Thriving while working remotely. Dan McNicholas of 4and20million talks about how we can do our best work.

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4and20million, Use.Space

In many ways, the challenges of working remotely feel like old news at this stage. We’ve been working at arms length from each other for months now, and all of the initial oddities and frustrations have been absorbed into the temporary normal we have become accustomed to.

  • Support and structure.
  • Enabling ourselves and our teams.
  • Working smarter.

Support and structure.

But familiarity shouldn’t make us content.  There’s quiet but growing observation of the challenges we still face, even once we’ve settled into a routine of Zoom calls and shared documents.  While we strongly believe that workers can be just as productive and motivated when working remotely, we shouldn’t take for granted that this should just happen without the right support and structures in place.  Asking people to work in the same way at home as in the office, then bemoaning the differences in productivity, is a bit like blaming your car for running out of petrol.

We know that collaboration and co-creation can be more difficult for remote teams.  Group calls and virtual meetings are convenient enough for information sharing, but can lack the dynamic needed for free flowing exchanges of ideas and the messy chaos of the creative process.  Beyond these specific needs, we miss out on the occasional pick-me-up, word of encouragement or feeling of shared endeavour we get from being seated next to our colleagues when we are isolated at home, and this can make the task of motivating ourselves day after day more of a struggle.

So if we’re not all going to be back together in the office any time soon, how do we enable ourselves and our teams to really thrive in the here and now?

Enabling ourselves and our teams.

For many companies, small scale returns to the office are now feasible.  Even if this just means working alongside a small number of colleagues at a safe distance for a few hours, we shouldn’t overlook how much of a boost this can provide (especially for those working and living alone).  Where offices aren’t yet ready to return to, shared working spaces like Use.Space provide an equally positive change of scene and a safe space to connect with colleagues or host meetings face to face.

As well as finding ways to connect in person, it’s equally important that everyone feels connected and involved while working remotely.  This goes two ways – checking in on colleagues to make sure they are doing OK and have everything they need, and also sharing updates on how the wider team, department and company is doing.  This protects the sense of collective endeavour, and helps people to see their individual contribution as being an important part of something bigger.

Working smarter.

At 4and20million we talk a lot about productivity (as our current #MostProductiveDay initiative demonstrates), and the biggest lesson we have to share is that productivity doesn’t just come from determination.  We need to set ourselves up for success by planning the day, working in achievable 90 minute chunks and thinking about the right times to schedule calls and when to be off-grid for a while to properly focus.  If we try to plough through our to-do list like a machine, we’ll inevitably get tired, distracted and overwhelmed before too long.  If we can acknowledge our humanity a bit more, we can work smarter – scheduling the tougher work for the times when we’re most alert, then giving ourselves an easier task when we need to recharge a bit.

Alex, Josie & Dan, the team at 4and20million

This might mean cracking on and getting an hour done on a big project before even opening the inbox or connecting to Slack.  It might mean scheduling meetings for early afternoon when you need a bit of interaction to re-energise.  Perhaps the tricky work happens after hours when the kids are in bed, and the daytime is a better slot for lighter admin and easy, quick tasks.

Whatever your personal circumstances and those of your colleagues, finding the right structure and techniques to stay motivated, productive and collaborative is vital for all of us right now.  The shared experience of sitting in the same space for the same time each day has been replaced for now with different working conditions for each of us.  We need to respond with individualised approaches to allow each of us to do our best work.


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