Becoming better through the crisis!
I decided to speak up because I feel a huge urge to share some thoughts about the current circumstances! Humanity is facing a huge challenge called Covid-19. The global economy, of course, is part of it. The impact is and will be enormous — from small restaurants, little shops, fitness studios, to entire industries, e.g. travel. I totally acknowledge that. In this text, however, I want to focus on my closest environment and so-called social media bubble.
NOTE: When I was writing this text I realized that it was very difficult to stay inclusive and embrace all different personal situations. Unfortunately, I did not manage to do it. Don’t take it personally, I will do my best to improve for the future. Just be informed that I know that each case is different and my suggestions won’t be applicable for everyone. Nevertheless, hopefully, you will still find this text valuable.
My first seven years of working 100% remotely
I entered the world of remote work in 2013 — the year I moved from Poland to Germany. After moving to Berlin I did not have to look for a new job — my employer transferred me. What I had to do, however, is to change my role, my manager, and the way I was delivering value for the organization. My new manager was based in the UK, my team with approximately 55 members was distributed across 12+ countries and I was new in the PMO role (Project Management Officer), expected to work remotely. I was located in Berlin and indeed my company had an office in the German capital city, nevertheless, I was the only team member in this location. Therefore I was going to the office only once in the while to socialize.
It took me some time to unlearn old and learn new habits, to get used to doing everything as I was leaving for the office (for example, don't work in my pajamas!). I also struggled with my own fears, biases, and misconceptions about "working from home". I still remember myself (before 2013) questioning the quality and amount of work that is/can be performed in/from the home office. It is worth highlighting that such set up was fairly new to many employees back then. The percentage of employees aged 15 to 64 in the European Union who usually work from home stood at 4.7% in 2013 and 5.2% in 2018. Last but not least, to be completely honest, I was missing my old office, face to face interaction, and working in-person with my colleagues, stakeholders, clients.
I often received those questions about remote work (mainly referring to working in the home office):
Aren't you tempted by other things, like watching TV or Netflix?
Aren't you distracted by household duties, like doing laundry?
Of course, at the beginning I was. I also noticed that when I was working remotely I did not have a clear start and finish time for my work and therefore I often found myself working late and long hours. With time, I learned to be productive when working remotely and to keep more balance between work and personal life. It was a process. Don’t expect that to happen from one day to another. I like to think that awareness is one of the key ingredients for success. Hence, keep that in mind when learning to work remotely.
I spent 7years working in that setup. In the meantime, my roles changed a couple of times, I started traveling (a lot) and working from various offices of my employer or from the clients’ offices. When a new career opportunity came along, one of my key decision-making factors was the ability to work in the office without too much traveling. Last year in October, I started a new role that met those expectations. And today here we go again… Like in the “Groundhog Day” movie from 1993…
Back to working remotely
Suddenly, a lot of people, who were not used to work remotely on a regular basis, have been sent home to work remotely, due to the coronavirus. Let me be very clear here. Working from home or working remotely once a week is not enough to prepare yourself for this disruption and this is a very different experience. It’s a choice. For sure that helps, you are not starting from scratch, but this is not the same. Working 4 days a week from the office and 1 day from home/remotely can help you gain time for focused work. If you plan it well, during the 4 days in the office you can complete all the tasks that require in-person meetings or collaboration. This 1 day of remote/home office work can be used for uninterrupted, focused work.
What happens when you have to work 100% remotely? In general, not everyone’s job/profession allows that. There are jobs that cannot be done remotely, like garbage collection (it is just being collected from my building hence the example), taking care of children or sick people, or baking and selling bread. As mentioned in the intro, I am focusing on the environment that I know best — technology, innovation, consulting. The global economy and societies are in a very difficult situation and we will feel its effects long after it’s officially over. We, employees, can help reduce the scale of the impact and consequences for our employers, co-workers, and clients, by acting responsibly, taking accountability, and staying productive.
How to best cope with remote work?
Here are a few thoughts that may help you deal with the situation.
