Why is it so difficult to work from home? Why can’t you concentrate and stay focused?
The short answer is; there is a mismatch between expectations and reality. To work from home is always something that requires a major adjustment but in the current health crisis situation the adjustment required is far greater.
I have both students and clients telling me that they feel like failures, they feel as if they are letting everyone down. The challenges for those home-schooling children are even greater and from parents I am hearing self-criticism about their parenting skills and their work performance.
What can employers do to help? What can you do as an individual to cope better?
If you are an employer or an HR professional there are things you can do that will help. The first will be to openly acknowledge that you recognise that completing tasks at home will be slower.
Reviewer expectations and targets will really help. Often there is a recognition of the pressure staff are under but this may not have been communicated. Be direct and clear that you understand working from home right now if hard.
As I discuss why working at home is so difficult I will include tips for the individual and the employer. You may read this from your personal perspective and/or consider discussing these issues with your employer or manager if you need more support.
In normal times switching to home working involves changing your major social patterns. If you are used to going into the office and working with a group or team of people you will have been part of a complex social network. Unlike media versions this network will involve interacting with “real” people in “real” time.
This interacting and relating with others fulfils a very specific human need for connection. The social part of the workplace “oils” the “wheels” of productivity. Losing this connection is not always appreciated at first but the impact will be felt as loneliness or isolation.
In normal times you would be able to go to the shops, the gym and socialise outside of your working hours and this would ease the change. Usually, when I coach the newly self-employed I help them plan how they will top up their business relating activities to help fill this need. This is why face to face networking has such an important role to play.
In the current environment, all of the other ways of relating to others have also been removed intensifying this issue of isolation leading to feelings of depression and loneliness.
As an individual what can you do?
Take regular breaks and if you can have people you can have a ten to twenty minute chat with over a coffee. Use video conferencing media such as Facetime, Zoom, Skype or Whatsapp. Seeing each other will help.
As an employer, you might want to facilitate office “coffee breaks”.
If the team manager makes a point of inviting people to such meetings where the focus is on the social rather than business staff will feel they have permission to take such breaks.
For most people, ninety minutes is an average length of time before you need to take a full break and you may need mini-breaks of just getting up and walking around every thirty minutes or so. Doing this will help to keep your focus and concentration.
There is a paradox in this advice and some of the others I will be sharing. As an employer or HR professional, you may feel you are encouraging people not to work however this is about working smarter. Productivity will in all likelihood go up if you support staff in this way.
The next consideration is your working space. If you were looking at home working long term finding a specific place to work in your home is a really good idea. It helps to create a sense of routine and a place where your workspace is defined. This is to ensure you don’t feel as if you are at work all the time.
If you and other members of the household are all working from home it might be worth discussing the best way to share space and/or computer time.
In many households, there may be at least two people working from home plus children being homeschooled. This extra pressure may make finding a dedicated workspace more challenging. If this is true for you acknowledge that lack of space will be challenging. When you acknowledge an issue it is easier to move forward.
As an employer knowing the individual challenges of your team can allow you to be more flexible and understanding about the realistic number of work hours that can be expected.
The quality of broadband in your home may also be far less than the industrial level. If there are also several people working on the same connection you may find things take longer to do. If you also need to share equipment this, of course, causes more delays.
I am not going to write a great deal about homeschooling here as for me it is all theory as this is not an issue I need to deal with. What I will say is that employers need to be realistic about just how much-focused concentration staff may have available. Most people really are trying their best to do a good job and then being overly self-critical. As an employer demonstrating understanding will be appreciated.
That self-isolating without children will also have challenges. If living alone being solitary for many will be very hard so the virtual coffee breaks are key.
Families with and without children may experience heightened emotional states resulting in more arguments than normal. The toll on relationships may well be high.
Add to all of the above the underlying stress we are all feeling caused by uncertainty and genuine fear for the future it is no wonder doing work from home is so difficult.
My number one tip if you are home working is to take a step back and evaluate what can you realistically do? And then give yourself permission to accept that you will not necessarily be as productive at home as you are at work. Alter your expectations and be kind to yourself. Let go of the self-criticism and if necessary reach out for support.
If you are an employer, find out more about each person’s personal circumstances and reassure them that you know they are doing their best. In the long run, this will allow staff time to adjust and performance will gradually improve if the lockdown continues. In the best of all worlds, we will be able to return to our normal work patterns. The staff that feel appreciated and supported will naturally be more motivated and loyal. Taking care of your staff now will bring rewards in the future.