These past few weeks, we’ve found ourselves in uncharted territory.
Overnight, many companies have had to shift their employees to working from home. Employees who have never had to juggle working with children at home are now needing to learn how to navigate this really difficult puzzle.
What factors need to be considered to develop an effective work from home routine?
By nature, humans tend to function better when there’s a routine to our day.
And one thing that’s making this transition difficult is that we’ve lost our typical routines. We’ve also lost the sense of control that we had over our lives. And no matter how much we try to keep up our “normal” routine, the reality is that there are restrictions in place that have simply made this impossible.
Now is the time to focus on adjusting our routines to meet the new demands of life.
People are worried about being unable to focus at work and how their children will be impacted academically by school closures.
But the reality is that unless we take a moment to stop and figure out a new routine – one that will require change and adjustments – we’ll continue to struggle with trying to keep things as they once were.
We need to leave space to grieve the loss of what was and find new ways to be in what is already a new world.
Rather than simply trying to balance it all, it’s time to step back and figure out where focus truly needs to be throughout our day. Only then can we figure out the decisions we need to make and the supports we need to put in place to get us there.
And the reality is that this puzzle will look very different for different people.
It’s time to stop looking at what your colleague or your neighbour is doing and start looking at what YOU need to find wellness during these crazy times.
Because we all know that there’s work to be done. Employees feel pressure from their employer. Employers feel the pressure of these uncertain times and the impact of this on their business. But until we figure out a routine that will support our own wellness, productivity will be a constant struggle.
When stress levels are more manageable, people communicate better with one another. They become more supportive, more flexible, more understanding. Managing your own stress levels and supporting your team to do the same is the key to helping your organization navigate these difficult times, together.
So what can employees do to develop an effective work from home routine?
Different people need different amounts of structure to be able to function well. Having employees reflect on where they sit on this spectrum will help them to figure out how structured of a routine they need to put in place for themselves.
Note, this is not about the leader telling the employee how to structure their day. It’s about exploring the topic with them and finding solutions that work for everyone.
As our family adjusted to this new “Work from Home with the Kids Home Challenge” (which almost feels like it should be a reality tv show…), our family sat down to talk about how we were going to structure our days. I knew that if we left our days completely open-ended, the kids would be a mess at the end of the day and my husband and I would be pulling our hair out trying to get our work done.
Our 9-year-old son Logan is a planner extraordinaire. He likes to know what is coming a good week in advance and get flustered when plans change. Logan proposed that we schedule our time for a full week in advance, by the hour (or sometimes even half-hour) block. And he wanted to schedule very specific activities into these blocks (for example, rather than “creative time”, he wanted to schedule in “writing poems.”)
This worked extremely well for him and he joyously filled in his chart. You see, he feels safe and reassured when he knows what’s coming. Knowing when we would be available to have our attention and when we would be busy working helped him to manage his anxiety. Weaving family time around work time gave him the connection he needed to be able to play independently for a while.
However, as we were filling in this detailed chart, our 8-year-old daughter, Chloé, kept saying things like “Mommy, I want free spaces in my time. Please don’t make me have to know what I’m doing all week.”
And oh, could I relate…! My son’s schedule was also making me feel anxious.
Unlike our son, Chloé and I become overwhelmed when we don’t have enough control over our decisions and we have a high need for flexibility.
It was clear that the same solution wasn’t going to work for all of us. Nor will the same solution work for all of your employees.
In our case, we decided to make everyone their own schedule that met each person’s individual needs, while also considering the collective needs of the family. At work, this would require discussions to ensure that individual employees can meet their home obligations while also meeting the collective needs of their team and the needs of the organization.
Unlike Logan’s highly detailed schedule, Chloé’s schedule has a few activities slotted in, so she knows when she has to get off of tech and when we will be (mostly) unavailable and working. But she can choose how to fill this vacant time in the moment.
My point here is that for your team to be able to work from home effectively, they will need to consider how much structure they need in their day to thrive. Not only is it important to reflect on how to ensure this for work obligations, but it is equally important to consider family needs and overall personal wellness. Only then can we start to put together a routine that can realistically meet all of these competing needs.
And you will need to make decisions about things you will no longer prioritize for now. Life is simply not the same as it was a few weeks ago.
Without looking at your work routine from this holistic angle, you and your employees will continue to feel pulled in many directions. And frankly, if we are not taking steps to protect our mental health and that of our team, work (and family) will suffer.
What can leaders do to support employees with this change?
First of all, if it’s at all realistic for your company, please try to understand that your employees need you to be flexible right now. Being flexible does not mean that anything goes. We can be flexible and have boundaries at the same time.
Being flexible means being open to conversations with your employees about changes that they may need to be able to meet their work obligations, while also meeting their obligations at home. It means seriously reflecting on whether or not certain changes are truly impossible, or just feel impossible because things have always been done a certain way.
As someone who has worked from home for many years already, I can tell you that stretching my work day so that I can take an hour midday to play board games with the kids leaves me more productive during my work hours than if my kids were expected to keep themselves occupied for 7 hours straight. Talk to your employees and see what kinds of adjustments might work for both of you.
People are scared and anxious enough as is. Anything we can do to alleviate pressure and leave people feeling supported will help everyone manage just a little bit better.
Working from home and the increasingly blurred boundaries between work and home life is a transition for everyone. The more you’re able to maintain open communication with your team, the better your team will be able to effectively juggle their work and home obligations. Because at the end of the day, simply telling people that they need to get their work done from home is not going to cut it.
In the meantime, I’m sending everyone my best wishes and please stay safe.
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