How to remain productive working from home

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What exactly is the workplace?

Historically, a workplace was a physical location where a group of people, contractually bound, assembled to perform a set of tasks in return for something. Like a factory, a tannery, a wood cutting mill, etc Workplaces also had or provided tools, resources, machinery, and instruments that would be required to perform the tasks. Then came the digital era, or the start of computers and the internet. In this era, a new wave of jobs was created which redefined the workplace as we knew from the previous era. Instead of physical labor and the use of huge complex machinery, work began to be accomplished behind desks and desktops, laptops. Moore’s law captured this evolution very well. As electronic devices became smaller and yet more effective, digitalization revolutionized every aspect of our lives. Workplace as well.

The workplace was always defined as essential for getting things done. It enforced accountability, helped in focussing, made essentials for working available, and all in all enabled productivity. But as we saw above, the evolution of the workforce, made organizations rethink this policy of enforcing workplace as the only way or rather place of working

Remote Working is a mode of working which allows the professional to work from any location. Usually, flexible timings for work are closely associated with remote working. There are variations of remote working as well such as working from home. And the definition of a remote worker may change depending on their employment status. i.e Are they a full-time employee or contractual employee. And irrespective of what kind of employee they are, how can a remote worker ensure the same level of productivity.

COVID and the New Normal

The COVID-19 pandemic has completely altered the meaning of the workplace. Particularly in the information technology sector which is almost 100% digitized. Earlier where companies would allow and authorize remote working in varying degrees, based on factors like requirements, logistics, security, etc, companies are now forced to come up with frameworks for allowing remote working as much as possible to keep the wheels moving. It is also becoming apparent that this is going to be the new normal for a long time and hence remote working and work from home is no longer going to be an employee privilege but rather a way of life

Remote Working vs Work from Home

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Remote working is a working system where an employee is not mandated by contract to be present in a physical, authorized location of the employer. The reason for such an arrangement could be many. E.g. A global workforce. An employer in India hires a consultant in the US. In the internet age, proximity and information is just a click away.

Work from Home can be considered as an arrangement where an employee is entitled to work from home subject to certain restrictions and rules. Work from Home makes an exception to the requirement that an employee should be physically present as and when required under certain circumstances.

Drivers of Remote Working

Why does somebody work remotely in the first place?

  • Happier Employee — More Productivity
  • Technology
  • Current Norm
  • Reduced Cost
  • Social Benefits

Happier Employee — More Productivity

Allowing an employee to work in a location where he is more comfortable i.e his home or any other preferred location, puts him in a happier and calmer mindset. This invariably leads to a more productive employee. Plus the support extended by the organisation to the employee in letting him work from home or remotely builds loyalty in the minds of the employee toward the organisation

Technology

Employees work from home; simply because they can! Technology is a great enabler and distances and physical presence no longer matter in many sectors. This offers the additional benefit to the employer of having access to the employee, company data at any point of time. Video discussions, conference calls are already used in organisations which have teams spread across the globe. Remote working/Work from home simply extends those technologies locally

Current Norm

Companies around the globe are always trying to improve their employee engagement program to make them more productive. With modern lifestyle, the pressures of work can affect the work-life balance. Hence to provide some balance to the employee when it comes to their personal lives, companies have accepted WFH or remote working as a norm

Reduced Cost

Having an employee working remotely or working from home, has measurable financial benefits for the company. Such as savings on office space, physical infrastructure, transportation, conveyance allowance etc

Social Benefits

In addition to the benefits to both the employee and employer, there are lots of social benefits associated with remote working and working from home. Reduced traffic, reduced noise, reduced environmental impact associated with pollution generation, reduced spending in commute, etc

Remote working best practice

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Now that we have a good idea about what remote working is and we have seen the benefits of the same, let’s have a look at how we can maximise our productivity working from home

Reachability

Set up the environment

Proactive with potential Distractions

Take Scheduled Breaks

Call Over Chat

Solicit Feedback

1. Reachability

When an employee works from home, the most important thing is his reachability. It is the responsibility of the employee to inform his team, subordinates, superiors when is he available, when is he on break and when will he log off. Do not make colleagues ping you multiple times waiting for your response while you have switched off. Stick to the normal work hours. Be available on the authorized communication channels

