Remote work has exploded in recent years, most notably since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many workers, especially younger employees, have taken to it enthusiastically, with this way of working offering a great deal of flexibility and a more attractive work-life balance. Add to this a lack of commuting time and the comforts of home and it’s not hard to see why it’s so popular.
However, remote work has some downsides. It can create loneliness and atomization in the workplace, for example, and makes teamwork harder. Technical problems become more damaging, and it can be hard to build a unified corporate culture. With greater flexibility also comes a blurring of lines between work and home life.
Time management is potentially one of the trickiest issues to deal with, as most workers will be used to defined schedules – whether that’s from a previous post in the professional career of experienced workers or from their school or university days for younger workers. The shift of responsibility means greater freedom for the employees but also gives them a new duty, often one that they are not used to handling.
Working remotely can make it especially hard, then, to manage time over a range of issues. Firstly, it’s important to think about starting and finishing times, as well as lunch and other breaks. Then there’s the need to manage the professional time itself – what time is being used to achieve and when things need to be done, potentially across a range of time zones.
Why it matters
Badly managing time can create problems at work and at home. Workers that are not utilizing their work time well are simply not productive, and those that have trouble with the boundaries between work life and home life are likely to suffer burnout or take time off on sick pay after injuring themselves.
Remember that effective use of time is not the same as working as much as possible. Employees that are happy get a lot more done in their working hours, after all. By allowing for some flexibility and empowering workers to take responsibility for their own schedules, businesses will find productivity improving over time.
Remote working may not be for everyone, but the pros and cons of remote working are more weighted toward the former than the latter. As long as you plan how to mitigate and manage the potential problems before they develop, there is no reason to worry at all. Let’s look at some of the issues that can arise for virtual forms of working.
Stick to your schedule
Not having a fixed schedule can also be an issue for remote workers. Ironically, the lack of commute can lead to people arriving late – having no commute often means leaving it to the last minute to start working and then finding delays and distractions. Work starting times become flexible, as do lunchtimes and the end of day.
You can have a flexible schedule, but it will be necessary to remember why and how that schedule is organized. Keep your most important goals in mind – if you are working to deadlines, those are more important than making sure you keep precise times. Nonetheless, make sure that you plan for potential disruptions and make sure that you build in regular breaktimes within the schedule.
Related to this is the problem of round-the-clock working. With such blurry lines between hours of work and hours of leisure, it can be easy to fall into the trap of answering emails well into the night, or when in social events. As work continues encroaches into phone apps, both job-specific software and messaging services such as WhatsApp, it becomes hard to fully switch off.
You can counter this to a degree by setting alarms for yourself and sticking to a schedule. This will help you make sure that you take the breaks you need and that you start and finish at sensible times. By the same token, consider setting limits on your apps. Many now have a timer option, allowing you to mute notifications after a set time and thus allowing privacy from work after hours.
Some people like to dress for work, even if working from the kitchen table. Simply swapping a collared shirt for a lounge sweater can help to change your mindset away from work and towards enjoying free time. Using this simple trick allows you to draw firmer boundaries between your professional life and your home life.
One of the best things about remote working is that it can be possible to be hyper-concentrated. When you’re fully in the zone and fully focused on a task, it can be easy to forget to take the breaks that you need. Remembering to take those opportunities to decompress a bit is important for your health, not just physically but mentally as well.
Your eyes need breaks from screens, for example, and long periods remaining seated can lead to strains or even DVT in extreme cases. Video meetings are tiring because of the lag between audio and facial movements. In terms of productivity, it can be very helpful to take a short rest and return refreshed and ready, rather than working at half capacity for long stretches.
Organizing meetings asynchronously becomes a problem if your remote workers are scattered to the four corners of the map. For companies arranged like this, it will be important to manage time appropriately to make sure that meetings and other events are in acceptable timeslots for the majority (or preferably all) of the workforce. If that’s not possible, they can be recorded for later viewing.
One method to help with organizing time effectively has created a lot of controversy: tracking software. This certainly will help you to know what time is being spent on but does come at some high costs. Most employees don’t enjoy having tabs kept on them, and some will search for creative ways around the software – leading to an adversarial environment in the workplace.