After we first went into lockdown last year, we were inundated with tips and tricks to stay motivated while working from home, which was the first time many experienced working remotely for an extended period of time. However, the last few months has seen many states within Australia go back into an extended lockdown. For some, this might be the fourth, fifth (it’s becoming difficult to keep track) lockdown experience since COVID-19 first emerged last year, and each time people re-adjust their home workstation and resume their work-from-home routine, it gets a bit harder to maintain motivation – especially for parents who have had to balance remote work with homeschooling and day-care.
Consequently, Design & Build asked our consultants what steps they have found to help with productivity while working from home. Hopefully, the below help to maintain the motivation you need through the working week:
Have A Designated Space To Work
Setting up a proper workspace isn’t only conducive to productivity, but overall wellbeing. You want to be working in an environment that helps you focus and is comfortable rather than sitting hunched over a laptop on your couch or bed. Setting up a designated space separate from where you sleep and relax, can also help your mind easily ‘transition’ into the working day and ensure you have minimal distractions. Furthermore, it’s important that you set yourself up in an area - complete with all the necessary equipment- so that you can perform your job at home. A strong Wi-Fi signal, access to a phone, monitors, keyboard, headset and a good chair are all things that will positively contribute to your productivity.
Carving out a designated space can be difficult for those living in inner-city apartments, but even a designated corner of the kitchen table can work, as long as you’ve separated yourself from other distractions and can easily access all necessary equipment.
For those that are just starting in a new role and have to onboard remotely, it’s important to speak with your new employers about your work from home set-up before your first day. Over the last year, organisations across the world have welcomed new staff remotely and many have set up processes to ensure their onboarding can still take place, like organising the couriering of all work equipment to new staff ahead of time.
Plan/Map Out Each Day
When working remotely, you can sometimes lose track of the priorities and key targets needed to be reached, when you’re not surrounded by your team members and managers. While it’s important to have daily check-ins with your team to monitor everyone’s progress, it’s also a great idea to map out each working day first thing in the morning. A to-do list, gives you clear direction for what to invest your energy on for the rest of the day and minimises the chance of getting side-tracked.
When writing your to-do list, set goals and time limits for each task and order them from highest priority to lowest – this should be based on project deadlines and the impact the task has on both the company and your KPIs. As you work your way down the list, you can cross off the items you have completed, which provides a sense of accomplishment and spurs you on to complete everything on your list.
For those that need a little extra assistance, there are some great apps like Todoist, TickTick and Toggle that can help you stay on track and remain organised.
Maintain Your Regular Work Hours – Including Your Designated Breaks
Especially during lockdown, it can become easy for your work life to bleed into your personal life, which is a sure-fire way to feeling burnt out. Consequently, many health professionals recommend setting a boundary between work and home. Some suggest setting an alarm at your usual knock-off time instead of coworkers, whose packing up and leaving the office reminds you to do the same. The alarm can signal that your normal workday has come to an end, and although you don’t have to stop as soon as the alarm goes off, knowing that the workday is technically over can help you start the process of saving your work and call it quits for the evening. Others find it helpful to change into ‘work clothes’ at the start of their working day and will then change back into comfortable clothes at the end of the day to symbolise clocking off for the evening.
Another tip when working from home, especially during lockdown is to schedule regular breaks during the day. There have been multiple studies that suggest ‘micro-breaks’ can improve productivity as coming back from a break can provide us with renewed focus, an energy boost and increased motivation (Gorvett, 2019). With so many of us now experiencing an increase in screen time as we shift to online meetings, interviews, training sessions and even in our free time, online trivia sessions and catch-ups, taking regular screen breaks can help the muscles in your eyes to relax and help you to stay alert.
Many suggest using these breaks – especially your lunch break- as a chance to get outside. Amid COVID-19 and socially distancing, walking, bike riding running or even sitting in your backyard are some of the few available activities to escape the house. Not only does physically leaving your work desk and getting a change of scenery help your brain to ‘reset’ before tackling another task but spending time outside can also provide a welcome relief from stress. Studies have shown that even just twenty minutes per day spent outdoors can lower stress hormone levels, boost self-esteem and improve your mood (Shiekh, Knvul. 2020). Considering many of us are currently living in times of increased uncertainty and anxiety, the more tools we have at our disposal to combat increased stress, the better.
For those that find it difficult to remember to take breaks, health professionals suggest scheduling short breaks into your work calendar. Blocking out even 30 minutes a day for lunch gives you more incentive to take the break and lets other colleagues know you’re busy during that time.
Work When You’re Most Productive
Working from home provides us with more flexibility – so use it to your advantage. Motivation will naturally ebb and flow throughout the working day, however, when you’re working remotely it’s all the more important to know when those ebbs and flows take place and plan your schedule around it so that you can capitalise on your most productive periods. For some, this might be earlier in the morning, while others can gain momentum as they work through the day. To ensure you’re working effectively, save your more challenging tasks for when you’re feeling most alert and then you can work on the easier, logistical tasks at slower points of the day. Perhaps, you feel most motivated first thing in the morning, and therefore like to get all your important tasks out of the way before lunch. Other people can be night owls and feel waves of productivity later in the evening. With the added flexibility that working from home provides, you can start your workday earlier and finish earlier and vice-versa depends on what works best for you and your productivity levels.
Maintain Communication & Collaboration With Your Colleagues
One of the biggest absences people will feel when transitioning from a physical office to working from home is the social interactions they have with their colleagues; the small talk with team members or the background chatter that make each day at the office unique. Especially in lockdown when our social interactions are limited anyway, it’s important to maintain regular communication with our colleagues, not just to maintain productivity but to help with morale.
Luckily there are so many platforms that make this possible – from Microsoft Teams to Slack, as well as project management platforms like GanttPro, Teamwork, or Zoho Projects. All of these platforms can make it easier for teams to track progress and stay on track with important projects and deadlines. Furthermore, these platforms also can direct message and video call, so employees can reach out to one another for questions they have, or even just to touch base with one another and check-in. HubSpot, a marketing and CRM software that has had many of its employees regularly work from (prior to the pandemic) suggest teams commit to regular check-ins – whether daily, weekly or every other day – and stick to these check-ins even if they don’t feel they have much to update their team on. Just maintaining a routine and ensuring there is a regular opportunity to talk to colleagues can help with feelings of isolation, and you’ll never know what ideas or creativity can come from these chats.
Team morale can play a big part in employee productivity and can also be one of the hardest things to maintain during lockdown. While the Sydney Design & Build team have been working from home over the last month, our events team have been working hard to also organise regular virtual team building activities to help with overall morale, maintain a positive work culture and again combat the sense of isolation some colleagues might be feeling. These activities have included online cocktail making and painting classes and virtual games sessions where teams versed each other in different trivia rounds.
Lockdown is never easy and one of the biggest things individual employees and organisations can do for each other during this time is to stay connected and support one another. Whether that be through virtual team events, supporting them with a project or reaching out for a catch-up. Fingers crossed we can all be reunited with our colleagues in the office very soon!
 Gorvett, Zaria. (2019). The Tiny Breaks That Ease Your Body And Reboot Your Brain. BBC – Work Life. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20190312-the-tiny-breaks-that-ease-your-body-and-reboot-your-brain
 Shiekh, Knvul. (2020). How Much Nature Is Enough, 120 Minutes Per Week A Doctor Says. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/13/health/nature-outdoors-health.html