You can burn the candle at both ends, but what happens when you run out of wax in the middle? I wanted to share some of my learnings on how to change your digital and home working habits.

This article was authored by Elliott Jenkin, Modern Workplace Customer Engineer at Microsoft and originally published on Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/pulse/locking-down-burning-out-elliott-jenkin/

You can burn the candle at both ends, but what happens when you run out of wax in the middle. Towards the end of lockdown (1.0) this happened to me. I let work become my morning, day, and night, because of this I can safely say lockdown flew by… but not without its repercussions. I was becoming anxious and unable to switch off. I felt guilty when I wasn’t working and unwilling to delegate as I didn’t want to add more stress to individuals who were in an already stressful situation. I was one of the 30%+ who was waking up and immediately checking my emails before even getting out of bed and the 78% who were checking emails well after normal working hours.

Why am I writing this? I know that I am lucky to have recognised the early signs and have a partner, family, management, and co-workers who all stepped in to support me when it all became too much. I wanted to share some of my learnings on how to change your digital and home working habits especially with lockdown (2.0) taking place in so many countries.

 

Meetings:

 

Pre-social distancing and WFH, I’m going to take a stab in dark and guess you never sat 2ft away from your colleagues during meetings, stuck in an uncomfortable staring contest, all the while being distracted by a mirror in the corner of your view reflecting your every reaction to what is said. It is exhausting, looking at floating disembodied heads all day, there’s nothing natural about it. Your arousal response kicks in and you are immediately put into a fight-or-flight state. On top of that those minuscule delays and lack of body language means your brain is in overdrive searching for small non-verbal cues.

The recently released ‘Together mode’ in Teams may look a bit odd, but by placing everyone in the ‘same room’ with a consistent shared background it democratises the meeting, reduces meeting fatigue and improves overall focus and encourages back and forth conversation. Overall, the brain exerts less effort when participating in a meeting with Together mode when compared with grid settings.

 

And how many of us while remote working have found ourselves trying to carve out a meagre 2 minutes to run to the bathroom as every back-to-back meeting must be exactly 30 minutes long (even if normally you would have popped by someone’s desk asked a question and be done in 5 minutes). Although this tip doesn’t stop people sending you half hour meetings, it will set an example for others, go to https://outlook.office.com/mail/options/calendar/eventAndInvitations or in the desktop application click File in the ribbon at the top > Options > Calendar > Meeting options > Select end Appointments and meetings early.

Tweaking this setting will end all events you create early. If you create a meeting less than 1 hour it will book it 5 minutes short and for all meetings 1 hour or more it will end 10 minutes early, giving you valuable time to stand and stretch. Don’t forget by giving yourself a break also gives someone else a break too.

Remember, video isn’t always necessary. If you are meeting someone for the first-time video can help build a connection with that individual or group, it brings another level of interactivity and engagement. If it helps you, use either a physical sticky note on your screen or the notepad app to cover your mirror image so it doesn’t distract you (just don’t forget you are on camera!!) However, when you know a group, feel confident to say you’ve had enough camera time for one day and stick to audio only.

When you know a group, feel confident to say you’ve had enough camera time for one day and stick to audio only.

Record your meetings. As we enter the winter months the evenings are drawing in you need to make sure you are getting out in the short daylight hours available (it’s the UK, I can’t write sun as that’s a rare and surprise occurrence in winter). You may also find you work better at certain times of days as well as having family commitments to work around. By recording meetings, you empower attendees to interact at a time which suits them.

 

Mobile

 

First question. Do you need a work phone? If so, is it separate to your personal phone? With work travel limited for the foreseeable future you need to build friction between work and personal, the lines are already blurred enough. Look in the drawer of requirement in your house and consider using an old phone. If you must have work apps on your personal phone, consider putting them on a page at the end. Also consider tweaking app settings to remove the tempting red notification bubbles from your home screens which you can’t resist taking a peek at. Finally, set app limits, on iOS and Android you can group apps and set either time limits or down time restrictions to add more friction to accessing work.

Go mobile, take a walking meeting. Don’t feel tethered to the desk in your bedroom/kitchen/dedicated office (lucky you!) use the ‘transfer to this device’ feature on Teams, get your shoes on and head out the door.

Well-being

The evidence points towards the fact that remote collaboration is more mentally challenging. Lean on the assistance offered by MyAnalytics and schedule time into your day to focus. When this is enabled it sets you to Do Not Disturb reducing the number of notifications and distractions.

MyAnalytics can surface insights around your working habits for example how well are you protecting your out of work hours from distracting and anxiety inducing emails and messages? Remember you probably aren’t the only one fighting for inbox zero by working late and by the time you wake up someone else will have ruined it for you anyway. You can hold yourself accountable with this by reviewing it with your manager.

Soon Insights from MyAnalytics will be coming into Teams itself along with the new partnership with Headspace to create mindful moments and a virtual commute to help you decompress at the end of day. Until this goes live in the new year you can create your own virtual commute with 15-minute bookends at the start and end of your day in your calendar prompting you to do a mindful activity, whether that be traditional mindfulness and breathing exercise or going for a short walk.

Removing notifications, lean on quiet hours within Windows, Teams and mobile applications, those pings and banners teasing you with a notification induce short adrenaline responses and pull you out of your flow state, be sure to control these and not let them control you. Lean on your Teams status to bring awareness to your home life so people understand you may have child commitments or prefer to work certain hours of the day.

And lastly, shut down your computer at the end of day so you too can wind down from work.

Be empathetic towards your colleagues’ circumstances, the pressures and stresses they may be experiencing but don’t forget to be cognisant of your own and to look after yourself through all of this. I hope some of these tips help and if you ever feel like you are struggling, be sure to tell someone, talking helps.

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