The average worker receives 121 emails per day, with further studies showing the average person responds within 60 minutes. Connectivity can be addictive and has the potential to disrupt productive work time, especially to those who work flexibly.
Evidence has shown that staff who return to work under a Flexible Work Arrangement, whether this be post maternity leave or for other reasons have an increased level of focus, productivity and general well being. However, FWA alone do not determine success when it comes to being productive outside of a standard work model.
Returning to work after having children is no easy feat, regardless of the number of children you have or what age they are. While the motivating factors may differ –the conclusion of maternity leave, financial pressure, or the surprisingly still shocking option of some wanting to return to work, a parent returning to work is challenging and the transition can be hard.
Similarly, returning to work following illness or injury can be equally difficult with success directly linked to the support climate of your employer.
The realities of redefining the management of household tasks (not something to be underestimated, even hiring a cleaner requires time), and coordinating children can be overwhelming. Let alone when you finally sit in front of your computer to switch into ‘professional’ mode.
To optimize working flexibly, and particularly from home, here are some tips we have found critical for ensuring success:
1 // Have a communication plan: You need to maintain an open line of communication with your workplace. Be proactive in emailing your boss or team members and update them on your progress and deliverables. This might mean scheduling time in your calendar such as at the end of your working week to make sure it happens. It is important not to confuse good communication with over communication, keep emails to the point and productive.
2 // Make the most of meetings: Video conferencing tools such as Zoom take team meetings to a new level and allow all team members accessibility regardless of location. It is essential to have appropriate technology for compatibility and support. It is beneficial to have someone in the office to take notes to send to those who are conferencing, technological glitches do happen and important snippets of conversations may get missed. Don’t be afraid to email colleagues straight away and ask for a recap if needed, it is better to own any cloudy understandings, than go down the wrong path.
3 // Get a good Task Manager app: To do list and reminders are the back bone of any multi-tasking individual. Apps such as Todoist allow you to note down tasks and email you the reminder on a designated date. The reality of a working parent is that you often do a lot of task processing at odd times – such as waiting in the pick-up line at school. These apps make it easy to quickly jot down ideas and get them delivered to your inbox the next morning.
4 // Email Management: In his book “The Four Hour Work Week” Tim Ferris suggests scheduling set times to check your inbox and having a system in place for colleagues who need an urgent reply. Methods such as Inbox Zero or Sortd enable you to take control of your inbox and manage the essentials from the clutter.
5 // Finding the right blend for your household: Working clear cut hours of 9-5 might be what works for your colleagues or the successful uber-woman on LinkedIn, but that does not mean it will necessarily work for you and your household. It might be that your most workable hours are actually once the kids go to bed at night, or on the weekend, or you might work 2 days a week but “chunk” it across a few days. If it works for you, then stick with that approach. It is beneficial to have open communication with your boss about trialling some different approaches until you find the right fit.
6 // Household Boundaries: Similar to the old ‘tie on the door’ symbol, you need clear guidelines for when people are allowed to enter your office/workspace. As seen in the now viral BBC video, don’t bank on a closed door being enough of a deterrent, kids will be kids, and sometimes you just have to roll with the interruptions, find your stash of post-it notes and highlighters to hand to them and continue on with your work.
7 // Work time is sacred: Not to be confused with the above point this is about you focusing on what is in front of you. Time marches forward regardless of distractions, and deadlines can be unforgiving. You need to respect the time you have allocated to work, and avoid obstacles that will derail your focus. This means overcoming the irritating sound of someone fumbling their way through a household task you could do in half the time – making dinner or finding football boots. Not answering the knock at the door.
Knowing that the crying child on the other side of the office door will be able to be calmed down by the adult who is in charge. Walking past the mountains of washing that you don’t get time to sort when your house is full. You need to be able to let go of the urge to go and ‘quickly help’ and trust that the house will be able to function without you while you work.
8 // Acknowledge when it is not working: Get out of the house, even if you have an office that most would dream of. Sometimes you just need to change the space. Book an office space for a day, find a café with generous tables and good wi-fi (just pack your noise blocking head phones) or head to your local library.
Our flexible work policy provides part of the foundation for successfully integrating work and life, but that doesn’t mean instant ‘balance’ and ‘productivity’. In my next blog I’ll talk about how Rapid Context helps staff working flexibly and remotely to succeed, beyond our policy statement.