You are not in this alone, you are in it together. Avoid the pitfalls of a ‘pressure cooker’ environment when sharing remote working spaces with family members by following these six strategies
For many employees, it is likely that remote working will be the reality for some time to come. Some companies have already announced plans to rotate working from home with periods spent in the office, while other organisations, such as Facebook, have announced that people can work remotely on a permanent basis if they wish to.
The prospect of being asked to work at home for the foreseeable future will be daunting for many employees. Even those who are seasoned homeworkers, used to operating distantly from their teams, may have been unsettled by all the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and when working lives can return to ‘normal’.
Although the prospect of working remotely may sound idyllic, if you’re trying to do it alongside other members of your family or household it can be a real challenge – producing a ‘pressure cooker’ environment, with enormous potential to boil over into rows and friction. In some homes, several people are working remotely, competing both for space and bandwidth, and shouting over each other on the phone. There may be constant interruptions from children, with toddlers, other adults and, occasionally, the dog invading Zoom calls. Home-schooling is also an unfamiliar scenario for both parents and children and can test the patience of even the most prepared.
Whether remote working is enforced, or out of choice, here are six strategies you can deploy to make your shared homeworking space a harmonious one.
1. Plan your space carefully
A lot of people went home thinking the work-from-home period would be for a few weeks, so made do with what they had. If you are now in it for the long haul, make sure you plan your co-working space carefully to avoid conflict. In your company office, you wouldn’t be expected to function without a comfy chair, a good internet connection and enough space to manoeuvre – this should also be the case at home too. If you feel as though you are working on top of one another as a family, think about whether there is a space you can dedicate as a ‘break out’ area for when you need to take a call?
2. Build a routine
Negotiate a routine that everyone in your household can be part of, with schedules that ensure your routine doesn’t interrupt the work of others and visa versa. Build in fun time as well as work, making sure that these are reserved exclusively for family rather than constantly checking your emails. Lots of small wins will keep everyone motivated and give you something to look forward each day.
3. Talk about your frustrations
Don’t let things fester – talk through any frustrations as a household. Try sitting or standing in a circle, allowing everyone to speak in turn without being interrupted. Respect what each of you says and appreciate that this is hard for everyone. Show empathy. This will help all of you to realise that you are not in this alone, you are in it together.
4. Be open with your boss
Make sure you are open and honest with your boss if you are struggling to balance work with family life. Often, we put pressure on ourselves by feeling the need to always be ‘on call’ and imagining that others are being more productive. In fact, most people are in the same boat and are probably experiencing the same frustrations.
5. Reframe homeworking as an opportunity
Try to view working from home positively, as an opportunity to free up the time you would have spent commuting as time you can now spend with your family or friends (albeit virtually in many cases) or dedicate to learning new skills. You may even form new helpful habits which you can take forward in your day-to-day role, such as better delegation, time management or work-life balance.
6. Don’t lose your temper
If things get very difficult, try not to lose your temper. This is a loss of control and the short-term relief will be offset by a sustained period of guilt and upset for everyone. Take control of your emotions and try to reduce the release of cortisol and adrenaline that cause the red mist to descend. If you can, do something active – go for a walk, run up the stairs, do some on-the-spot exercise (star jumps, or squats, for example) – to help you to focus on something different and to ‘get it out of your system’.
The current crisis gives us a good opportunity to re-evaluate our current work environment and how to make it better, particularly if we will be required to work remotely in the long-term alongside family or friends. A well-planned working space, a routine which makes time for both work and fun, as well as an open and honest environment will be key to avoiding conflict, staying on top of mental health and remaining productive.
David Liddle is the CEO of conflict management consultancy, The TCM Group, and author of Managing Conflict: A Practical Guide to Resolution in the Workplace (CIPD/Kogan Page, 2017).