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5 Working From Home Habits to Ride the 2nd Wave

Standing desks and second screens are nice but not good enough. It is in adopting new habits that we make working from home more joyful, healthy and productive.

If in spring you still figured the corona crisis was an intense but time-limited test in working from home, you may now be ready to make some real changes. And with an eye on cutting travel, office and climate costs many employers are looking to mainstream working from home well beyond Covid-19 (they will face some barriers convincing employees). Whether that is bad tidings or great news for you, it is worth considering which habits to drop and which new ones to embrace. Working mostly from home for 11 out of the past 17 years -and falling into all possible traps while at it- here's my top list.

1. Walk To Your Home Office

Bad habit: moving seamlessly from breakfast to your first meeting. New habit: cross your doorstep twice.

You may never have liked your commute to the office but there is one undeniable advantage. It allows you to mentally prepare for the day ahead, or to unwind afterwards. A tenfold improvement over heavy traffic or crowded public transport is a walk to work. This used to be fantasy but now you can live the dream: finally close enough to the office to walk there everyday... And as a bonus: take a walk back home after you close your laptob. Wind down, enjoy the fresh air and better connect with family once you step over that doorstep again.

2. Put Good Breaks On Your To Do List

Bad Habit: desktop dining (eating lunch in front of your screen). New habit: take attentive breaks.

To Do Lists can be helpful, separating the urgent from the important, planning creative and cooperative work at the right time of the day, and so on. That is equally valid for the office but there you also get up and move around more naturally. The coffee machine is further away and you stop to chat with colleagues and go for lunch together. At home -where only a few times a day nature is calling- the inclusion of breaks on your list helps to turn mediocre work stops into good breaks. Attention rather than time is the better measure for a good break. Micro breaks less than a minute long can have more impact than eating a sandwich in front on your screen for 30 minutes while scrolling through your news feed (here's a good intro on micro breaks with examples and tips). Whatever it is, choose something you enjoy - preferably including physical movement- to get your mind momentarily off tasks and emails. The result is more energy, joy and focus when you zoom back in.

3. Address Your Zoom Fatigue (and that of your team)

Bad habit: run virtual meetings like in-person meetings. New habit: slash agendas and work on human-to-human connections.

There is plenty of evidence that people feel they get zoomed to death. Virtual meetings often last too long, lack breaks, and are run in formats that do not work well online. Most important, they pay scant attention for true connection between colleagues, exacerbating the nr. 1 flaw in working from home. The counter punch can be a cocktail of shorter agendas, short breaks every 30-45 minutes, breakout rooms and a virtual manifesto co-created by your team, agreeing what works well and what does not. The former may include experimenting with new virtual facilitation tools to enhance connection and trust between team members. Sceptical? There is plenty out there to match or outmatch meeting room collaboration and connection.

4. Use Multiple Channels To Connect

Bad habit: only connect through videoconferencing. New habit: mix in apps, email and especially phone calls.

In a recent survey my colleagues and I asked 200 Dutch civil servants what they thought was the greatest disadvantage working from home. The clear winner at over 70 percent: the lack of connection to colleagues. The results did not point to less productivity or efficiency, but the large majority (85%) did indicate work was less fun than pre-Covid. Chitchat and office gossip have an important social function. Teams, Zoom and Gotomeeting remain an imperfect substitute as they are quasi official spaces. It is akin to booking a meeting room in the office just to drink coffee and catch-up. One way to thicken the glue is deliberately using other channels to connect. Ideally, logistics allow you to go for an occasional walk together with one or several colleagues. As a second best, individual phone calls (the old-fashioned ones; voice only) can work wonders. Tough meeting ahead? Connect ahead of time through direct messaging or phone to make sure you reconnect person-to-person before you dive into a challenging video call.

5. Lock-up Your Devices

Bad habit: to wake up and fall asleep in your virtual office. New habit: lock 'em up.

Nothing new here and yet this is the hardest habit to ditch. Smartphone addiction can slash productivity during work but more problematic is that work is at your fingertips from the moment you wake up until the moment you try to fall asleep. That was no different when you were commuting to an office, except that your home environment is now also your work space, making it even harder to naturally switch off and dedicate full attention to family, friends and yourself. Apart from crossing your doorstep twice when starting or ending work (see #1) putting away your devices from a certain evening hour until a certain morning hour is a healthy (and difficult!) habit. Many phones and apps also allow you to program silent hours. And while you're at it, switching off notifications is a great move to claim back your space.


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