WFH works—until you need to take time off

WFH works—until you need to take time off
An article from our expert

David Blay

Journalist, consultant in teleworking, lecturer and podcast host.

Generations born before the 21st century introduced certain work-related proverbs into the public arena—and we still repeat them today. You’ve undoubtedly heard some of these: “The early bird catches the worm.” “A bad workman blames his tools.” “A stitch in time saves nine.

Our ancestors lived through major crises and faced new challenges as they grew personally and professionally. However, the reality is that neither our parents nor our grandparents were lucky enough to enjoy what some of us have been granted today: the ability to work remotely. Nor did they ever have the opportunity to balance work and family life.

These days, a sense of guilt propagated by society is still forcing people to put up with conditions that are often unacceptable (“You should be grateful for having a job” is a remark you hear often—as if you hadn’t earned it or weren’t holding it down through hard labor). It’s that same feeling that leads some to work longer, for less pay and with half the support—because they believe sacrifices are necessary in this day and age. This is a demographic that feels bad having days off, and that never stops looking at their phone in case the boss sends them a last-minute email—even when having lunch with their partner or hanging out with friends. Because they believe they’re acting irresponsibly if they’re not keeping an eye on their smartphone.

“They believe sacrifices are necessary in this day and age. This is a demographic that feels bad having days off, and that never stops looking at their phone in case the boss sends them a last-minute email.”

As a result, these circumstances have produced a generation that harbors a high level of guilt. In theory, thanks to the benefits of technology, they can supposedly enjoy life much more than their ancestors. Their work is much less physical. They have leisure options at great prices that were once non-existent. Quite often, they have the help of their parents and grandparents when it comes to bringing up children, too.

But we need to be mindful of one thing: we will never work like our grandparents did. And, quite possibly, not even like our parents did. Is this a bad thing? Absolutely not. We’re the first generation in history to have the opportunity to work from home (not all of us, of course) and, if we’re allowed to, to be very productive and still have a work-life balance. However, studies have shown that people working from home have a tendency to prolong their working day. We feel guilty for “abandoning” our tasks and tend to “overcompensate.” But what if you’ve already finished everything that’s been asked of you or that you planned to do that day? Letting go of the guilt is possible.

1. Understand and embrace asynchronous communication

Most of us who don’t deal with the public face to face need only a computer and a phone to perform our daily tasks. And, in a society where we’re calling each other less and less, most of our communication is written. It’s asynchronous. What does that mean? We know that when we send messages, we don’t expect to get an immediate reply.

However, we’ve long considered ourselves to be better workers for replying to emails, Slack messages and WhatsApp in real time. We haven’t woken up to how disruptive this is (and how it leads to us being more inefficient). For example, is it acceptable to reply to an email the next day? Yes, of course it is, and for two reasons: one, no one writes an email if they need something urgent; and two, when we hit “Send,” we don’t know how many tasks the recipient has on their plate. But this is never discussed in the workplace.

“Is it acceptable to reply to an email the next day? Yes, of course it is.”

That’s why we mustn’t just convince ourselves of the benefits of asynchronous communication but also be able to generate conversations with colleagues, managers, providers and customers in an appropriate time frame.

Top tips

  • Emails and WhatsApps were never meant to be replied to immediately. If someone has an emergency, they’ll call you. Set aside some time in both the morning and the afternoon to reply to them. You’ll soon see how your efficiency increases and that no company fails as a result.

  • Don’t have any distractions nearby. If you’ve got something important to do, disable mobile data. You’ll surprise yourself with how efficient you can be when you have no interruptions and you’ll discover that you can deal with everything asked of you on that channel in less than 10 minutes.

  • But what about direct communication? Group it together. For example, if you have to make five phone calls, make them while going for a walk. You’ll save time, you’ll get some fresh air and you’ll undoubtedly come up with solutions you’d never have had while staring at a wall.

Explore more in our section: Workers

‘Working as an ethologist is one way to take action for a better world’

2. Make your objectives clear and report on them

There’s a major conversation to be had about productivity and protocols, and likewise, we need to start educating the people around us. The question is, who works on a target basis? Unless you’ve had a career in sales or worked on an assembly line or as an elite sportsperson, no one functions in this way.

So how do we do it? By establishing clear, specific and measurable targets. And by demonstrating that even with nonlinear schedules, we can hit them. Because everyone is different in their performance and their philosophy on life. You only have to follow a few simple steps and create a plan that doesn’t take too much time. You’ll not only see how your productivity increases but also how you have irrefutable arguments for showing that you’ve done your work as well as you can. Goodbye, guilt.

“So how do we do it? By establishing clear, specific and measurable targets. And by demonstrating that even with nonlinear schedules.”

Top tips

  • Use Fridays to run reports on everything you’ve achieved during the week. This will help the people supervising you or those who have hired you externally to assess your work, and for you to see everything you’ve done.

  • Devote the last 15 minutes on Friday or the first 15 on Monday to planning your week. This will help you to start your tasks, remove the stress of not knowing whether you’ll manage to do everything and set you up for the workloads you’ll be facing every day.

  • Establish a schedule that incorporates both your personal and professional life—and afford each one the same importance. That way, you’ll enjoy the sense of flexibility that remote and hybrid working allow you.

  • Plan tasks and schedules that are feasible. If you need to deliver a long report at 11am, don’t schedule a meeting on the other side of the city at 11.30, because you’re not going to make it, you’re just going to increase your stress levels—and you’ll ultimately mess up your planning. You don’t need to fill your days with 20 tasks (in part because there aren’t actually 20 tasks a day to do).

  • If you finish early one day, stop! You can’t do this when you’re in an office—you have no choice but to sit in front of your computer (even though the cigarette breaks and coffees with colleagues only serve to highlight that the work is done). But in your home office, you can do this. You’ve done everything you need to. So, stop! Don’t try to get ahead with other work. No one ever gained a day off by doing this… Ever.

Bonus tip:

Devote 19 minutes to watching Jason Fried’s TED Talk Why Work Does Not Happen at Work. After that, you’ll understand everything.

Translated by Jamie Broadway

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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