Breaking your bad remote working habits

Try these tactics to re-establish focus and balance as you return to the office.
Breaking your bad remote working habits

With many finance teams beginning to go back to the office, professionals will likely bring with them a variety of new perspectives, lessons, and behaviours acquired during the many months of remote working.

For some, telecommuting has unlocked time and resources to do more immersive and impactful work, while for others, the responsibilities of childcare and home schooling have made it difficult to focus during the day. Either way, the change in routine — or total absence of routine — has resulted in many finance professionals picking up a host of new working and living habits.

Amidst the many positive behavioural changes, such as more time spent outdoors or more actively engaging with one’s children and family members, professionals have undoubtedly also picked up negative or even destructive daily habits during this time.

Kerryn Kohl, managing director at Life Online, a wellbeing advisory based in Melbourne, Australia, pointed to overworking as a particularly insidious habit, and one that could derail finance professionals as they return to the office.

“Many professionals have been driving themselves too hard, even working through the days when they are unwell,” she said. “In some instances, people have become so accustomed to the blurring of private and professional lives that they do not allow themselves an identity that is separate from work.”

According to Kohl, by overworking and consistently blurring the boundaries of home life, many professionals have acquired new physical dependencies such as overeating and caffeine addiction in order to make it through the long days — and sometimes nights — of work.

“This is placing additional strain on their already taxed mental and physical resources, and placing these professionals at risk of burnout,” Kohl cautioned.

FM spoke to Kohl and Brad Shorkend, a behavioural specialist and chief executive of Still Human, a people strategy consultancy based in South Africa, to find out how finance professionals can break these bad habits and empower themselves to thrive in the months ahead.

Practise self-compassion. Researchers have found that practising self-compassion leads to higher self-esteem and resilience — psychological qualities that can be harnessed to prevent finance professionals from lapsing back into their bad remote working habits. Increased self-esteem empowers people to establish and maintain important boundaries between their personal and professional lives, and also to resist outward pressures that lead to overwork and emotional stress.

“For many of us, and particularly those who are more introverted, getting back into the real world may require some adjustment, and we need to practice self-compassion and understanding,” Kohl said. “For instance, many of us may have picked up the bad habit of making ourselves too available to friends and family at all hours during the day, and responding to the needs of others instead of prioritising our own needs.”  

Part of practising self-compassion should include learning to say no to things that don’t align with your priorities, she added, as there will be more demands on your time as things begin to open up.

Reconnect to purpose. With most organisations having to do more with less in a volatile economic climate, Shorkend said that managers and employees have defaulted to a more task-oriented and “transactional” approach to work, which has led to a sense of disconnection from purpose and meaning.

“If we are not connected to a sense of purpose at work, it becomes harder and harder to feel energised, as we are just mechanically moving from one task to the next,” he explained. This mechanical approach to work is a bad habit that makes it far easier to engage in other destructive habits and escape from the sense of dissatisfaction and unfulfillment.

However, by working with your team and manager to reconnect with a sense of purpose — reaffirming how and why your role matters — you may unlock the energy and enthusiasm that has been lacking.

“It is inside purpose that we find motivation, and motivation is what fuels energy, focus, and resilience,” Shorkend added.  

Prioritise learning and development. According to Kohl, the pandemic has significantly affected the amount of time that employees and managers dedicate to learning and professional development — with many reallocating this time to their work product or to meeting the increased demands of home life.

“This may have been necessary in the initial months of the health crisis, but it is not going to allow professionals to thrive … especially given the amount of disruption and change facing us as we shift into the new world of work,” she said.

By identifying areas where they need to upskill or expand their knowledge, finance professionals can avoid the pitfalls of overwork or getting lost in mindless tasks by becoming intentional and disciplined about their development, Kohl said.

Create accountability. While many professionals strive to restart their exercise programmes, get regular sleep, and kick bad habits, they will inevitably encounter roadblocks and days of ill discipline.

“One of the best ways to stick to our goals is to get an accountability partner, someone with whom we check in daily to make sure we’ve done our 3km run or completed our daily coursework,” Shorkend advised. “Having this accountability helps us to create consistency — and consistency is the shortcut to forming new and empowering daily habits.”

— Jessica Hubbard is a freelance writer based in France. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at