Articles 3 min read

Working from home during hard times by Roberto Rossi

(This article was first published on LinkedIn in March, at the beginning of the work-from-home period and has been only marginally modified to adapt it to the third month of remote working).

We are now in our third month of remote working (I’m a bit reluctant to call it ‘smart’ working is it that smart in the end??). In spite of the attempts to finally return to something which mirrors normality in many aspects of our lives, it looks like remote working is here to stay for a long while.

This situation is not a freely-chosen flexibility like “I’m working for home once a week”, it is instead a structural change to the way we operate and relate with our colleagues, managers and teams – as well as our own work -, which has been imposed upon us by the extraordinary circumstances. We are not only experiencing the positives of working from home, but also the negatives of doing it for a prolonged period of time. Feelings such as disconnection, loneliness, difficulty to keep a purpose and a sense of engagement in what we do, are faced by many.

While this opens the doors to a lot of reflections on how this impact our lives professionally and personally, in this article I only wish to reflect at a more practical level on what we can do to improve our working days at home and avoid the most common traps, which make our days endless and difficult to handle.

Among the most common issues I’m hearing about (I have some personal awareness of some of them too!), is the difficulty in managing our diary with too many calls now that we can’t meet colleagues in person anymore, and in managing the space-time boundaries between private and working life: you don’t commute anymore, so you can sit at your desk very early in the morning; hardly get up for long hours as you are squeezed between calls and emails more than in the ‘old’ days; maybe you are also interrupted by your kids who are also at home and distract you, so you feel a moral imperative to work even harder; you end up checking your emails after dinner as you may have taken a longer lunch break or some time to prepare your meal.

To avoid madness – and preserve the relationship with my family! – I have decided to impose a routine on myself and I’d like to share a few rules which are helping me in this period. Here they are:

  1. Keep the commuting! I know it sounds strange, but if not a physical commute, make it a mental one. Work is already so embedded in our lives also thanks to technology, that preserving some time for ourselves between home, work and home again helps to keep work in its confined dimension, avoiding those blurred situations where you check emails whilst cooking, which is not sustainable over a prolonged period. So what am I now doing? My usual commute to work is about 30 minutes… so I take 30 minutes for reading an article, a book or simply listening to a podcast or even better exercise. This puts me in the right zone – and mood – to face the day ahead and allows a cool-down period before I go downstairs for dinner.
  2. Block the time to think or work on projects. Don’t let others manage your diary, get on top of it and if you need to deliver something or some time to work on a project or a document, ensure that your diary is blocked accordingly. This is common sense time management, but it is even more important now that the number of calls has increased dramatically.
  3. Wear something nice (OK, acceptable is sufficient!): maybe not a shirt every day, but it is important for two reasons: it contributes to separate work from home – I change back to sweatpants and t-shirt before dinner-, and you also keep a professional look as many meetings are switching to videoconference.
  4. Use video-calls instead of audio-only: it really helps to fight the sense of isolation and social alienation which comes with being on your own all day and may become overwhelming.
  5. Have a coffee with your colleagues: as a team, we have regular virtual coffees, just to touch-base with no agenda. I will extend this and pick a couple of colleagues to have these coffees one-to-one from time to time, we also need a little chit-chat which so easily happens in the office to keep us going.
  6. Keep fit: this is costing me the most effort, but protecting the time previously devoted to sport is essential, and this is not part of my weekly planning.
  7. Finally, time for a hobby. I never really had much time for it, but being forced at home has given me the push to try and plant some chilli pepper seeds. Something I have been willing to try for a long time, it is a small thing but preserves the sense of time and keeps my green heart alive when it seems that nature is revolting against us.

Routines may become a cage though, and difficult to follow, so we should also allow ourselves some room for freedom and the possibility to deviate from the rules. So here’s what I’m doing: my go-to-work routine includes shaving every day, which I’m not always so keen on, so I decided that I will not shave for a while – for how long, still to be decided!

It would be interesting to hear the experience of those who are in the same situation and compare tricks and rules to better cope with these unprecedented times. Or even just advice on how to grow a beard – or chilli!

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