Working from home gives us a glimpse into the personal lives of those around us, like finding out a coworker has a pack of hound dogs during a video call or discovering that your spouse is a “let’s circle back” person. But whether you’ve been working from home for years or just got your first taste of it this year, it’s likely you’re faced with distractions you’ve never dealt with before. When you don’t have a clear distinction between work and domestic environments, your roles tend to get blurred—the name of the game when working from home is Boundaries™.
Kids, Relatives, and Pets
The pandemic has been an unwelcome reminder to parents of the fact that mandatory public schooling doubles as a state-sponsored daycare service. Like wishing on a monkey’s paw, the WFH flexibility you always wanted has come at a terrible price, with curious children running through the background of your conference calls. Not a parent? Maybe your parents moved in to make caretaking easier. Live by yourself? Perhaps your cat has decided to help improve your writing.
In any case, start by setting boundaries. For younger children that are more difficult to pacify, sometimes all you can do is give coworkers a heads up that there might be a kid running through the background of your call at any moment. For everyone old enough to understand, tell them to knock on your office door before entering, or hang a do not disturb sign outside your door.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help and explore other childcare options: grandparents, neighbors, older kids, and spouses can help share the burden. Schedule regular virtual playdates with friends and relatives via video chat. If you can afford it, hire a nanny to come for a few hours a day on a regular schedule.
More importantly, make sure your employer knows about the challenges you’re facing. Do you need adjusted work hours so your child can attend virtual school? Most employers will work with you to create an altered schedule or workload that works for you.
Email and Chat
Modern computers and cell phones are incredibly versatile—the library, telephone, typewriter, and drafting table are just a few of the technologies they’ve replaced (we apologize in advance for how dated this will sound in 20 years). But sometimes that flexibility can be a curse when you’re trying to focus on a single task. In a survey by remote software and services company LogMeIn, almost half of remote workers feel guilty for working from home. In response, we overcompensate by keeping notifications turned on to get pinged with every new incoming message, or say “yes” to unnecessary meetings, all to ensure we’re not perceived as unproductive or unavailable.
Disruptive communications are the main obstacle to getting solid “deep work” done. The solution is to set boundaries (seeing a theme here?). Depending on the nature of your work, this might mean checking email twice per day (e.g. noon and 5pm) or disabling Slack notifications and checking them like email. If your company or client has a culture of being hyper-responsive to communications, this might cause some friction initially. But you might be surprised how many ad hoc questions from coworkers resolve themselves without your involvement, or how your boss appreciates your commitment to improving your own productivity. For those times when complex creative work requires a conversation, hop on a video call and talk it out in 10 minutes instead of pinging each other for two hours. If nothing else, takeaway this: communication is more efficient when batched.
You leave the sanctity of your office to top up your coffee in the kitchen. On your way there, you step on a few Lego pieces and take a few minutes to tidy up the living room. You continue on past the laundry closet in the hallway and find a pile of laundry you decide must be folded immediately. You finally arrive in the kitchen, where a few dirty dishes occupy a few more minutes of your time. Before you know it, a 5-minute coffee break has turned into a 45-minute chore session, and you have a clean house but nothing crossed off your todo list.
The key here is recognizing that environmental cues triggered your perfectly healthy, but productively disruptive cleaning habits. In this example, bringing an oversized thermos of coffee with you into your home office would have completely eliminated the chore distractions until you’d finished your work. If isolating yourself isn’t an option, set aside some time before or after your normal working hours to clean up and make your working environment as clutter-free as possible.
Long story short? Set expectations. Most WFH distractions and challenges can be mediated by communication. Have those awkward conversations with your employer, your family, your team, your colleagues, etc. Let them know when they can expect to hear from you and what your boundaries are.
Looking for more on how to maximize your remote work life? Check out a few of our recent articles:
- Work From Home Hacks to Keep You Sane
- How to Make Working Remote Foolproof
- Creative Motivation in Isolation
We hope this article hasn’t distracted you too much. Whether you’re a hyper-focused WFH veteran with an ideal home office environment, or just looking for your next WFH role, Artisan has you covered.