1. Reframe the perspective
For those familiar with the design thinking mindset, there is no need to explain how powerful it can be. For those who are new to the concept, here is a super-short introduction. When we talk about reframing, we are referring to the unique way that each individual views the world around, and how that perspective can be changed. This includes aspects like personal experience, ideas, concepts, or emotions. Design thinkers believe that any of those aspects can be revisited and reframed to create a new, more creative and powerful, reality.
Instead of referring to the new set up as a home office or working from home, reframe it by calling it remote work or working remotely. It may seem like a semantic trick but it can help you change the overall perspective and move the needle in the direction of working not focusing on home and being at home. Remember that you have the power and control over the story you are telling. I learned that this tool, especially for this specific context, can help me to stay productive and continue delivering value. Give it a try and share your experience!
2. Working remotely is still working
When observing different social media (especially LinkedIn) I get the impression that according to many people businesses/companies are shutting down. This is not true! Don’t make this mistake! We cannot treat a lockdown (temporary limitations) as equal to a (complete) shutdown.
For safety reasons, many companies decided to close their offices or limit traffic in the office. From one day to another many people (including me) are asked to work remotely. The keyword here being “to work”. How I see it, is that we have been asked to deliver the value for the organization from another physical space than the usual office space. This is all. We have not been fired, we will still get our salaries (at least for now…) and therefore we also have responsibilities towards our employers, co-workers, and clients.
I’ve always been hearing many people struggling to find the time (and opportunity) for uninterrupted, focused work. Well, why don’t we change the narrative (again reframing) and use that new set up to complete the work we never had the time for or the opportunity to do? Why don’t we use this time to plan for the future?
My husband Michal Subel told me recently:
When you are working with a strong sense of purpose, you can never run out of thing to do, projects to plan, or ideas to execute. You can never be done!
I think this sentence is more important today than it was ever before. Is it applicable to you too?
Of course, I understand that not everyone will have a chance to experience this focused and uninterrupted time at the home office given that schools and kindergartens are closed. This is another challenge that many will need to face and try to find a solution for it. Unfortunately, I don’t have a brilliant idea to share with you. I wish I had… I can only empathize with you and hope you will find a concept that works for you.
3. Time is our most valuable resource
Every day, I need 60–75 minutes for my commute. I’m always trying to use this time wisely and listen to some podcasts or audiobooks. I need to admit, however, that this is not always easy. Distractions are coming from every corner and staying safe in the urban jungle also takes a lot of energy. Sometimes, I simply decide to practice mindfulness and on my way to work, I only focus on my way to work. I know it might sound ridiculous, but try it first before judging. It sounds easier than it actually is. Now, because I am working remotely from home, I am saving over an hour every day on commuting.
During a typical day in the office, I’m usually interrupted and distracted several times. Let’s face it I am a source of distractions for my colleagues too. The studies prove the following:
We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day. But here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task. — Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine. Source: fastcompany.com
The amount of time we can save is enormous. Being remote, however, may not be enough for it to happen. We are easily getting distracted by our devices even without being in the presence of other people. Dealing with digital distractions is a topic for a whole new article but for now, you can consider turning off the notifications on your laptop and mobile phone. Either permanently or at least for the time when you decide to focus. Disconnect outlook (or any other e-mail client you are using) and turn it on only when you plan to read and answer e-mails. Finally, tidying up your workspace can also help reduce destructions.
I hope, by now, you see my point. Many remote workers are in a position when they can really save time and become more productive. Are you one of them? If you can (I know everyone’s situation is different), try to look at the current situation as a unique opportunity to strengthen your ability to focus and learn new skills.
We don’t know how long this situation will last. Waiting and observing is not an option for me. The show must go on and we can take this opportunity to master remote work. As mentioned several times already, the impact and consequences for the business/global economy are going to be huge, however, by staying productive and engaged now we can contribute to the reduction of this negative impact.
Bookstores are filled with tiles about productivity (how to make time for things that matters, deep work, flow, etc.). Here are some titles which you can consider reading:
- “The Pomodoro Technique: The Life-Changing Time-Management System” — Francesco Cirillo
- “Make Time: How to focus on what matters every day” — Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky
- “Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World” — Cal Newport
- “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
- “The Cost of Interrupted Work: More Speed and Stress” — Gloria Mark, Daniela Gudith and Ulrich Klocke