So as we enter our 7th month of working remotely I have started to reflect on how my work patterns have changed and what this will mean for the future. It has surprised me how my work and social life have started to blend into each other. Back in the UK I was adamant that ‘work was work’ and time away from work meant just that – no logging on, no checking of emails etc. That way work did not encroach onto precious social time. But over the last 7 months these boundaries have become more and more blurred, particularly since the transfer to Asia has meant that I’m no longer working the same hours as the UK team.
My normal work routine has now evolved into something like:
- Get up and complete 2 to 3 hours work;
- Leave apartment once the need for coffee kicks in and head to one of the many ‘work friendly’ cafes that now exist the world over;
- Complete another 2 to 3 hours work;
- Head to another location (e.g. Remote Year work space, another café or back to the apartment) to complete another 2 to 3 hours work.
Depending upon what else is happening with Remote Year or activities within the city these three work periods may not happen back to back. Interesting though, I have found that having a longer break between recommencing work seems to make you more productive and focused during the time that you are working.
Also the three work periods may not all happen on the same day. For example there are times when there is naturally not much to do and firing up the computer and completing a couple of hours work helps to make down-time productive leaving more appropriate time available for social activities. For example, I have become very good at working in airports, and while travelling from one destination to another. Alternatively choosing to work when it is raining frees up time to wander the cities when there isn’t the chance of a torrential downpour.
So what has happened to make this change? Essentially the type of work I do falls into three main categories:
- Work that is urgently required to be completed on the same day;
- Work for which the deadline is some way in the future; and
- Questions and communications with the UK team.
Thankfully a significant proportion of the work I undertake falls into the second category which means that, as long as I hit the deadline, there is flexibility on when the work is actually completed. The work that is urgent and communications with the UK team both have to be undertaken ‘on the day’ and require a bit more discipline to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
At present being in Asia, I am 7 hours ahead of the UK. This means that the UK team often send me work to check or complete ‘overnight’ speeding up the process of project delivery. This is my first priority of the day and where my primary focus will be. I find that I work better in the mornings and often start work at around 7:00am. With no disturbances it is possible to complete a large chunk of work by 10 am or so. This means that the next part of the day becomes increasingly flexible. Work interspersed with Remote Year events (lectures, visits to tourist attractions etc.) fills up the day until around 4pm which coincides with 9am UK time. The next couple of hours I can devote to catching up with the UK team, responding to emails etc.
So the first thing to ask is whether this is a healthy trait? I would argue that yes it is. While the boundaries between work and social life are becoming more and more blurred I believe that I am making the most of the time I have. At home I look at the amount of time I waste on things such as watching TV and reflect that I am doing so much more every single day that I’m on Remote Year. I’ve started to question why this is and have concluded that while it is partly down to wanting to ‘see and experience as much as possible in the city I’m in’ I also think that the change in work practice also has a lot to do with it. When getting home from work in the UK I’m often too tired to do anything other than cook some food and watch TV. I reflect as to whether working continuously for 8 hours (all be it with a lunch break) is the most effective way of working. Are people still as productive at the end of the work day compared with the start? Obviously a change in work hours is not available for everyone but for those whose deadlines allow a change in practice, the question is should companies move to a more flexible and less rigid working week? As remote working grows and companies have to work hard to retain the best talent I ask again ‘are the days of working 9 to 5 numbed?’.