What’s next….. can’t wait to get back to the office, or is working from home your new normal?

When the pandemic engulfed the world, working from home became the norm for so many. But as many countries start to see some light at the end of the tunnel and companies start welcoming their teams back to the office, just how many, given the chance would prefer to stay working from home?

For many, like the self employed perhaps, or those like myself who have been working remotely for some years, it may have seemed by others that we had little to adapt to. But whether you’ve previously been based out of an office, or occasionally worked from home, no one could have estimated the impact of this change, and the way in will influence how we’ll work in the future.

Given that I had some experience of working from home prior to the pandemic, I’m interested to look at some of the pitfalls, challenges and dive a little deeper into the reality of working from home. After all, before we all commit to this longer term, should we not consider the possible long term affect of these changes?

In the last 8 years of working remotely, I have have had a pretty varied working week, when I’m not travelling I have usually mixed working from home with using co-working spaces. Since the pandemic this variety has been replaced with routine, and like many I have felt an over arching feeling of ground hog day. However, over the past year I have pulled on my past experiences of working from home, to help me navigate my way through this time.

One of the things I struggled with when I first started working from home was burn out. When you’re at an office, you have natural breaks, even if you don’t realise at the time of taking them. You might stop and ask a colleague a question, make a coffee, take a call, go to another office/room for a meeting, or to ask someone a question. All of these actions allow your brain to rest and reset, even if you’re not conscious of it. These pauses allow you to be able to refocus when you return to what you were doing. However, when you’re at home you don’t have the same opportunities, so in my experience you can have a tendency to sit and focus for long periods of time without a break. Before you know it, a couple of hours have passed and you’ve not moved from your chair. Not only is this not healthy, I mean everyone should know by now the importance of moving on a regular basis, but what about the negative effect on our mental health, fatigue and also our productivity?

So, when you’re working from home, how often do you stop and give any thought to when are you most productive, or whether there’s a preferred time of day for doing certain tasks? Personally, I prefer to do tasks that require a lot of focused attention first thing, as that’s when I have the best concentration and I tend to leave the more mundane tasks to the afternoon.

After I realised this, I started organising my days differently than when I used to be office based and stopped beating myself up for not being so focused on a screen in the afternoon.

When everyone started to work from home last year, I was interested to hear the varied experiences people were having. Many loving it, some missing the buzz of the office, but there seemed to be a running theme and that was lack of motivation.

Without the natural flow of your normal commute and the office environment you may have found it hard to find motivation, or focus on your work. This may be due to the lack of structure. This lack of structure can affect all of us, even those more used to the home working environment like the self employed. Without the start to your day that you had been used to, i.e leaving the house, your commute, saying good morning to your colleagues, you will be missing out on the structure around your day. Structure is known to be effective for productivity. Perhaps not everyone needs to be tied to a desk 9-5pm, but some form of structure helps us to focus on breaking up our days into bite size tasks. I know some home workers that like to take a walk in the morning, and upon returning to their home they feel ready to start their work. Therefore, almost emulating their commute.

I don’t tend to walk in the mornings, but I do love to run, or do some yoga, and once I’m finished, showered and had breakfast, that’s me ready to start work.

The same goes for finishing work. Perhaps now you’re working from home you’re finding you’re doing more hours, sending emails early in the morning or late at night? What methods do you have in place to remind yourself to stop work? As lockdown eases and we have more options for things to do and places to go, the last thing any of us want is to be working more hours. What’s your routine for ‘closing up for the day?’

As I don’t have a separate office, my desk is in one part of my living room. To help signal the end to my day I tend to tidy my desk, put my lap top away out of sight and turn my work emails off from my phone. I find these are the best ways for me to help compartmentalise the two areas and parts of my day. Researcher, Dr Heejung Chung, has proven in depth research into how working time flexibility impacts an individual’s work-life balance, she says ‘separate space, even if a corner, creates emotional and physical detachment, which is needed’. The practice of home workers leaving home before and after you finish work also supports the detachment theory.

The environment in which we work is key. The types of offices I’ve worked in over the years have varied greatly, but all have one thing in common, a lack of natural daylight. Thankfully many of my past roles have been very operational, so I wasn’t desk based all day, otherwise I might have lost my mind!

I’m interested to know how much thought you put into your desk space/office set up at home? Does it allow for productivity, focus, creativity, concentration? Do you have enough natural light? There is data proving that people don’t thrive in sterile conditions. Emma Morley, creator of design studio Trifle says ‘Studies of workers show that people who sit near sunnier windows or near daylight have fewer sleep disturbances at night’. It should be pretty clear to anyone that if you’re getting more sleep you feel better, you’re more alert and will perform better at your job. A win win!

So, what do you need for your work environment and routine, should working from home become a permanent arrangement for you post pandemic?

We’ve heard so much about the importance of getting out in the fresh air and open space over the last 12 months, but how much do you think about the reasons why this is so important for our working day?

Rebecca Seal, journalist, editor, TV presenter and author of How to Work alone (and not lose your mind), talks about the huge benefits of ensuring we get out into the open space. This not only acts as chance for our bodies and minds to rest and reset, but did you know it also has massive benefits to the health of our eyes. When we stop looking at screens and get outside we start to use different eye muscles, so when we return to our screens, those muscles used for close up work have also had a chance to rest.

There’s so much I could talk about food and working from home, but I think I’ll save that for another day. But if you’re someone that has picked up unhealthy snacking habits since working from home, I’ll leave you with these few tips.

I was surprised to hear from friends that so many people were having to work in uncomfortable, highly impractical places in their homes, sat on dinning room chairs, hunched over a lap top weeks after the ‘work from home’ restrictions were put into place. The only profession that’s going to win out of those kind of conditions are chiropractors, that’s for sure. I really hope that employers have been thoughtful, given that we are a year into this, and have supported their employees with the tools to work smart and be happy at home.

The connections you have with those that you work with, have a fundamental affect on our work. I’ve spoke about the positive experiences I have had using co-working spaces in the past and I’ve definitely felt the absence of them this past year. Robert Kropp, a digital nomad, worked his way through over 140+ workspaces and 20 countries during the past few years and now builds tech for workspaces globally Robert says ‘when you work from home you lose work pace colleagues and co-working supports that vital connection that most of need’.

If you’re the only one in your home that works from home, it’s so important to let your partner, or those that you live with know the reality you’re facing and how you’re feeling. I will never forget what it was like when I first started working from home, and my partner at the time would come home from work. It was like he was met by an excitable puppy at the door. No doubt the last thing he needed after a busy day and commute was a full on conversation the moment he walked through the door, but if you are that person please be patient. After all, it can be really lonely working from home on your own sometimes, therefore making human interaction even more valuable.

If you are fortunate to have some kind of flexible working within your job, I urge you to use it. Being able to go for a walk/run before, during or after your working day, or pick your kids up from school, go to your favourite class, and meet up with friends, are all important to most people’s core values and what makes life meaningful.

So whether you’re keen to get back to the office, are hoping for home working to be made more permanent, would like some flexibility in between, or are interested in the benefits co-working space could bring. One thing is for sure, the landscape of how we work has changed forever, but which parts will you be opting to keep?

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