Remote work challenges and ideas to overcome them - Part I
Yes! Remote work presents challenges and we need to talk about them to be prepared.
I’m sorry, but it needs to be said. Remote work is not for everyone. Not for every person and not for every job. It’s not a silver bullet. It has pros and cons, like everything in life (well, except for lettuce salads - I ❤ 🥗.) But the key point I don’t see expressed often in the myriad of content available about remote work is that how it affects you depends on who you are and on your particular circumstances.
It is true, remote work presents us with several challenges and not all of them affect every one of us in the same way. Our life, our character, our inclinations, where we live, with whom (children, parents, pets) will determine how we feel about each challenge and the impact it will have in our life.
In order to fully embrace the future of work we need to be able to talk about the challenges it presents, and what ways are there to overcome them.
Self awareness is key both to understand which challenge(s) will you find to be the hardest and to select the right approach to attack the problem(s) for you.
Before, when remote working was an option and not something forced on many of us, we could try to understand and use any self awareness we might have had to find out if a specific remote job was good for us based on what kind of remote working we find ourselves most comfortable with, as not all remote work is equal.
But now we might find ourselves needing to adapt to whatever life has thrown at us without having asked for it nor necessarily being prepared for it.
So, with that goal in mind, I will list some of the challenges I’ve found and some ideas to overcome them, in the hope it will be useful to your particular situation (Note to the reader: I’d love to hear about what challenges you find the hardest and why!)
Challenge #1: Get 💩 done
In 2019 and earlier, we wanted really badly to get out of the office to actually get work done, because we were constantly being interrupted by bosses and coworkers in our open plan offices. As always, be careful what you wish for!
In 2020 many of us who are working remotely are not physically interrupted by bosses or coworkers, but by our children, our pets, and our domestic life - I need to wash some clothes, there are too many dirty dishes, that oven really needs a deep cleaning (read: I need a break from this really boring thing,) etc.
We changed work interruptions for domestic interruptions.
It is important to realize that there are two basic types of interruptions. The first type is external interruptions like the interruptions your child or your pet make by zooming in your Zoom calls.
The second type is internal interruptions where you decide you need to do something else instead of working: do some chores, play some games, do some online purchases or even read some Substack because your current task is too hard, too boring, or anything in between.
The key issue here is that while your main objective should be to reduce interruptions, you just cannot treat external interruptions in the same way you handle internal interruptions. And so, here go some ideas about facing external interruptions.
Handling external interruptions - part I
The basic idea here is to get to avoid other people (and things) to interrupt you when you don’t want them to. Now, many of the things you interact with on a daily basis do have their own will and needs, and so we must accept that it is mostly impossible to avoid all external interruptions, especially at home where you usually love and care for the things that interrupt.
So, how to do improve the situation with external interruptions? The first idea that might come to mind is to work at a place where you can close the door and so make it clear you don’t want to be interrupted. Sadly, this is a luxury we can’t all afford, and most importantly, it’s not guaranteed to work. It does send a message, but people can go knock on the door, or even directly open it and yell something in, crushing your flow.
Of course, this is assuming your problem is people. If your problem is, for example, pets - and you have an office with door, you can certainly leave them out for a while when you need concentration. As I’ve said, it all depends on your particular circumstances and this is certainly not a one-size-fits-all scenario.
An improvement we can make on the people problem is communication. Explain everyone that typically interrupts you how an interruption can mean many minutes of wasted effort, especially if you work on creative work that needs you to have several layers of indirection in your head.
After explaining this, you can all agree on a signal that means you need focus and that they shouldn’t interrupt you unless it’s a life or death issue. I’ve used this as a signal: “Whenever I use the stars hat, you cannot interrupt”
Buuuut... you typically can’t wear the hat for six hours in a row. You usually will need to open yourself for interruptions every couple of hours or so, to avoid the effect of having every issue in your ticketing system with priority “URGENT” - you don’t know which one to do first. If you are never interruptible, then why wear the hat at all. And, depending on the specifics (👨👩👧👧), that you are never interruptible may end up being unsustainable for the people you would get interrupted by.
Other things you can do about external interruptions are:
Design your work hours based on the interruptions you usually get. Find the right hours for your uninterrupted work, considering explicitly the time your team needs to work together. Please turn notifications off on all apps and seriously consider shutting down your phone on this period!
A good book on the interruptions subject in general (not only external interruptions) is Indistractable, by Nir Eyal.
Extend the signal from your family, coworking space or household to your workmates, either by respecting your Slack’s status or any other signal that might make sense for you.
When they do happen, try for them not to happen again. For work questions, distribute the information to everyone else, for example. For home interruptions, try to prepare yourself for next time - for example, if your daughter asks you for a snack typically around 16:30, then prepare it on your previous break and have it ready.
This ended up being long for 2020’s standards (😭). I’ll stop now and continue in Part II with how to handle internal interruptions and some other considerations on how to get things done that I haven’t been able to cover here yet! As I haven’t written that piece yet, I’m not sure I’ll be able to introduce challenge #2. I certainly hope so, but…
…to be continued! 😁
Please let me know how do you handle interruptions! if you can, explain your circumstances to best understand the points you’re making. What challenge is the one you fight the hardest against?
In Spanish, here. More information, here.