2. Set up the environment

An employee must set up an environment which is similar to his work environment. This is not limited to tools and technology.It extends to mundane things like tables, chairs, settings etc. Ensure that all the authorised, required tools, permissions, configurations, provisioning certificates are available and working on your system before you start. Similarly have a physical environment similar to your office setup. Dress for the occasion, have the same environment and desk setup so you will be focussed on the work like the workplace

3. Proactive with potential distractions

Working from home has more potential for distractions. It might be amusing and cute to see your cat dart across the keyboard, but when you are in the middle of a serious discussion over a video call, it can appear awkward. Home delivery, a family member popping in to ask something, kids throwing tantrums and a million and one awkward scenarios like that. Avoid all this by defining a boundary. Time and space wise. Let your family know you are unavailable between these timings. Keep the door shut if you will. Do whatever is required based on your home setup, but ensure that personal distractions don’t impede your work

4. Take scheduled breaks

It is easy to be “always-on” when you are working from home. But just like the way someone takes regular breaks in their workplace, schedule breaks when you are working at home as well.

Just ensure that your team members are aware. A simple status update on your communication channel which indicates that you are away would be a good example. Similarly, ensure non-work tasks are scheduled at a fixed time and it does not interfere with your working hours.

5. Calls over chat

In a working environment, help or clarification or answer to problems is just a desk away. You might swing by your colleague’s desk to get some clarification. But when you are working remotely and you are connected with your colleagues virtually, discussions and clarifications might get difficult over chats. Do not hesitate to reach out to your team to discuss any contentious issue over the phone when you find yourself going round in circles with chat-based discussions

6. Solicit feedback

Periodically talk to your team. Your subordinates, your superiors about how they are finding your current setup.

This goes a long way in enforcing your commitment and professionalism when it comes to working from home

What to avoid

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Casual Nature

Non-Adherence to Time

Not Informing in Advance

Not Being Prepared

1. Casual nature

Remote working or work from home is a privilege or a grant to accomplish your work better while balancing other priorities. The time you are working from home is accountable to the employee for the work you are supposed to deliver. Often, the comfortable and familiar environment of homes can induce a sense of casualness in an employee. Work from home is nothing but simply working from home. Maintain the same level of professionalism as in the workplace

2. Non-adherence to time

Adherence to time is mandatory when it comes to working from home. Since an employee is not physically present, it becomes imperative that the same person maintains time when it comes to meetings, calls, discussion, etc.

3. Not informing in advance

In the event of an employee being dragged into some personal work, it is necessary to intimate the team members about any nonavailability. If the user is stepping out for a while, he/she should notify their subordinates, superiors about the same. Similarly, if someone is on leave, ensure that the connected people are informed in advance

4. Not being prepared

Do not show up to a meeting with a faulty microphone or webcam and fix things during call. Do dry runs of every interaction to make sure everything works as expected. Being prepared with no logistical issues is necessary because its professional, and respectful of others time

Challenges of Remote Working

Tech availability

A workplace is equipped with the latest and the required tools, hardware, and software to perform one’s work effectively. Having access to the same kind of setup might be difficult in a remote location. This leads to ineffective substitute which might lead to lower productivity depending on the substitute

More prone to distraction

A work culture that is centered around focus helps an employee to work efficiently in the office. But at home or remotely an employees attention is more prone to get distracted with mundane tasks not directly related to work

Difficulty in switching off

Work from home creates an “Alway On” expectation. People take it for granted that since someone is working from home they are going to be always available. It is essential to take regular breaks and draw a definite boundary between personal and professional time.

Need to over-communicate and reachability

No matter how much technology simplifies communication and accessibility, nothing beats a personal touch when it comes to discussing, collaborating, and communicating. In a connected world, due to lack of understanding, time difference, cultural differences, etc, remote working or work from home might necessitate over communication to simplify matters

Conclusion

Remote working is a system that was an effective, additional way to do work before the COVID pandemic. But life as we know has completely changed. What was a good thing previously is now a necessity and might become the way of life in the future. If performed in the right manner with diligence and care, working from home and remote working is as effective as working at the workplace; if not better. Hence each person must follow a certain code, a certain personal ethic, and professionalism to make this successful and to handle a part of this crisis.

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