Struggling to Work at Home and in the Office?

You are not alone! How to stay sane and productive.

Posted Jul 13, 2020

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Working at Home
Source: Unsplash/CookiethePom

Depending on where you are in the world, you may be working from home or slowly returning to work in an office environment. This might mean juggling your work across two (or more) locations. Some predict that this hybridization between working from home and the office may continue for a considerable time to come, possibly permanently. This can create as many challenges as when many of us rapidly left the workplace to work from home full-time. Hybrid work requires being versatile, transporting computer equipment seamlessly between home and the office, reworking childcare and daily routines, and adjusting to the social requirements of working face-to-face again, with physical distancing, whilst also maintaining our virtual communication skills. This juggling between workplaces can take its toll on our sanity as well as our productivity. If you are in this situation, you are not alone.

To understand the impact of Covid-19 on work, well-being and productivity, Caroline Knight and Sharon Parker in the Centre for Transformative Work Design at Curtin University in Australia, and Anita Keller at Groningen University in The Netherlands, have been leading a longitudinal Thrive at Work at Home survey involving 1200 people, which began in April 2020. This has revealed that over the last month, approximately 38 percent of workers have returned to their usual workplace for at least part of the week, with 16 percent returning full time. At the same time, 33 percent report being worried or annoyed about returning to their usual workplace, and 27.5 percent say would be unlikely to choose to return. This is no wonder given that over two-thirds of surveyed employees working from home reported being at least as productive as, or more productive than, before the pandemic, saved an average of 78 minutes a day by not commuting, and used the time saved to engage in activities such as extra exercise, hobbies, and sleeping, as well as work.

The benefits of home working when weighed against the aforementioned challenges with juggling between places of work, and the continued risk of contracting Covid-19, can make returning to the office seem draining. Yet many of us have to return, with 40 percent in the survey saying they have no influence over where they work. How can we maintain a sense of well-being and retain efficiency and productivity whilst juggling between working from home and the office?

1. Connect with your colleagues

Whether you are working from home or not, meaningful connections with colleagues can help keep us motivated. Studies have shown that if remote working occurs more than about 2.5 days a week, it can harm colleague relationships, yet performance tends to be a little higher when working remotely. Maybe jointly working between home and the office is the ‘sweet spot’ for both well-being and productivity. Maintaining close relationships with coworkers, via virtual or face-to-face meetings, can also help you create a sense of belonging to your team or organisation, help align your work with the overall goals of the organisation, and keep work meaningful and purposeful.

2. Plan what tasks you do where

In the Thrive survey, those who planned their day reported higher job performance. All you need is to spend a few minutes at the start of the day or week planning what you will do where. For example, it makes sense to plan to attend meetings and engage in collaborations involving several people when in the office as complex ideas and deep discussion might flow more creatively and fluently. Home could be the place for individual work involving concentration and minimal disruptions (e.g. a detailed report, a presentation, or creative thinking tasks). Of course, this may not work out well if home means jointly caring for children, negotiating working space with a partner, and so on. Thinking about what works for you, and where, could be key to getting on top of stress and productivity.

3. Remember to relax and recover

With all the stresses and strains of juggling between the office and home, it is important to remember to take quality time to relax and rejuvenate yourself. The Thrive study showed that those who actively engaged in leisure activities such as exercise, hobbies, and meaningful social events in their ‘off work’ time were more productive. This was not true of those who simply refrained from thinking about work. Planning a bit of ‘me’ time into your day seems as important as planning which work tasks you do where; getting into the habit of engaging in some quality daily relaxation could reap dividends.

Further Thrive at Work at Home resources can be found here.

This post was co-authored with Caroline Knight.