-ups and regular meetings but now we use video calls instead and make sure all cameras are turned on. Seeing people's faces makes us feel more connected and can stop people who aren't used to remote work from feeling lonely, which is more common than we think. In 2019, the State of Remote Work report highlighted this exact point - 19% of respondents stated loneliness was their second biggest challenge (first was unplugging after work), which had a profound effect on motivation and productivity.
With us on temporary lockdown, people will feel even more isolated than normal, so it might be worth looking at communication apps like Slack as well. Slack is a great way of quickly keeping in contact with your team and boss. Much like turning your head, asking a question and getting an answer, Slack can facilitate regular updates for any team and help combat loneliness. Out of sight, out of mind can be a real struggle for some home workers, so as a colleague or boss, reach out and stay connected.
Work as a (virtual) team
Teamwork can be difficult at the best of times, let alone when we are forced to work from home. Ensuring clear communication with your boss and teams helps everyone to understand expectations and how best to work together. In an office setting, it's simple to exchange ideas, prioritise work or ask a quick question; less so when remote working.
By managing expectations and ensuring everyone knows their responsibility you can help support teamwork. By keeping work transparent and remotely accessible, every team member knows what's going on, making value based prioritisation simple. And having an online centralised wiki, breaking down silos is much easier and it helps teams access and share information with the entire organisation. Not only this but multiple people can work on and edit the same document simultaneously, saving time and increasing productivity. No longer will a delayed document sent via email or a report stuck on a solitary laptop somewhere derail your team's efforts.
So if you still want to encourage teamwork whilst we work from home, Atlassian's Confluence (collaboration software) offers a centralised, connected space to create, share and discuss work. To further support teamwork, as well as staying up-to-date and tracking what's been completed or not, Atlassian's Jira (agile project management software) is a great place to start. And the best part of it all is that both are free for up to 10 users, so now would be a good time to try them out and see how much they help your teams. Learn more about this on the Atlassian website.
Working from home can be hard and it isn't for everyone. By following the above steps, you and your teams will feel a little bit more comfortable when remote working and productivity will improve. By ensuring you have the right tools in place, will give you a far better chance of succeeding. This is why we are utilising our partnership with Atlassian to offer you a free online ToolBoost session. So if you need help optimising your Atlassian stack to support your team's productivity, please reach out and email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And as the lockdown continues (and even when it's all over) don't just reach out to your workmates, take care of your neighbours, friends and loved ones to make sure they're ok. And especially don't forget to Facetime them. Stay inside, stay safe and keep on washing those hands.