How to be present while working remotely

an illustration of a laptop that says covid-19 updates, wth a cup of coffee and a cat beside it

How many times have you gone into work when you’re really not up to it?

Presenteeism is when you are physically present at work but functionally absent. It describes an employee who works when perhaps they shouldn’t. Maybe they have a deadline to meet, expectations to fulfill, or feel a sense of obligation to their boss and colleagues, but they have other things on their mind and are not focused on their tasks.

Presenteeism occupies the grey area between total work engagement and complete absence.

And now with the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees are working from home. They still have deadlines to meet, expectations to fulfill, and projects to complete, but they are not directly visible in this newly defined workspace.

If they are unwell, they can take time off to recover without social consequences. But everyone may be afflicted by presenteeism of a different sort: It is easier to be distracted when there is no one to enforce social control.

When working from home, people are sharing spaces with others who have different interests or responsibilities. The challenge is how not to fall prey to presenteeism in remote work.

Tips for working remotely:

1. Create a working environment at home that is conducive to concentration.

It is good to have a dedicated space for remote working that does not double as a dining table during worktime. To be productive while working remotely, find a place to isolate yourself and train your brain to recognize when it’s time to work.

2. Connect with co-workers remotely and set up regular touchpoints.

Work must be intrinsically interesting for us to be fully engaged. Many tasks constitute work, and not all of them are equally interesting. The physical and social context of work often compensates for the tedious parts, allowing for spontaneous exchanges with co-workers that moderates the occasional tedium. It is good to have a fixed time to have virtual meetings for work-related interaction and to chat and share lighter moments.

3. Be sure to create a routine.

The nature of the work does not change, but everything else does. So, work-life balance becomes essential. We are used to a routine at work. While the specifics vary, the critical components include space, structure, rhythm, schedule, interaction, reward, and discipline.

4. Break up your day when working at home.

Keep a work schedule that distributes various tasks throughout the day and align work for times of efficiency and creativity. We need structure that stabilizes the workday with a start and finish time that suits our needs, with breaks to recharge, and lunch to reenergize.

5. Reward yourself.

Give little rewards for accomplishments achieved during the day. We are social beings, and prolonged isolation is not conducive to robust mental health. The breaks, if carefully planned, can contribute to the enhancement of mental health.

DeGroote School of Business professor Vishwanath Baba specializes in stress management, development management, management skill development and management training in the developing world.  His research interests cover management theory, evidence-based management, work attitudes, employee well-being, stress, depression, burnout, absenteeism, and turnover. This article was originally published by the DeGroote School of Business

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