“You’re On Mute!”​ – How To Be Happy In A Hybrid Workplace

When most of us logged out of our computers and left the office in late March 2020 we thought we’d work from home for a few weeks then be back to the office, and back to normal, before the end of the summer. We hastily gathered up laptops and essential paperwork, kept our fingers crossed that our broadband would hold up and discovered a whizzy new application called Zoom.

Little did we know a significant proportion of us would still be WFH two years later. Even if you are back in the office some of the time many of us are hybrid working (another one of those phrases, along with social distancing, furlough and vaccine passport, that I’m not sure existed in February 2020). 

When we first created our temporary home offices in dining rooms and spare bedrooms we were in survival mode, doing what we could to get what work we could done between homeschooling and scouring the shops for toilet rolls and pasta. Our priority was just to make do and get on with it. Now, two years on, hybrid (or even fully remote) working has become the norm for many of us and we are now realising that whilst there are lots of perks of this style of working there are some pitfalls too. Whilst some of us are really happy working from home, some of us struggle with some aspects of it. Also, leading teams remotely can be tricky. 

So what are some of the common challenges and how can we address these to be truly happy in the hybrid workplace?

When I asked my followers on Instagram and LinkedIn what the main challenges of working from home were for them some clear themes emerged from their answers.

There were three main themes:

  • difficulty staying focused and motivated,
  • difficulty switching off, and
  • missing in-person interactions.

Let’s look at each one in turn.

Difficulty staying focused and motivated

This was a big one. Lots of people said they struggled with motivation and engagement and spent too much time procrastinating or being distracted when working from home. I think there are two important points here. When we are working from home we are largely working alone. This means if we aren’t careful we can go long periods without any significant human interaction (saying “hello” and “thanks” to the Amazon guy doesn’t count). Even if we have lots of Zoom meetings we still don’t have the casual conversations and interactions we would in an office environment. This can really impact on our ability to keep going during the day. We get distracted and lose focus. 

Secondly we probably move around less when we work from home. No ability to pop down to Emily’s desk to ask her to show you for the gazillionth time how to do a pivot table in Excel. No need to go out and buy a sandwich at lunch or get together for a team meeting. The result of both of these things are long periods doing the same thing. As human beings we need variety and stimulation to keep going. 

Try breaking the structure of your day into manageable chunks with little rewards at the end (a snack, playing your favourite song, a quick bit of exercise, five minutes in the garden). I also find it helpful to change location and work from a different place in the house in the morning and the afternoon. Even if you aren’t able to work from a different part of the house trying changing the mood a bit. Put one of your favourite photos where you can see it or light a nice candle, something to make the environment a bit different and to give you a bit of energy. 

Be live to your main distractions and try to plan them in at a set time, for a set duration rather than just when the moment takes you . So, if you end up spending too long reading the news online or tidying up emails, decide when you are going to do this task and how long for. Writing it down might also help you stick to it. The good old ‘eat the frog’ technique – basically getting your most important task (but something you are likely to procrastinate over) out of the way first thing – can be a great productivity aid. If you want to learn more about this technique take a look here. Some people also like the Pomodoro technique which is another productivity hack which involves chunking your day into blocks of 25 minutes. Find out more here – you don’t need a Pomodoro timer, the timer on your phone will do just fine.

Personally I find getting dressed in work clothes (even if I don’t have any Zooms calls) helps. I’m not talking a suit and heels but clothes that I only wear for work so my brain knows when I’m wearing them I’m in work mode. 

Difficulty switching off

Next up was trouble switching off and creating clear boundaries between home and work life. One respondent summed it up perfectly with his response: “Do I work from home or live in the office?” Linked to this was a lack of space to be able to create these boundaries (e.g. not having enough room for a separate work space). One respondent recounted how she knew of people who had created their own daily commute to create a line between work and home life – leaving their house, going for a circular walk or cycle then heading back home to start their working day or end it. I think some kind of physical act of distancing yourself from work at the end of the day is really important. If you work in a room you don’t spend much other time in, shut the door at the end of the day. If you need to be in that room after you’ve finished working, do what you can to tidy away your work stuff and physically leave the room at the end of your working day before going back in to do non-work stuff. Even better, use the end of the day to do a bit of simple meditation to clear your mind. Or do some exercise, anything that signifies the end of the day and helps take your mind away from work. 

Missing in-person interactions

The final challenge was around missing the energy, conversations, observations and interactions you get from being in the same place as colleagues. We know how important social connections are to happiness, and from a work perspective recognition and encouragement are also vital. When we work remotely we miss those water cooler chat moments, the overheard conversation that spark a realisation or a learning. Observing when someone is struggling is much easier in the flesh, often so is seeing their brilliance. 

When it comes to lack of in-person interactions we have to be more intentional in many regards. We need to make more of an effort to have non-task orientated conversations. This might mean designating a portion of a team meeting to talking about non-work stuff, or setting up an informal video call where people can just drop in and out to say hi to colleagues. If you lead a team make it ok for people to take time to foster social connections – this doesn’t just mean saying it’s ok to do this, it means leading by example and actively encouraging people to do it (as well as making sure they are given the time to invest in nurturing social connections). 

It’s important to be aware that when we speak to someone on the phone or even on a video call it’s much harder to pick up on non-verbal cues, like body language and facial expression. To understand whether someone is ok we need to ask rather than just expect to be able to pick up on it. We need to make more time for conversations with people so we can understand what is going on with them. 

Working from home has lots of perks but we do need to give some thought to some of the more challenging aspects of remote working which might affect our workplace happiness. Simply having an awareness of the more challenging aspects of working from home is an important first step. Take some time to think about what works for you and what doesn’t before thinking about small changes you might be able to make to increase your happiness levels. Hybrid working is here to stay so let’s make sure we do all we can to make hybrid=happy. 

If your team would benefit from some happiness training to help them navigate the challenges of hybrid/remote working drop me a line. The Happy Business School offers a variety of workshops on a range of topics related to workplace happiness. Send me a message to arrange a chat and find out more. 

#happiness #leadership #remoteworking 

5 myths about happiness at work

Wrong. The absence of disease isn’t health and the absence of misery isn’t happiness. Just because we might do enough as leaders to not have our people crying at their desks doesn’t mean we are invested in their happiness. Just because an employees comes in every day, does a good job and leaves without complaining about anything doesn’t mean they are happy.

Wrong. It’s right that some some people are more naturally optimistic but, with practice, you can become happier. There is a wealth of science that shows, when we know how, we can train our brains to be more positive. Asking someone to write down three good things that have happened in the last 24 hours may appear glib but this is about training the brain to spot positive things. When we learn to look for things we see them more easily.

Wrong. In fact blind optimism is a bad thing. Who wants to be in a plane where the pilot never believes anything bad can happen so doesn’t bother doing all the safety checks (not me for sure!). Just like in the world of work we don’t want to fail to look out for the risks and dangers, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by the fear of them.

Wrong. The science tells us that being happier at work makes us more productive, more resilient, more creative, more accurate, more analytical, less likely to take time off sick, leave or burnout. Who doesn’t want those benefits? Yes, what a great wellbeing initiative to be able to say we are interested and investing in your happiness but it goes much further than that. There are real business benefits to helping people increase their happiness.

This one is only a half myth. Yes, people need to be invested in working on their own happiness but as a leader it is for us to help them with that, to show them we value their happiness, to allow them time to work on it, to give them the tools they need to become happier at work. Importantly we need to help them understand why being happy at work is important. As a leader if you can show you are invested in your own happiness it will show your people they should invest in theirs too.

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