With the health contingency to stop the spread of the COVID-19, many office workers have become remote workers from a week to the other. This abrupt change has brought radical transformations for both employees and the organizations in which they work.

For several years, teleworking or remote work has been on the rise. Technological advances have made it more comfortable and easier to coordinate a team without having to share the same physical space.

Although it is in vogue now, working at home is nothing new. For sewists, artisans, translators, copywriters, and, in general, for a wide variety of freelance professionals, it has always been the norm.

However, for companies, remote work means a radical paradigm shift and sometimes generates mistrust. Not to mention that labor laws to protect distance workers are still under discussion.

Remote work: challenges for companies

With calls to quarantine in much of the world, including several Latin American countries, even the most traditional companies have had to consider remote work to keep business as usual as long as possible. For these companies, which until now had not thought about how to coordinate a team remotely, the transfer of their activities to their employees’ homes has been fraught with friction.

Making a proper home office is not a piece of cake. It is not enough to move the processes from the company to the worker’s home. Working at home implies that own methods are developed for this particular space, so that the company does not lose productivity, nor their employees lose privacy.

Here are some of the most common problems in remote work and suggestions for people and companies to successfully adapt to new work processes and not end up crazy with changes and closure.

Time management: how to avoid being distracted at home?

Among the first problems that arise in remote work is time management. Those who are not used to the home office run the risk of losing productivity due to the distractions inherent to the home. Or, the opposite may also happen, and people end up overworking without realizing it. This latter situation ends up being more common than the first one.

Although it is true that at home there can be many distractions, this situation is the same in the office. A company without adequate time management processes can end up being much more inefficient than a remote company that does not waste time on unnecessary meetings or small talks around the coffee maker.

For time management in remote projects, companies already have a large number of tools with which they can benefit, such as services such as Clockify, Trello, or Monday, which allow recording how long a task takes in an organization and help to identify opportunity areas.

Organizations and employees can also take advantage of free tools like Google Calendar, which makes it easy to create reminders for regular tasks.

Time management methods

In addition to time management applications, there are time management methods that organizations and individuals can adopt to stay focused and free from distractions.

One of the most popular techniques today is the Pomodoro technique, where the tasks of the day are established from the beginning, and one works for 25 minutes on them. After 25 minutes, you take a break of five to continue working.

However, the Pomodoro technique has many detractors, and it doesn’t work for all types of people. If this technique is not adapted to the needs of your company or your person, try the Eisenhower Matrix recommended by Stephen R. Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

Another critical point to consider is the tools we use to work remotely, especially in projects that require collaboration and teamwork.

Stick to your schedule

Schedule flexibility is one of the greatest temptations of working at home. Knowing that you save time on transportation and that there is no need to avoid morning traffic, one is tempted to move work time for a few minutes (which can turn into hours).

“Maybe I can exercise first and make up for it by working later.” “What if I clean the house first?”

Procrastination is a wicked counselor. In the worst-case scenario, you will end up working hard to meet your goals just because it seemed like a good idea to learn how to make a cake before starting the routine on Monday morning.

Just as bed and procrastination can be bad influences on productivity when working at home, self-exploitation is also one of the worst things one can do to one’s health and life in general, in addition to being a blatant betrayal of the workers’ struggle that got the eight-hour day. 

In summary: try not to lose track of time and do not work more hours than established. In the end, at some point, you discover that overwork does not necessarily mean working better.

Distance is not fought with teamworking

One of the main concerns for companies when sending their collaborators to work at home lies in the difficulties that it implies for teamwork.

This problem may have been real a few years ago. However, today there is a more reliable telecommunications system and more efficient tools to support teams that collaborate remotely.

In Silicon Valley, one of the most popular platforms for teamwork is Slack, which allows you to hold work discussions in a chat without the distractions that other alternatives involve, such as Messenger, WhatsApp, or email.

How Platzi improved your productivity with Slack

And today, competition in video conferencing services is getting tight. In the quarantine months, Zoom has seen a significant increase in users of its platform, both by educational organizations and by start-ups.

Zoom’s free service allows unlimited meetings between two people and 45 minutes for meetings of more people. Considering that any meeting that lasts more than 45 minutes has already lasted longer than necessary, companies can use this limitation in their favor to make the meetings of their work teams more efficient.

Google has also had Hangout for years, which in its Hangout for Work version allows video conferences of up to 25 people without a time limit, and where more participants can join as listeners.

If your company’s work team is small, WhatsApp or Skype are still free products that you can take into account. However, it considers that the quality of the service has decreased due to the increase in demand.

Maintain human contact

With the health emergency, the extra difficulty is added to work at home: the lack of human connection. As union beings, we need to see other people so as not to develop anxiety or depression problems.

Zoom can also help prevent these problems in a way that also reduces procrastination. Two-person video calls are unlimited, even in the free version of Zoom. This can be used to help keep in touch with people while you work.

The goal is only to see another person also working, which motivates you to focus, and feel accompanied. This is also done by some educational platforms to prevent students from being distracted, such as Microverse.

Working with other people also helps you not neglect your appearance. If you don’t have to meet other people, ignoring grooming activities like bathing or combing can be very easy. Also, there is the temptation to work in the same pajamas for three days in a row.

With a colleague on the other side of the screen, one avoids, or at least slows down, the process of becoming a wholly isolated and friendless outcast.

Before quarantine / In quarantine

Some HR will mention that personal appearance is an important point that reflects professionalism, but in reality, it is more than that. Taking care of personal presentation is not only to project professionalism but is also a form of self-care.

Make space for work at home

A tricky point for many remote workers is putting up space in their home that is exclusively for work. Sometimes the space is insufficient, or we share the house with more people and animals that, at some times of the day, can be a pain.

As much as possible, try to create a comfortable and exclusive space to work. This action will help you get ready to start the work and reduce distractions.

When choosing this space, also consider that it is an ideal place for videoconferences, with a background that is a little distracting to your interlocutors, and that does not make it evident that you are at home. The tips in this video can help you choose the ideal place:

Make it clear to your family that you are working

When you see yourself on the computer, the family may believe that you are wasting time on Facebook again, when in reality, you are learning about the latest outsourcing trends in Latin America from Latam-Outsource. Make it clear that you are working and if they ask you for a favor, be assertive and answer clearly, “I can’t, I’m busy.”

Don’t forget that resting is also important

As it is also essential to sleep, exercise or drink water

With no colleagues around, it’s easy to lose track of mealtimes and hours. Get alert to remind you of lunchtime and prepare something healthy to help you maintain good defenses against the coronavirus.

And for health, too, avoid the temptation to survive on pizza alone. Take advantage of the services that the super send you at home and take it as an opportunity to improve your culinary skills and learn to prepare fast and delicious lunches.

Finally, we repeat the part of the exercise. If office work in itself requires many hours of sitting when working at home, physical activity is further reduced by not needing to move even to work. The Seven Minutes Workout can be an excellent option to keep your body active for short breaks, although my favorite option is to walk around the room while I reflect.

I hope these tips are helpful to everyone who has started on the wrong foot in the home office during this contingency. And if you already have extensive experience working from home, share with others what has worked for you to maintain productivity and not lose your sanity.

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