The transition to home-working happened for me when we got posted to Kinloss in the Highlands. At first I worked from home for a company and travelled back to Bath every now and then. After about six months I decided to start my own business, DOT PROJECT, with my business partner. I was quite low on confidence at the time, the job I left was difficult and the atmosphere quite toxic. So I had to do a lot of work on myself to create focus and space and build a productive home-working environment. I did a short course of coaching (where I had a coach help me set healthy habits). This really focused on unblocking barriers to my confidence and self-esteem. I also did a lot of reading about how to find a balance and create a positive and healthy home-work mindset. The one book that I found extremely useful was The Black Book: A Toolkit for Working Women (by Otegha Uwagba) definitely worth a read. Generally I find a lack of these types of books for working mums, I haven’t found any useful resources yet in this space…maybe haven’t looked hard enough!
Here are my reflections on how those new to home-working might feel and some tools and techniques to create an environment in which to thrive.
When you work in a remote way your communication with people is completely virtual via calls, emails and communication channels like Slack. It can very quickly become transactional and a lot of things can be mis-communicated or understood differently to how they would be if you were face to face. Here’s a few things that I try to do to strengthen the human connection:
1. Use video call where possible so you can see the other person and their body language
2. Start the call with a check-in. When you’re not in a office environment you miss the small talk, the social side of the offices. So create the space to check in with each other.
3. Learn to be more direct in the way that you’re feeling. We’re not very good at this as Brits but sometimes you can come away from a call and feel quite down or frustrated whilst others have no idea you are feeling that way. You need to address these communication challenges head-on otherwise they will get worse
4. Don’t be surprised if you find this exhausting at first. I’m often really tired after a full day of working remotely, I think when we’re speaking to people in a virtual space we’re working doubly hard to understand body language and ensure everyone is on the same page
5. Bring back phone calls and messages. It’s like going back to the 90s in terms of communication when we used to call each other more frequently
Structuring your day is really important otherwise it can feel that your work and home life blend into one another. For me I need to clear boundaries between these two worlds because I have a tendency to do everything at a thousand miles an hour and throw myself into whatever I’m doing. Therefore I need to create the space to switch off from work. Don’t underestimate the power of a commute to really switch off and get yourself in the zone of home, you may need to find an alternative method. Here are a few things that I do:
1. Put in place a power hour at the start of your day. I often do this really really early, at 6 o’clock for example. The purpose of the power hour is to use the time to really focus on certain key tasks. Often I use this time to structure my day read through emails and draft responses and decide how I’ll break my day down based on the priorities I have.
2. Make a list what you need to do. Often when you’re really busy it feels like the best thing to do is plough on with activities and not take the time to pause and plan your day but I find this counter productive. I’ve just started bullet journalling and I really like how somehow the to do list feels more alive and manageable.
3. Leave a 45 minute window every few days to deal with admin. That might be calling the doctor to make an appointment, filling in paperwork for your kids school or sorting out your finances. These tasks often feel urgent but also seem to get in the way of your working day so assigning time to them means you get to these tasks without compromising work activities.
4. For me time management is really important. In fact, I have a bit of an obsession with time that I have to manage otherwise it can feel a bit overwhelming. Try and figure out how long each activity you need to do is going to take and set yourself a time limit to complete each task. Sometimes you may need to go over your assigned time limit to finish something but it gives some structure. This helps me as I am a bit of a bit of a perfectionist and sometimes don’t know when to stop.
5. Use a tool to help you manage your activities. I use business tools like Monday and Slack. These help with collaborative conversations but also project management. I also use a Urgent and Important matrix. This is really useful for me I put off the tasks I dislike the most and sometimes these are the most urgent. This matrix approach helps to you prioritise and decide what to do when.
Create a working space that enables you to feel focused. For me this is a space with little distractions, that is uncluttered and comfortable. Drink good coffee from a nice cup. I tend to wear ‘work clothes’ so it feels like work, and I look ok when I’m on video chats!
If you end up working from home with your partner over the coming weeks try and work out a good rhythm. If you can work in the same space together try it, but you might find that a bit distracting and that’s ok! Be really upfront about your own needs for homeworking as everyone works differently. I need minimal distraction so working in the same space as my partner is not the best for me.
Finally I find it really useful to have an end point activity to my day. Something which marks the transition back to home life. Usually this is reading an article, checking my work twitter account or making a to-do list for the next day. I physically put my computer in another room so I’m not tempted to open it. Of course a glass of wine or gin works a treat too!