The way we work is changing rapidly, and so we need new tools and a new mindset to succeed. In this series, Prönö’s founder Helene Auramo shares her vision of the future of work. She wants you to find new ideas for both your own work and leading others. In this first part of the series, Helene discusses working remotely.
For most of us, working remotely has become the new normal. Buying professional services online or even hiring people without meeting them in person is more popular than ever. And of course, for some this had already been an everyday way of working before covid-19.
What makes remote work so different from working together with the team in the office? It affects our energy levels and feelings, changes how we spend our time, and creates a demand for new kinds of tools. Working remotely is here to stay. And love it or hate it, it is something that many of us must do for now. Let’s take a closer look at how to make the best of it.
There is a big question I had a few months ago, and it is a question I keep on coming back to.
“How do you work remotely and maintain balance and happiness?”
There were many days when I was feeling exhausted after a long day of remote work. Although I loved what I was doing, something was not right. I decided to think deeper about the way we work now and how it could be improved, and here are some of my thoughts. But let’s first frame this issue a bit.
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More hours for meaningful things
Working remotely saves time because there is no need for commuting during the day. Even lunches can be eaten at home. This means that we can spend more time on meaningful things.
However, in order to use that time after work, the workday itself can’t take all or your energy. Working in front of your screen all day and sitting still for hours exhausts you, making the time you saved unusable. Time without energy is just an empty slot in your schedule.
Before covid-19, your calendar might have looked packed. You may have had a bunch of meetings, but at least you didn’t have to just sit in one place and look at the same screen and Slack all day. You still had to walk from one meeting room to another, grab a coffee, chat with your colleagues and move around. All those small breaks were important. But now if your calendar is full, you probably won’t experience the same kind of breaks – you just click yourself through the day, from one calendar invitation to another. But we are humans – we need breaks.
Work, time and energy
Work and time have always been heavily linked to each other. Usually, you get compensated for your work based on time you have spent.
Before covid-19, most workdays had many layers. The foundation was naturally the time spent working, typically seven to eight hours a day. Then, there was commuting between the home and office. This is one example of transitions during the day. You are you all the time, but when you leave home and go to work, you naturally start focusing on the things that are important to your work. The other layers were breaks you had during the day, such as a lunch or coffee break. They were more than just giving your brain a rest – they were all social events with your colleagues, customers and other people. After the day’s work, you went home (and hopefully shifted your focus to the things that were important at home).
This balanced life quite well. But now, suddenly, everything happens in one place, at home, so the transitions are taken away – the social events, such as lunches, talking with a colleague, going to meet a client etc. All of this has now been replaced with one online meeting after another or working in front of your display. Physically, you stay still. And for many, sitting still causes problems, as it’s so easy to forget to have those small breaks and move a little.
So, what does this mean to us? It’s easy to see how important those transitions have been for our work and for us. I think one of the core impacts of transitions is how they affect our energy and feelings. It gives our feelings more space and helps keep our energy levels high throughout the day.
One of the biggest benefits of working together is how other people can change our feelings. For example, if someone is very excited in a meeting, that feeling spreads to others. If you are sad, laughter can improve your mood. And although you might think that feelings don’t belong in work and that you shouldn’t give them space, they are so deeply integrated into us that most of people need to have them at work. And many of those people might find this time of remote work to be extremely hard.
My way of navigating today’s remote work
I always like to remind myself that big changes make it possible to do something completely new. It’s the perfect opportunity to alter how we do things. For me, the best approach is to start planning on an empty canvas. I did just that, and here’s what it made me realize.
Previously, my working day (with commuting) was 10 hours long. I decided to plan my new working days based on that. In the past, my commute was a transition that helped me to start and stop my working day. To compensate for the missing transitions, I added 5 breaks to my normal day. This way I manage to keep my energies up and make the needed changes.
Lunch is one of the breaks, of course. Then I do 20-minute walks to gather my thoughts. And luckily, there is a nearby lake, where I go for a swim during the working day (at least while the water is still warm). Usually, I swim just before or after a task that requires serious thought, like strategy work, or creative tasks, like writing. After introducing more breaks, I noticed a big change in my creativity and productivity but also my happiness. I feel more alive and that every day is worth living to its fullest instead of merely working on something that might benefit me in the future.
Although I have found this space for myself, there is another question for me as a leader: how do I help my team with the same problem?
How to lead during this time
Because of Covid-19, everyone has had to rethink their priorities. Many complex questions arise, like ‘Why do I do what I do?’ or ‘Do I need all of the things I have in my life?’ and ‘What makes my life meaningful?’ Right now, people are looking for purpose in their lives.
These are the questions that leaders need to answer in their companies:
‘What is our purpose?’
‘What are our values?’
‘What is our vision?’
When people are more empowered and responsible for their work, these are the questions that also help them navigate their working days. If they feel their job has a purpose and the vision is crystal clear, they know where they are headed.
Work and free time are now more intermingled than ever. This also means that ultimately breaks are now part of each employee’s free time and that leaders can’t force them to take breaks they don’t want. But what you can do is give them the tools and freedom to make changes.
I suggest that your team members add lunch breaks and other breaks to their calendars. Some meetings can be organized so that people are able to exercise or walk while someone takes notes. In Finland, we also have breaks that are regulated by law, because they are so important for physical and mental well-being.
At the end of the day, you should do something like a workday closure walk-and-talk with colleagues or friends. We designed Shoutouts on Prönö just for this type of situation, so that people can find someone to talk about their day during a power walk, for example, beyond announcing their professional availability.
With Shoutouts, we want to make serendipity happen again, despite the fact that we don’t see each other face-to-face as much. On Prönö, you can easily tell your circle when you are calling it a day and would like to walk-and-talk with someone with similar interests or passions. And you can talk about all aspects of life – not just work.
Let’s face the new ways of working together! Join the Prönö waiting list if you haven’t already. With the right people, I can change the world. And so can you.