Applying Flexible Work Strategies While Working Remotely

father and toddler sit on the floor of a living room coloringBy Barbara Roberts, April 22, 2020

Many questions about how to use flexible work strategies when working from home have come to our attention recently, in the Fireside Chat, in our Coffee Conversations, and in webinar chat boxes. We thought it might be helpful to share some ideas here.

Typical flex strategies often include flexible time arrangements - shifting hours, days, lunch periods or breaks to reshape the work period.  These arrangements are often informal within a unit; sometimes they are formally documented. Remote work and telecommuting involve working from another location, from time to time or on a regularly scheduled basis. We have worked hard to help units understand the value of implementing flexible work arrangements for reasons ranging from convenience and accommodation to parking and space management. Now, we have the opportunity to figure out how working remotely across all areas of the university can benefit us. So, what does flex mean when we are working remotely all the time?

We used to have blocks of time when we were in assigned or predictable locations. Kids were at school or daycare, spouses in their workplaces, us in ours. The work environment was familiar, and the home environment largely separate. Now, we are all in the same place, all day, all the time. Nothing gets our undivided attention for a sustained period, which makes it hard to feel productive, or satisfy the needs of others without interruption. It’s crazy-making.

Flexibility comes in while we try to juggle all these elements. We try to find some semblance of “balance,” but It’s really more about “fit.” Pieces of home life and work have to reshape themselves to fit in around each other.

Work-life fit is not about equal time every day for home and work activities. It’s about getting done what most needs doing at the time, and permission to prioritize those things as you need to. To help with that, try having a personal priorities statement that you can look back at when things get overwhelming or confusing.  What matters most to you? Put that first.  

Often, home life pieces have to come first.  For there to be peace in the kingdom, needed for productivity, we have to prioritize family routines and needs.  You can’t concentrate on professional email if someone is depending on you, loudly, for Cheerios. Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Still true: basics come first - food and shelter, safety, love and security, productivity, self-actualization. Work is pretty high up there in productivity, so build a solid foundation in food, safety and love if you want to succeed at higher levels. “Put the big rocks in first.” There is always more room for smaller or shorter tasks if the big ones are out of the way. Meet the physiological needs first - eat, sleep, exercise; then go for connection, love and stability; then work. Look after breakfast, be sure the light bill is paid, tell someone you love them, and then you’ll be able to concentrate.

Work pieces have to take a different size and shape. Work might not have the same pattern of activities in the day when working remotely. Do what you can when you can. If you think best in the morning, get your thinking things done then. If you are a night owl and create best in the quiet, wee hours, pace yourself to do that. Do tasks that fit the size of the time slot you have. Try to schedule these so everyone maintains some sense of routine and structure. Patterns help us cope, even if they are new and different patterns. Routines can help keep household distractions in their place, and not in your face.  Even two or three shorter periods dedicated to a work task help provide consistency in your day and enhance that feeling of being in control and productive.

If you tend to the priorities as you value them, the next pieces will fit together more easily. Give yourself permission to be good enough for now; practice compassion toward yourself. To quote the Dalai Lama: “The first beneficiary of compassion is the compassionate person; the second is the recipient of compassion.” Practicing compassion toward others is good for us; practicing it toward ourselves is good, too.

Read related article on scheduling your time

View recent webinar: Supervisors and Flex Work

Review flexible work resources as you consider the transition back to campus (eventually).