Changing how you work for now and the future

Working from home has been a significant change and for many of us, moving to working from office space to kitchen tables and makeshift offices.  Whilst in the short term homeworking may have been a relief for some of us, no commuting, some added flexibility for family time and hobbies, it has also presented challenges.  Home schooling and the multitude of roles for parents and carers has meant that long term home-working has required us to change the way in which manage our work and non-working time, posing some difficult choices on how we effectively manage our time to meet all of the competing demands.  It is also very likely that the future of work will have changed post-pandemic and that organisations will look towards a more agile way of working.

What is agile working?

Looking to the future it is likely that we will move towards a more agile way of working, agile working involves working from multiple locations at any time and any place, with organisations empowering staff to work in the best and most productive way possible, whilst being able to manage personal well-being.

Agile working and Well-being in the Digital Age explores the areas of home-working that are advantageous but where we need to be careful of the negative effects.  It is clear from the research that managing home-working is not easy for many people, juggling family and constant interruptions, the need to manage time effectively and also finding time to focus on their well-being.  Being able to switch off and recuperate from work is vitally important to maintaining both our physical and mental wellbeing. 

Tips for parents who are new to working from home

  1. Learn to manage boundaries effectively: be clear with yourself and your family when it is time to switch on and focus and when you are switched off to support other activities with your children.  Clear boundaries will help children to understand better when you are working and when they can interrupt you and reduce your feelings of guilt towards work and family time. 
  2. Managing interruptions and distractions can be vital to ensure that you find time to complete more productive and intense work, answering emails, whist important can be reduced to set times each day and turning off other notifications may help you to focus. Young children may not understand your need to have time to work alone, perhaps working shifts if both parents are homeworking may help to find that productive work time. Conversations with older children may work with clear time slots for advice and help. 
  3. Cognitive weariness can be detrimental to our wellbeing, always feeling switched onto work, just because it is available does not mean we have to be in the work head space all of the time. Your family and relationships will benefit from a more organised approach to managing technology and digital interruptions
  4. Sedentary working can severely affect your physical wellbeing, you no longer have reason to move away from technology. It is important find way to regularly exercise and incorporate this this with family time. We are all wedded to virtual conferencing, zoom, MS Teams etc. but these can cause headaches and fatigue, manage this time online carefully by instigating forced breaks.

Advice for employers who are new to managing a remote team

Organisations that are new to managing home and/or agile worker need to consider a policy that sets out the arrangements and expectations of working in this style.

  1. Train staff and managers to use technology effectively to communicate with each other and externally but also to ensure that they do not become invisible. 
  2. Managing wellbeing from a distance for managers can be challenging, it is possible that staff will continue to work when unwell (presenteeism), mental health can suffer.
  3. Managers need to ensure there is regular communication, well-being check-ins and discussions about any support that is needed.
  4. Social isolation is likely to increase with social connections decreasing with the amount of time spent away from colleagues, so it is important to instigate team sessions, both formal and informal.

Setting up a new remote team can present different challenges, ensuring that new teams involved have a clear sense of purpose:

  • Implementing social and welcoming phase for new starters
  • Creating a shared identity and being ‘in sync’
  • Developing new rituals
  • Supporting those leaving the organisation and/or ending a project or piece of work

Tips for every home worker

  • Be honest with yourself and colleagues about when you are working and not working
  • Set boundaries effectively between work and non-working time you need time to rest to be productive and look after your wellbeing and that of others
  • Learn how to switch off from work and reduce the number of interruptions, work out what can wait and what is a priority
  • Manage virtual conferencing time to reduce cognitive weariness
  • Remember to focus on your well-being, homeworking can significantly impact both your mental and physical health, contact colleagues for informal chats and ensure you discuss any wellbeing issues with your manager.

Written by Dr Christine Grant, Occupational Psychologist, School of Psychological, social & Behavioural Sciences, Coventry University. Co-author of Agile working and Well-being in the Digital Age, supported by Dr Emma Russell, Senior Lecturer, Department of Management, University of Sussex and Co-author of Agile working and Well-being in the Digital Age.

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