In the near future, many people will open their work laptops at the kitchen table or on the sofa. The Netherlands will remain at home en masse for the time being because of the corona virus.
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people come online this week to take refuge in the corona virus, but certainly not all.
According to the Dutch Ministerie van Sociale Zaken en Werkgelegenheid, only 29 percent of Dutch people can work from home, including one in twenty service employees and more than half of the information workers. Amazon, KPN, Microsoft, and VMware have all asked at least some of their employees to stay away from the office. Hashtag wfh is currently trending on Twitter. The coronavirus outbreak has caused a terrifying test run for large-scale remote working. What we learn in the coming months could help shape a future of work that would have been inevitable, with or without a crisis that will come to public health once a century.
Even before the pandemic hit, remote working in the Netherlands accelerated. According to the ministery, the proportion of the workforce who work from home has tripled in the past 15 years. Two of the accelerators are obvious: the cost of living in subways with the highest density of knowledge workers and technology, such as Slack, Chime and Microsoft Teams, that is driving collaboration online. A few years ago, Google conducted a research project on its most productive groups. The company found that the primary quality was confidence in “psychological safety” that team members would not embarrass or punish individuals for their communication.
But online communication can be a minefield for psychological safety. Whenever we read a phrase on Slack that seems ambiguous or sarcastic to us, we think by default: bastard! But if someone had said the same to your face, you could laugh at them. Human contact is very important in working relationships. Now you can email and slacken and app, but if you don’t see someone’s reaction, communication becomes complicated. You don’t feel what someone is thinking and you lose touch a bit. Out of sight is quickly out of mind. Chime of Teams can solve that. If you only see someone.
In the current panic, Twitter is filled with rosy predictions that the virus will be an inflection point in the future of distributed work. However, a pandemic is not a good time to determine which type of work arrangement per employee is optimally productive. Rather, it is a time for companies to build on the kind of technology and culture that, when the economy is reviving, could make working remotely easier for those looking to take advantage of it in a future where slightly less commuting and a little more the new work and life balance.
In the beginning people experience it as very efficient. You don’t have to go to endless meetings, you can organize your day better. But after a while productivity also decreases. It is productive if you do it occasionally, but those who work from home for a long time often get used to it. You will not be disturbed and can do a lot, but after a while the benefits will evaporate.
So here are some tips to succesfully work from home
The biggest piece of advice: “Go” to work.
Try to stick to some semblance of your original routine from before you started working from home. If you needed to be at your desk at 8 a.m., don’t wake up at 7:59. Give yourself a little bit of time before your start to wake yourself up, have a coffee, make breakfast. Especially for those of us — like me — who are not morning types.
And dress the part. That means comfortable work clothes — not pajamas.
A big issue can be the whereabouts of your co-workers. You can’t see them sitting at a desk. If you need interaction, plan a meeting or conf-call. That way you know you have dedicated time.
Just be yourself
It is a unique opportunity to make the most of it for yourself. Where possible, experiment with work rhythm and working hours, drink your own coffee. If that elementary school you were talking about makes a noise every day at noon, go for a walk every day.
Be nice to eachother
Try to work with your colleagues, even when they are at a distance. Send a spontaneous email with compliments, make a phone call to catch up. Be aware that it is nice to have contact sometimes.
Focus on what is important for you
Do what you think is fun or what matters to you. Now that you are working from home, no one is looking at your fingers. So you have the space to make your own choices and get more out of your work. For example, put energy into a project that has been on the shelf for a while.
Work smarter, not harder
Sometimes working less is working better. I have the best ideas when I walk, shower or exercise. So in the morning I often pop through my tasks, in the afternoon I laze or walk and in the evening I work out a bit. By working smart you get profit.
Plan your work
Have a good work plan. At the office you can see what colleagues do, what they deliver and when they arrive and leave. You don’t have that at home. Make sure you set clear tasks and mark your time.
Create a creativity space
Provide a good workplace, with a good desk, good chair and good monitor. Concentration and focus is important. Find a secluded place or make arrangements with roommates. Close the door, turn on the music. Also monitor whether things are going well and what can be improved.
You can also take a nap now and then. When I sleep for five minutes, it feels like I wake up late Sunday morning. That works a lot better than you are fighting tired against sleep. A power nap is very good if you work from home. You don’t always have to work very tightly and disciplined.