The din of music escaping from the headphones of the person sitting next to you. The constant snippets of conversation. The hovering of a colleague waiting to pounce on you as soon you pause your typing.
There’s a reason you’ve felt more productive working from home during the pandemic.
Did you know that, pre-pandemic, 83% of office space was allocated to individual work? Only 17% was dedicated to collaborative work. It’s no surprise then, that with everyone doing their individual work in the office, it tends to breed distraction (and reduced productivity).
According to a Harris Poll survey, the majority of American workers would like to work from home or within a hybrid workplace arrangement. Only 25% of workers would choose to return full-time to the physical office after COVID.
If you’re one of the majority and have been enjoying your work from home productivity, you may be wondering how you’ll sustain your high performance when you return to the physical office for your in-office work days.
Read on for 5 tips to keep the office distractions at bay and maintain your work from home g-r-o-o-v-e.
#1 Your Physical Set Up
There’s nothing more discombobulating than working at a different desk. Precious minutes always seem to slip away. Why is getting settled, finding everything you need, and starting work so hard?
Your brain is acting on its muscle memory. Every time you switch environments, it needs to "work" to remember what to do. Retrain your brain and you can get your work day to work for you a little more effortlessly.
Streamlining the transition between your two spaces can help.
By matching the layouts of each workspace, you help ease your mental gymnastics of adjusting to a different one. Use the same or similar computer desktop configuration, type of desk or chair, lighting, and even plants. An easy transition translates into increased productivity throughout your workday.
#2 Planning Ahead is Key
Scrutinizing your tasks can help you decide which ones are better performed at home or in the office.
Some work tasks are just better suited to a specific environment.
At home, you want to take advantage of your large blocks of uninterrupted time.
Anything where you don't need anyone's simultaneous feedback or participation is something you should do at home. For example:
- managing your email inbox;
- creating a presentation;
- report writing;
- data entry or analysis;
- agenda-driven, closed-ended meetings (i.e., ones that don't need prolonged discussion or follow-ups);
- brief, team/manager check-in meetings.
In the office, on the other hand, you want to make use of the opportunity to connect with colleagues. This would include anything that requires conversation or collaboration:
- creating/practicing a presentation with multiple contributors;
- meetings with detailed agendas;
- sensitive conversations;
- corporate culture-building activities.
*A special note about virtual meetings*
Discussion-heavy or endless video meetings can be extremely draining on participants. Virtual meeting fatigue is very real. Once you're mentally exhausted, your productivity falters.
If you're planning a meeting, be mindful of your agenda. Ask yourself, "would this be too much for a video call?"
#3 Remember to Connect with Colleagues
Do not underestimate the need for human connection and relationship-building. Whether you're an introvert or extrovert, social connections at the office are as important as "the work" you do at home.
Being physically disconnected from the office simultaneously disconnects you from resources and socialization. You dramatically decrease your casual/ad-hoc conversations when working from home. Your soft skills become soft. Communication within hybrid work teams, therefore, needs to be more intentional.
Planning formal and informal social interactions when you're in the office can help. Be sure to enjoy a ‘catch up’ coffee or a longer lunch with colleagues every in-office day.
The personal connections you create at the office, lay the foundations of trust. Trusting relationships you can fall back on when you need help from home. (Think about it. Who will you feel comfortable contacting when you're having a technical issue at home or need a sounding board? Who will your manager consider for a promotion?)
Communication skills training can help you build the bridges you need for both your in-person and virtual work worlds if you think you need extra help in this area.
#4 Create a Regular Communication Schedule With Your Boss
To many managers, you're "out of sight, out of mind" when you work from home. This can ultimately penalize you unless you make the effort to put in some "face time" with your manager.
Managers and colleagues become nervous when they don't know what you're doing. (The assumption is that you must not be working.) Be sure they know what you’re working on, how you’re progressing, as well as your wellbeing/mental state.
That means a regular channel of communication with your boss is vital. Particularly during the transition to a hybrid workplace when everyone is getting used to new routines.
That said, you don't want to be the one over-communicating to show you're "present." Left unfettered, presenteeism creates a domino effect. It infects entire teams, even digitally (ex., emails responded to within minutes or sent after hours). Creating clear understanding within teams working with flexible work arrangements negates the need to always prove you’re “on the job.”
#5 Create Boundaries and Stick to Them
If you don’t want to burn out from keeping up the presenteeism game, you need to forge boundaries for yourself... and stick to them, so they become part of your work routine.
A course to increase your mindfulness at work can be helpful to reinforce the factors that maintain your work wellbeing.
Apply this “boundaries mindset” to the entirety of your hybrid work world. For example--
To disconnect yourself at the end of your work from home workday:
- log off the computer;
- create a signal to yourself that the work day has ended;
- close the home office door;
- turn off the desk light;
- enjoy a cocktail with a friend;
- take a walk outside.
And, to do the same at the end of your work day at the physical office:
- leave!! (don't linger);
- log of the computer.
If you’re a manager, lead by example. Ensure your team is not "hanging around" the office just to be visible to you. (Remember, if you're keeping regular communication with your team members, then you don’t need the visual reassurance.)
Working in the office does not have to be a distraction... or a disappointment. Understanding the very foundational nature of your tasks allows you to make better use of your time and gives your focus more focus.
Do you drive your day or does it drive you?
Your time and focus are the most important resources you have at work.
Put yourself in the driver’s seat.