Remote working Solutions: Dealing with distractions, lack of structure and a poor physical work environment
In this blog we explore the practical side of working remotely and look at what many of us struggle with – distractions, the lack of structure and a physical work environment that may not have been designed for working. This is the third in our series of blogs on remote working, the first topic we looked at was overcoming overwork and burnout and in the second we looked at solutions for dealing with loneliness, isolation and being overlooked.
Problem: Dealing with Distractions
The reality for most of us is that there are far more distractions working from home than there are in the office – whether that be the fridge, household chores, or demanding pets, children or partners! If you are the kind of person that is easily distracted, you need to be more disciplined than you would be in the office.
Solution: Prioritising and Planning
In the same way that boundaries can help with overwork and burnout, planning can help you to focus.
- Set regular work hours: Setting regular work hours and communicating them to those you share your space with is fundamental. If you work in a shared space or a space where you can’t shut the door, having a physical signal when you can’t be disturbed is also essential.
- Prioritise your most important tasks: Start every day by identifying what your most 3 most important tasks are for that day and do the one you are least looking forward to first. If you need to, give yourself a reward for completing the task, like a 30 minute walk or exercise break.
- Eliminate any distracting noise: Noise-cancelling headphones are a must if you share space with someone who is on Zoom for most of the day. Although I’ve been working from home for the best part of 10 years, I discovered this year whilst sharing my workspace with my husband that I seem to have lost the ability to concentrate when other people are talking (or perhaps he’s just really loud!)
- Plan your day as if you were at work: Don’t start household chores or cook between meetings or during the working part of your day. If you do you’ll end up having to stop work and divert your attention.
- Take control of your social media feed: If you’re more likely to get distracted by social media or other applications when working remotely, remove these applications from the devices that you use for work.
Problem: Lack of structure
For many people the lack of structure that exists when working remotely can be a huge problem. That lack of structure may be down to the increased flexibility that remote working often affords us or the fact that we don’t physically have to be in an office environment under the watchful gaze of a manager or supervisor. Whatever the reason, to remote work effectively we need to call on all our reserves of self-management and create a structure that works for our own circumstances.
Solution: Habits, Rules and Time blocking
If you are suffering from a lack of structure when remote working, the best way to solve this is the create some structure around your work. There are several different techniques you can use to help you.
“Before we can effectively build new habits, we need to get a handle on our current ones”
- Look at your habits: Your habits are key. It is a great idea to do a quick habit audit – look at your working day and identify any habits or repetitive behaviours that might be contributing to your lack of structure. An example might be immediately stopping what you’re doing to respond to emails as they come in. Once you’ve identified these, you can start to think about how you might be able to tweak these habits to introduce more structure. In the example mentioned above, a good tweak might be to set aside periods of time during your working day to read and respond to emails. A great book on Habits I would recommend is Atomic Habits by James Clear.
- Create your own Rules and Norms: One of the ways structure exists in an office environment is down to rules and norms. These rules and norms may not exist in a remote working environment, so we need to introduce our own. An example of a rule that helps me introduce structure into my remote working day is to have a daily catch up with the team every day at 10am.
- Time blocking: This is another great way to introduce structure into your working day. Once you’ve identified your core working hours, identify time periods that you will block out to do specific tasks. This technique can also be used to help support your habits and rules. For example, you can block out 09:00-09:30, 12:00-12:30 and 16:00-16:30 every day to read any respond to any emails. If you block these times out as busy/unavailable in your calendar and put your phone onto silent while you do this, it increases the likelihood that you will do what you have time blocked.
Whilst these ideas do take effort and discipline to implement, the increased feeling of organisation, control and structure can make a huge difference to your working day.
Problem: Poor physical working environment
At the moment, many of us are working remotely in a physical environment that was not designed for work. Balancing laptops on kitchen counters, holding conference calls perched on the end of the bed, sitting on a hard dining room chair for 8 hours a day or trying to speak to clients with next door’s dogs barking constantly are all real problems.
Unfortunately, all these things can lead to real problems with our physical health. The issue has been complicated by the fact that we didn’t anticipate we would be working remotely for so long, so didn’t prioritise setting up our physical environment effectively, or we simply don’t have the space or resources to do so.
Solution: Optimise and Change
If it looks likely that you will be remote working long term, you will really need to create a healthy physical environment to work in. There isn’t a perfect solution for this problem, but there are a number of things we can do.
- Find a space and adapt it: The first thing to do is to find a space or corner that could be adapted to suit remote working more effectively. In an ideal situation you need a good quality adjustable chair and a table or desk with enough space to work comfortably. Headphones are also helpful if you share your space with others.
- Ask what your employer is willing to contribute: Explore with your employer whether they can offer a contribution or discounts to purchase appropriate furniture and/or resources. You may even want to ask if it is possible for you to use your regular office chair whilst you are working from home. It might not be convenient to go to the office and pick it up, and it might not look beautiful sitting in your lounge, but can you really afford to risk your health?
- Take regular breaks: At the absolute minimum you must ensure that you are taking screen breaks and exercising or physically moving your body at regular intervals. It is so important for your physical and mental health to exercise regularly.
- Investigate co-working spaces: Another option worth explore is a co-working space, even if it is for just one or two days a week. Look for one that has flexible options in case your situation changes and ensure that it has good quality office furniture (rather than just being a space that looks cool!).
The reality is that for many people working from home is not easy or an ideal solution, but there are some things you can do to make the experience a more pleasant one and make sure that your mental and physical health doesn’t suffer.
If you are feeling unfulfilled at work or are struggling to motivate your team, get in touch to find out how our Emotional Salary Barometer can help you gain awareness of what really matters and start redefining work.