Working in pajamas. Eating lunch over the computer keyboard. Gossiping on video calls. Remote work may have been more productive than many initially expected, but it has still produced some questionable work behaviors.
Habits emerge when the brain stops fully participating in decision-making, according to Charles Duhigg, the best-selling author of The Power of Habit and Smarter Faster Better. When viewed through the monotony of daily life and merging of work and home caused by the pandemic, it makes sense that people didn’t have the energy to think about much more than getting through the day. Thrust into remote work for nearly a year, many workers have collectively shifted to autopilot.
While that may have been understandable in 2020, experts say there’s no excuse to keep those habits in 2021. Indeed, now is the time to reestablish productive routines, before offices reopen in earnest, says Deborah Brown, a managing principal in Korn Ferry’s Leadership and Talent Consulting practice. “Unless you short-circuit the pattern, you will become more exhausted and have less to offer,” she says.
Here are the top five habits Korn Ferry experts suggest breaking for a productive 2021.
Gossip circulates powerfully among colleagues over email, chat, and videoconferences—and most of it tends to be negative in nature. This not-so-harmless chatter can harm productivity and engagement by focusing on problems rather than solutions, says Joshua Daniel, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. Gossip thrived in 2020 as workers dealt with layoffs, pay cuts, COVID-19 testing, tech-related rage, and other issues. But, says Daniel, “it’s way more healthy to not circulate that energy.”
Separate home and work.
This goes beyond taking a shower and getting dressed in the morning as if you are going to the office, though that is always solid advice. Rather, it’s about reestablishing the work-life balance erased by the sudden move to remote work. Whether it’s scheduling a daily run, following a consistent sleeping schedule, or blocking out two hours in the evening for dinner with the family, creating structure will lead to more productivity at home and work and break the cycle of one bleeding into the other, says Nancy Von Horn, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. “People need ways to find order amid the chaos,” she says.
Remote work has transformed multitasking from a valuable skill to a potentially unproductive distraction, experts say. People are taking calls and writing memos while also doing laundry, running errands, and helping with homework. The result is that nothing gets full attention. Stacey Perkins, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance, advises to focus on one task at a time instead, devoting a specified amount of time to working on it before moving on to something else. “Multitasking is causing people to burn out,” she says. “Focusing on one task at a time sounds like it’d be less productive, but it can end up making people more productive.”
One recurring theme during remote work has been the pressure to say yes to everything. Part of that stems from the survival mode most organizations were forced to adopt because of the pandemic, which in turn created fear among employees of being laid off if they didn’t acquiesce to every request. As commendable and understandable as that is, it has led to people being stretched too thin and feeling overwhelmed, Daniel says. Now that companies are out of survival mode, he suggests being more deliberate with decisions. “If you are going to go above and beyond, make sure it is in the direction you want to go and what you say yes to supports your next steps and goals,” he says.
Get out of the dining room.
In the first days of remote work, people set up shop on the dining room table thinking it would be for only a couple of weeks. It wasn’t. “It’s time to commit to your home-office setup,” says Frances Weir, a career coach with Korn Ferry Advance. It doesn’t have to be a dedicated office or even a separate room, she says. The goal is to break the habit of treating remote work as transient, because it isn’t. She says even in the tiniest of apartments, one can find space that provides energy and inspiration to “get in the zone for work.”