This year has certainly been a shock to the system, with people across the globe grappling with new ways of working or accelerating their transition to working remotely. Over the last few months, I’ve trained hundreds of people as they get to grips with working virtually.
Lockdown has been difficult but it also provided most of us with rare time to reflect and contemplate our lives in a unique way. We’re hopefully a lot clearer about what and who is important to us.
My main observation is that we all respond differently. Some people have taken to remote working like ducks to water, enjoying the increased flexibility and freedom that comes with this. For others, the sudden change has taken some getting used to. The challenges of this adjustment have been compounded by competing demands such as homeschooling and disrupted routines. On top of that, people have had to rapidly become proficient with digital tools, video calls and technology, all contributing to cognitive overload and overwhelm.
Disruption and distraction
The emotional and mental impact of Covid-19 has impacted our productivity, as we are more easily distracted by what is going on in the wider world and the relentless uncertainty. Being able to stay focused and cut through the noise in the current climate is very difficult to achieve. This requires a fluid mindset that is comfortable when goalposts keep shifting.
Now, just as we get into the swing of things, lockdown is easing off and many companies are preparing for staff to move back to their physical workplaces. The thing is, most people have now got into a rhythm of working from home. They have adopted new habits and routines that work with their lives, and these routines are to be yet again disrupted as the transition back to offices takes place. On top of that, there is the extra uncertainty of what could happen later in the year if the virus rears its ugly head once more.
When changes occur, conscious effort is required to adapt – at least at first. This uses precious cognitive power as the brain needs to make decisions about how to handle the disruption. In turn, this impacts our energy, focus and productivity. This is why it makes sense to plan ahead and prepare for transition before it happens. By taking time out in advance, we can protect our productivity in the face of change.
There are a few ways in which we can take more control of our productivity levels over the next few months.
1. Identify and master core productive behaviours
Whether at home or in office, there are certain behaviours you can continue to exhibit despite the environment. These tend to be internally-driven choices, such as choosing to work on one activity at a time, dumping the desire to multitask, managing your energy levels and using focused sprints to get through your tasks. What ways of working have boosted your productivity during lockdown?
2. Respect boundaries between work and home
One of the biggest challenges experienced by my clients in recent months is ‘blurred boundaries’ and that creep that occurs when work encroaches on personal time and space. Regardless of the disruption that occurs when our working patterns shift, it pays to be clear about the ways in which you can separate work from your personal life. This may mean being firm about establishing your physical or mental boundaries. Consider what these boundaries look like and pre-empt how you will tackle or eliminate anything that may sabotage these boundaries.
3. Eliminate your productivity killers
Lockdown has been difficult but it also provided most of us with rare time to reflect and contemplate our lives in a unique way. We’re hopefully a lot clearer about what and who is important to us, who we rely on and need to interact with most at work, and who / what can distract us or eat into our productivity.
Productivity killers can include noise from open-plan offices, unnecessary meetings and even well-meaning colleagues who spend far too much time embroiled in gossip or complaining. Whilst it’s extremely important to maintain healthy relationships with others, you may have noticed that you’ve actually not missed certain elements of the pre-Covid-19 working environment.
On that note, reflect and consider what you want to reintroduce and what you want to keep out when you transition back to the workplace. Be intentional about keeping productivity killers out of your working life.
It’s not easy but that’s why it makes sense to plan for these challenges before you are in the thick of things. Being conscious and self-aware will also help you to notice when poorer, unproductive habits start creeping back into your life.
To get started, focus on one of the three options above and create a plan of action to support yourself in the best way possible. As I tell my clients, preparation is king, so set yourself up for success.
Interested in this topic? Read Employee wellbeing: the great reopening and how to get ready.