Why Tomatoes Are Critical for Working at Home

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Jun 11, 2020
This article is part of a series called Remote Work.

Before coronavirus entered our lives, the importance of wellness in the workplace was beginning to enter corporate consciousness. Initiatives such as duvet days, gym membership, enforced digital switch off during time off were becoming more commonplace. However, in many organizations, these were just token efforts. They were not ingrained into the culture and values of the business. The old Gordon Gekko adage ‘lunch is for wimps’ was like that lingering smell you just can’t get rid of no matter how many windows you open.

However, fast forward a few months and wellness is back on the agenda in spades. Many organizations are now moving away from pure financial metrics and are adding engagement metrics into the scorecards, for instance, NPS. HR departments have never been busier checking in with their remote workforces to ensure that they are coping at home.

If there is one thing that lockdown has taught the corporate community, it is that work and home can coexist and, in fact, make very effective bedfellows. A growing body of research shows that home workers are more effective in their day-to-day roles than office-based staff. However, this comes with a caveat. Home workers need to know how to homework; otherwise, the only reason they become more effective is because they are spending more time “at work” than they would if they were commuting to the office, spending time walking around the building to meetings, chatting to colleagues over the kettle, etc.

As a Modern Marketing Consultancy operating remotely from 2016, we’ve had more experience than most at home working. One particularly effective way to manage the working day is referenced regularly by team members – the ‘About a Boy’ technique.

In the Nick Hornby book, the Will Freeman character, brought to life by Hugh Grant in the film of the same name, divides his day into units of time and then assigns tasks a specific number of units. For instance, taking a bath might constitute three units, going for a walk two units, having lunch 2.5 units, etc.

Building on this is the Pomodoro technique. It is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into 25-minute intervals, separated by five-minute breaks. Each chunk of time is a pomodoro, after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Italian Cirillo used as a university student. After four ‘pomodoro sprints,’ workers take a longer 15-minute break. At lunchtime, an hour is taken.

Although it may be tempting to skip taking a break when you feel that you are on a roll or making great progress, they are important to keeping your stamina up and reducing mental fatigue. Which ultimately increases productivity, rather than hindering it.

The elephant in the room, of course, is also knowing when to say ‘enough for today.’ Because you don’t have to actively go home, often home workers find themselves ‘just finishing off’ and before they know it they’ve been at the desks for another few hours.

We recommend having a dedicated switch-off time and then spending your ‘commute’ doing something you enjoy: baking, creating a culinary extravaganza, sewing, painting, working out, playing a game with the children, organizing a cupboard, etc. To keep each other inspired and to maintain the feeling of connection, we upload photos and recipes, etc. to our insta and discuss these out of work activities during our regular video conference catch-ups.

The point is, however, post lockdown. Life will not return to normal. It is likely that people will reassess how they work. For many, work will no longer necessarily be somewhere to go, and it will be something people do – from wherever they happen to be at the time. Already employees are having conversations with HR about changing their work practices – continuing to work remotely or working different hours to the 9-5 norm. As a result, many of these techniques that we are using during lockdown will remain relevant long into the future.

This article is part of a series called Remote Work.