Work from Home in the Covid 19 Lockdown

Article 1: 21 day Lockdown and Counting...

We are now locked down for 21 more days. I know it is challenging to work from home. This is however a challenge that can be overcome and I am going to do my best to help you do it. Don’t think of this as a challenge for SAGE; think of it as a challenge for yourself, to learn to do something differently. This note is a bit long but worth reading to the end.

Before I joined SAGE in 2005, I spent around 5 years working with an organization that almost completely worked from a distance. The HQ had a staff of under 5 located in Australia. The rest were experts scattered globally. For some, it was a part-time engagement but for me, it was 8+ hours of work every day.

This was an era when internet speeds were counted in KBs, Wi-Fi was for the privileged few, dial up modems were staple tools and there were no smartphones (as we know them today). Besides these tech-related differences the only key difference was that I didn’t log into a central server for a fixed number of hours, but I had to maintain a timesheet. The timesheet specified the time I started working and when I stopped. Against every hour I had to write what I had achieved/completed in that hour. But to remain in the organization and to be paid on time, I had to deliver on my objectives.

I don’t want to project self-discipline as a commitment (or lack thereof) to work. I want to share the top 3 reasons that contributed to my low productivity and demotivation when I first started working from a distance. I am also sharing how I overcame these to remain productive and on-track.

Sense of being alone

I worked in a closed room with just one table and a chair in a corner. After sitting for some serious time (usually a couple of hours), I would suddenly feel alone. My family was in other rooms, sometimes in a different city. This meant almost no one to talk to. Then the mind would go racing in multiple directions and in general my productivity would drop.

Taking long breaks

When you control the output for a day, there is a natural tendency to take breaks that would stretch in batches of 5 minutes. I usually began by stating to myself that I would take a 10- or 15-minute break. I would then ‘extend’ these breaks by ‘another 5 minutes’ and before I knew it, I had lost productivity for that day.

Feeling hungrier or sleepier than normal

Sometimes I surprised myself with how hungry I felt. It was almost like I burnt more calories by doing no exercise except sitting on my desk. The other strange thing I noticed was how sleepy I felt. The sleep quotient went up every time I walked past my bed. (It’s true).

Here is how I tackled these issues

Sense of being alone

This one was a tough one to tackle. When members of my family were around, I would simply walk up to them to enquire about what they were doing. But when I was I alone, I relied on 2 gadgets to help me. The first was a grip strengthener, like this one

I would spend about 5 minutes working each wrist. I made sure I spent at least 30 minutes in a day working my wrists. It helped me type on my keyboard and in the last 25 years of working regularly on a computer, I have had only one case of carpal-tunnel-syndrome.

The second gadget was my music player. There is science behind how music helps change our mood. We generally believe that when we were younger we were happier. The definition of younger is different for each of us. For some it could be around the age of 10 for others around 18 and for yet others, around 25. Music that we listen to at these ages gets hardwired into our brain. Think about it – you will remember the lyrics of a song you heard as a kid but wouldn’t remember from a recent song even if you heard it 10 times! I played music from the 70s (mostly Hindi) and from the 80s (mostly English). Music helped me go to places in my head that calmed me down. Sometimes the music would continue softly throughout the day. Other times, it was just for a few minutes every hour. But it worked.

Taking longer breaks

This one is surprisingly easy. I would spend the first few minutes of the day noting all that I had to complete during the day. I estimated the time I would take to complete the list. I would always make sure I had a break built in for every 45 minutes of work I did. It took me many weeks to arrive at this formula so don’t believe that it is easy to arrive at. The biggest benefit to me was I had an overview of my day before it was over. I had a plan that helped me achieve my objectives for the day. And most important of all, I DIDN’T FEEL GUILTY taking my breaks. When in the office, we take breaks – coffee, washroom, checking with colleagues, lunch-break, tea-break, checking the time break, walk to meetings etc etc. Surprisingly we are not conscious of this when working remotely. If you schedule in a break every 45 minutes of working and stick to the plan of achieving your daily objectives, I am sure you will find the rhythm of working from a distance effectively.

Feeling hungrier or sleepier

Both these stem from the same common cause – the brain is tiring. The hungry message is actually a ‘I am thirsty’ message. Most of us can’t distinguish the hungry vs thirsty message. We believe thirsty is from the throat and hungry is a rumble from the stomach. Not true. As we work, our brain gets tired. It tries to rejuvenate itself not with food or nutrients but with water. The signal from the brain asking for water is almost identical to the body saying ‘I am hungry’. Try this the next time you think you are hungry at an odd hour. Drink just enough water that you can hold in your mouth. Swallow it slowly. Within a minute or two your stomach will send you a signal that it is ‘full’. Sleep is also the brains way of telling you it is tired. Take a break, drink some fluids (water, juices, tea, coffee), stand up, stretch and I promise you both hunger and sleep will leave you.

If you have other questions please write to me directly and I will answer them, once a day to all.

Stay indoors, stay safe, stay happy and most of all don’t ever feel alone. I am there with you in spirit as are all the other 500+ co-workers at SAGE. If you have any query, please don’t hesitate to email me or to write to Speak your mind. We are monitoring that channel too.

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© 2020 Vivek Mehra