So, you’re working from home? Is it everything you hoped it would be? Still in your PJs? Did you eat your lunch before 12 today? Welcome to the club!
But what’s that guilty feeling? You’ve done enough work, right? You’re possibly even more productive than usual. So why do you feel like you need to offer up proof that you’re working every time you speak to some one from the office?
I’ve been working remotely for nearly seven years now, and I still get that feeling sometimes, the guilty feeling like your output is too low, or you’re not focusing on work enough. What I’ve learnt is no amount of work will ever get rid of it, nor will never leaving your desk, nor responding to every direct message and email immediately.
Here’s the thing, working in an office you get really good at looking busy, and used to people seeing you work, but at home it’s just you working invisibly to everyone else. People can’t see you do it, they have to take you at your word. If you’ve been in an office-based work environment for a while, the change can come as a shock and you have to deprogramme yourself a little bit.
What took me a long time to realise is that how you spend your working time in an office, compared to how you spend your time at home is very different. There are fewer interruptions, less time for water cooler chat, and work tends to happen in longer uninterrupted periods. If you were to keep track of many interruptions happened in an office, and how much of your work day is spent on them I’m sure you’d be shocked.
The gaps between things like meetings or making a tea are bigger too - you’re much more likely to get chatting to colleagues etc, the distractions are endless. But it’s not like there aren’t distractions at home, there are many, but apart from the postman or the in-laws dropping in unannounced they are very much in your control.
Over the years I’ve worked hard to change the way I think about work, and how I judge myself. Firstly, I try to care far more about my output at the end of the day than I do about minutes spent staring at a screen. If I’m doing the work in the time I’ve allocated for it and delivering it on time I couldn’t care less about how it happened.
Secondly, it was easy to assume that my colleagues were always at their desks working every minute of every day, but by opening up to them and sharing how I felt I found the opposite, and surprise surprise - they felt the same way. I now try to be transparent about when I’m taking breaks, or finishing early or struggling to concentrate in the hope that someone in the same position can learn by my example.
Thirdly, I don’t beat myself up when work just isn’t happening. Rather than tying myself to the desk and forcing myself to work through a period of poor concentration or being stuck on something, I give myself permission to be distracted or have a long break. I can always come back and work later on, or add a few more hours to another day to make it up. The ability to work flexibly is one of the best things about being remote so it would be a shame not to take advantage, and the number of bad days is far outnumbered by the good ones.
Unfortunately, there’s no magic bullet solution, but hopefully this has helped you realise that while adjusting to remote work can take time and effort, you’re not alone. I’ve been working remotely nearly seven years and I still have days where I struggle, feeling like I’m not doing enough or can’t focus properly. When that happens I remember - my output matters more than the time at the desk, everyone else is in the same situation, and beating myself up doesn’t achieve anything.
The habits and thought patterns you’ve built up working in a traditional office environment won’t disappear overnight, but they will eventually, and soon enough you’ll wonder how you ever managed to get anything done in an office, or if you’ll ever be able to go back.