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Working away from the office—build good habits

REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

The process and pitfalls of staying productive while working remote are many and varied. Fortunately, the path from kitchen to ‘office’ is a well-worn one. If you find yourself suddenly working from home, you may be facing a different set of challenges that threaten to turn the thin line we call work/life balance into a blurry, unsecured border.

Despite this potential concern, you will be pleased to learn that there is evidence suggesting that we many get more done when working remotely. A Harvard Business Review study found that the quieter work environment contributed to home workers increasing their productivity, as well as taking fewer breaks and sick days. However, such benefits are, of course, not guaranteed and working from home can present a whole host of new challenges that can not only affect your productivity, but also your mental health and well-being, and that ever-important work/life balance.

Adopting good habits is key to successful remote working and ensuring that you maintain your productivity levels, as well as your sanity.

Setting and sticking to a routine

One of the most widely recommended good habits is creating a working routine and sticking to it. Whether you’re aware of it or not, your mind and body have become accustomed to the rhythms of your professional life. Simple things like setting your alarm to wake up at your normal time if you were going into the office; having your morning tea or coffee; and, getting dressed for a working day can help to create a working mindset and prepare you for the day ahead.

These routines help us transition from our roles at home into the positions of our profession. Throw routine off and the whole day can go wrong. Be mindful of your daily schedule and hold it dear. The actions and activities that define your workday will, to some degree, define your success when working at home.

Leaving work at ‘work’

Routine is great and does bring structure to your working day. But make sure that ending the working day is part of that routine.

Working from home means opening up a space and time, after the workday ends, that previously was closed off to colleagues. It’s important for your mental health and stamina, as well as your personal relationships, to set limits on how much of your job you should allow to extend into your home life. Many who regularly work from home tend to put in longer hours because it’s not always easy to stop working on a task, or you have colleagues in active time zones that email you. Unless your role demands a great deal of accessibility, do your best to maintain the same boundaries that exist in the office. As important as it is to ensure your productivity remains a high as it usually does, it is equally important to switch off.

One simple way to do this is to make it clear when your day is ending. Tell colleagues when you’re signing off and set your status accordingly. Once ‘home’, stay there. If the work can wait, it should. Don’t check your phone and respond to emails, unless urgent and you would normally respond after hours.

Stay in touch

Keeping in contact matters most when the casual interactions of a shared workspace are not possible. Maintain the availability and connections you have with colleagues. Log on to your organisation’s collaboration tools each day, as you would do if you were in the office. Make sure your clients know how to reach you, and double check how best to reach them.

If you manage a team, consider establishing a regular stand-up meeting of 10 to 15minutes to share updates and priorities. Everyone has different needs and preferences when it comes to communication, but it’s important to establish new norms so that people know when and how to contact you just like they would in the office.

Focusing like never before

One potential benefit of remote work is that the distractions of the office can all but disappear. Many people enjoy working from home because they are naturally able to focus and get more done. Although, for some, working from home may bring its own challenges. If you have young children, or care for someone unwell, finding the right balance is key. If your role permits, try changing your ‘regular’ hours to fit in your other responsibilities and be sure to update your calendar to reflect time you’re away from your computer.

Take advantage of the opportunity to focus if you can. Set up a good workspace, limit your digital distractions, and if you need to, take short breaks.

Improving technology skills

Today’s business and legal technology is perfectly capable of supporting your practice outside of the office, but you need to know how to use the tools at hand and get the maximum benefits. If you’re new to remote working, navigating the seemingly endless list of technology tools and features can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Check with your IT team for support; look for the product support sections of websites; sign up for that webcast; and search the internet. In a short time, you will be surprised at how much useful content is out there waiting to help. So, strive to learn something new—you will be surprised how much great information is out there waiting to help.

Above all else, pay attention to your personal situation. As you work from home more, stay aware of any new habits you’re creating and make sure you’re doing right by your mind, body, organisation, and clients.

This post was created in response to the COVID-19 virus and its impact on law firms. For more information to help support you and your business, visit our COVID-19 resource center.


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