“The office of the future might not be an office at all.” – Peoria Magazine, 2011

Virtual-only offices may have seemed futuristic back then, but the idea is now here to stay! Thanks to technology, more and more businesses are embracing the culture of remote working. Closer to home, as Southeast Asia battles the Corona virus outbreak and businesses trigger their continuity plans, many of us are grounded home, answering emails plonked on our sofas or taking calls from our study. Whether it’s out of choice or lack thereof, the question then is – are you optimising your productivity when you work remotely?

For the past one year, I, Namita have been part of the Metis virtual team based out of UK. I relocated from Singapore to London last year and I continued working from there. Instantly the close-knit team I worked with every day in Singapore transitioned into a long-distance relationship that I had to work hard to nurture! Over the year, I have learnt to maximise my productivity while working remotely and the team has aced remote collaboration!

I got together with my on-site colleague Gauri to tackle some popular myths around working remotely and sharing how to WFH like a pro!

MYTH #1: Work from home means having a work-life balance

This is not necessarily true.  Yes, you can finish that presentation while sitting in your pyjamas, be there to receive your parcels in the middle of the day, or even schedule that appointment to switch your cable provider. However, when you work from home every single day, it is easy for lines to blur between your ‘work-time’ and your ‘personal-time’. Increasingly and often you will see your work and personal time overlap, making it hard for you to remain effective. This over a long period of time can lead to fatigue, as every now and then, we all need to break away from work, even if it is for a couple of hours.

Metis PROTIP – Set in place a structured and disciplined routine for yourself and the team. Having a structure to the work processes of the team makes it easier to work with each other despite the distance.  As in any office, determine your core working hours, with some flexibility to extend on days when required. But try to stick to the schedule as you would in a physical office.

MYTH #2: I can work whenever I want (No office timings!)

Working remotely gives me flexibility but it doesn’t mean I can choose my hours all the time.  While you are working remotely, you still are part of the larger team and you have to work in coordination with them. Additionally, if you are working from a different time zone, days might go by without being able to talk to one another, often resulting in projects stalling over what could’ve been quick catch-up sessions. In the longer term, if you are not careful, this can quickly result in making you feel isolated, removed, or even worse, neglected.

Metis PROTIP – Set an overlap time where all team members work together, thereby getting everyone on same page and pace. By outlining certain hours where you can reach one another, you can make it easy to collaborate over projects that need inputs from other members of the team. Instead of sending multiple emails and formal meeting invites, a quick discussion through informal chat tools can often lead to faster and more efficient outcomes. Make use of collaboration tools that have proven to be the drivers of an efficient remote team.

MYTH #3: My relationship with my team will not change

Except it does. The way you communicate, the way you collaborate, the way you ideate, the way you offer feedback – it all changes. Admit it or not, human beings need other human beings around them to connect. Working remotely in the long term can lead to working in a silo, removed far away from people you’d otherwise meet at work. You will miss out on team drinks and dinners, and you have to make peace with it.

Metis PROTIP – Remotely working members are bound to feel isolated and miss out on culture and general sense of belongingness. Higher levels of communication and cohesion among members of global virtual teams are associated with shared performance goals, which in turn lead to higher performance1. Communicating frequently, regular updates as simple as a daily ‘virtual’ stand-up meeting help keep team members in the loop and feel included. Encourage in-person meetups for the team whenever possible. Breakaway from a purely formal relationship encourage a social connection outside of work.

MYTH #4: My home is my office

Not technically a myth, as in the most literal sense your home IS actually your office. However, if you treat your entire house as your office, it can actually lead to reduced productivity. The good thing about a physical office is that when you step out of the office, you get to disconnect and disengage. You, without any guilt whatsoever, can spend time following up on the news of the day or just watch funny dog videos on Instagram. However, if you end up working in most places of your home, you will find it hard to mentally disconnect.

Metis PROTIP – Wherever you choose to work from, choose your own ‘office’ by assigning a dedicated workspace. If you have the luxury to convert a room into your office, go ahead. If you’re like me, set up a desk and a chair in a corner of a room next to a window. At the end of the working day, get up and cross that invisible barrier back to your living space and to your world of dog videos. All in all, this will help you disconnect from work at the end of a long day.

MYTH #5 Anyone can do it

It is not for everyone! If you have self-discipline and great organisational skills, yes this is for you. However, if you think you are the kind of person who gets distracted easily (especially by the latest Game of Thrones episode that just dropped), or you have certain unavoidable distractions at home, this may prove challenging.

Metis PROTIP – We all have different working styles, and it is best for you to recognise how you deliver your best outcomes and are most productive. If you struggle to stay focused amid distractions at home, try and eliminate all such distractions in your working space. A simple to-do list also helps you stay focused on your actions for the day.

Traditional teams offer multiple opportunities to work closely with colleagues and develop close personal relationships that can facilitate performance. On the other hand employees working from home tend to have higher motivation levels and are more comfortable, probably as they are able to maintain their work and life balance better, which could be the need of the hour for them. Whether you like it or not, virtual teams are here to stay.

1Organisational Behaviour by Stephen Robbins, Timothy A Judge, Bruce Millett, Maree Boyle

Namita Singh and Gauri Kshirsagar are Consultants with Metis Talent Management. If you’re looking for a coach to get the most out of your work and personal life or building successful teams for your organisation, please reach out to us at connect@metistm.com