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What are the best techniques to keep you and your team focused while working from home?

By Carol Sahagun
Employees worldwide now need to work from home during the pandemic. How can one keep their focus?

COVID-19 has changed a lot of the norms that we all have been used to in our daily lives. All of a sudden, everything around the globe ‘paused’, not just momentarily—for some, quite indefinitely.

One such change is the way we work. All of a sudden, many had to struggle coming to terms with the problems of working from home. In this day and age, there is an abundance of multimedia distractions to an individual’s productivity and efficiency, whether that be SMS, YouTube, Facebook, Tiktok, or even the television. And according to a study conducted by the University of California, it takes about 24 minutes for a distracted worker to refocus their attention.

Thus, it is very important that team leads are actively in support of their team members so that they keep being attentive, driven, and engaged despite these distractions.

How can we be effective, productive, and efficient when there are too many distractions while on a work from home (WFH) setup? What can we do to support our staff?

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1. Set and clarify expectations

One cannot help but feel frustrated with the WFH setup is because it is unfamiliar. To reduce the frustration, you have to set and align expectations at the very beginning.

Part of the expectation setting with your team is to lay the groundwork, which may serve as a guide to help you and your team make it through this setup. You have to communicate with your team to decide the following:

  • Communication medium – the venue by which the team members reach out to each other as needed
  • Regular meeting schedule – may be a group meeting or a 1:1 catch-up to keep team members informed
  • Required working hours – to ensure that if and when needed for any concern, the team member is responsive and readily available within the defined working hours.
  • Daily/Weekly written updates – provide the team manager with updates regarding ongoing projects

Once these are settled, it will be easier for you to settle into your WFH environment.

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2. Itemize and re-prioritize

Before the COVID-19 lockdown, you must have had a checklist with a hundred and one tasks to accomplish. But now, these tasks may no longer be relevant and in reality, may have dropped into item number 99 in terms of priority.

It will help to clean up your checklist and re-number the items in it in terms of the highest priority. Take this list into serious consideration as you draw your team into the regular meetings and see how each item can be assigned and addressed accordingly.

Make it a point to keep this list in check and updated to track the team’s work progress and output.

3. Be innovative

Your teams may not be used to working remotely, and you may find that out that as you move along that what works for one may not work for another. Different strokes for different folks. Be open to making adjustments, discovering, experimenting, and refining the new way of working, without losing focus on what needs to be accomplished.

One example of experimenting on ways of working is on how to deal with your daily emails.  Try to set aside a specific time to open and respond to emails. It may be good to have a 20-minute window as you start the day and another during mid-day. Then, depending on your email volume, have another 20-minute email-reading session as you end your day. In doing so, you do not spend the whole morning going through emails because this oftentimes deviates from your to-do list.

You can also try to work for a good number of hours, (i.e. three hours) with cellphone and messaging applications on off mode to focus on your designated task for the day. While on it, make sure that your team members and other people you work with are informed of these quiet hours, so they won’t wonder where you are.

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4. Re-evaluate meetings

Face-to-face team meetings are already a challenge to facilitate, what more if it’s done via teleconferencing? To reduce the challenges, it would help to prepare for each meeting.

First, have a clear set of agenda even before the meeting starts. Then make your team members prepare too; they have to know and understand why you are meeting them. Let them write down any concerns that they have.

Second, make the meeting lively by having a five-minute ice breaker so you know everyone is active. You may talk to your team about their day-to-day activities because it is also important to connect to your team outside of work matters.

Third, summarize the highlights and provide the next steps, so that your team members are reminded to keep their focus to accomplish their tasks.

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5. Lighten up, loosen up

The pandemic continues to create a lot of impediments for many people in the labor force, not only in the work environment but more importantly in the personal lives of the people we work with.  At one time or another, things can and may get rough, tense, and really stressful. Thus, you have to give yourself and your team some breathing space. Remember to give and ask for some leeway to attend to yourself or your family. Know that it is okay to do some errands, or to clear your mind.

During these times we may find ourselves forced to find a new way of working in order to meet our family responsibilities while giving what is due to our employer. There are ways of adapting to this new working environment. Let us work together to survive and achieve our shared and personal goals despite the environmental challenges brought about by COVID-19.

While we cannot physically join hands to reach out and help each other, we can always clasp our hands together in praying for strength and courage to take us through this most trying time.

Carol Sahagun is the In-Store Services Manager of iRipple.
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