Fighting Chaos in Remote Work - The Benefits of a Dedicated Workplace and Routine
As part of the remote workforce, I value my freedom and flexibility. It’s the life I choose. But with this flexibility, a natural sense of chaos follows; often manifesting as questions such as “am I doing the right thing? Am I wasting too much time?” and other times showing itself as an anxious feeling that I should be working when I’m attending to personal matters. When you choose your own hours and location, it can be hard to define boundaries between your life and your work.
The Human Need for Structure and Routine
To find out why we feel this way at times we can look to human psychology for answers. In Maslow’s Hirearchy of Human Needs, all fundamental needs are built on a foundation of basic, non-negotiable elements. First and foremost is physiological - food, water, shelter. Just after that is the need for security. As said by Kenneth MD, “people want to control and structure their lives because that makes them feel safe and secure”. Expanding on this sentiment, the article quotes Dr. Lauren Leotti and her research on the subject, sharing the finding that ““Converging evidence from animal research, clinical studies, and neuroimaging work suggests that the need for control is a biological imperative for survival”.
Fighting for control over your life involves fighting for control over a set of factors, such as where you are at any given time, what you are doing, how you’re doing it and what/who your doing it for. These factors can add up, I’m not ashamed to admit that they did in my life. With so many things to think about, the stress does too, and productivity suffers. That’s how human need for control transitions to the professional need for routine and structure. In summary, with a lack of structure, a set of constant elements of your day, you are constantly fighting for control over the variables of your environment.
Fulfilling the Need
One answer for this problem is having a designated workplace and schedule. Life is full of distractions; at home you have your kids, the chores, the snacks in your cupboard, the T.V. Outside of those things you also have your mother-in-law asking you for help, spin class with your best friend and happy hour. These things are always pulling you in their own direction. If you’re reading this, you now have an excuse to take control: a set place to work and a schedule to commit to.
I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t that why we choose to work remotely? To avoid being tied down to a place or schedule? I beg to differ. In my case at least, I choose to work remotely to avoid being fixed to someone else’s place and schedule. You can balance the flexibility you want with the structure you need by choosing your own schedule - but sticking to it. By having a dedicated workplace and schedule, you fulfill the human need for control and structure, letting your mind fully focus on the actual work.
Routine and Structure For Professional Athletes
If you’re looking for proof of the human benefits of structure and routine, let’s discuss a different area of work - professional sports. Athletes have always been known to utilize the power of routine to optimize performance. Sarah Pavan, former Olympic beach volleyball player states: “I also do the exact same routine for warm up every single game. Why? Because my body knows what it needs to do to perform, and when I do that routine, I know that I have fully prepared to play and my body is ready”.
While an athlete can’t control his/her environment, as games are in different locations and at different times, they take control over the one factor they can - their own preparation. This enables them to focus their decision making on what counts rather than worrying about what leads up to performance. So when it’s game time, it’s game time. They can compete with confidence that they are ready and mental freedom from the small things.
As part of the remote workforce, we CAN control our working environment if we choose to. This crosses off another item on the list of decisions to make and things that require our attention everyday.
Routine and Structure in Business
Yeah, that’s great and all. But how does routine and structure work in the business world, where things are constantly changing and evolving? There are plenty of examples online of the highest performing business men and women implementing routine and structure to optimize their own careers.
This blog post by Buffer outlines a couple of examples:
Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Founder of Twitter, designates each day of the week to a specific area of the company. For example:
Monday: Management and running the company
Wednesday: Marketing and communications, growth
Thursday: Developers and partnerships
Friday: Company culture and recruiting
This way, his concerns in a day are controlled and constrained, preventing himself from being overwhelmed. If an issue comes up in another area, he either delegates it out and check on it when the right day comes or puts it off until that day.
In terms of maintaining a work/life balance, Barack Obama is a master. He makes it part of his daily routine to each breakfast and dinner with his family. By separating those times from his workday, and by having the oval office as his designated workspace away from his wife and daughters, he was able to ensure that neither side of his life suffered or overlapped with the other.
Establishing those boundaries between work and personal is the key to staying productive in both areas. We treasure our flexibility, but it doesn’t mean we can’t have structure and routine. Having a dedicated workspace and schedule of your choosing isn’t giving up your freedom - It’s taking control of it.