Organizations across the country are accepting the responsibility of social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic and allowing (or, in some cases, mandating) employees to work from home (WFH). In recent weeks, IT departments have scrambled to ensure employees have everything they need to carry on with business as usual: headsets and docking stations and VPN access for internal systems. But a successful day from home requires more than the right tech stack. Employees have to adjust to a new routine and set clear boundaries to be successful. Work from home requires discipline, but there are habits you can adopt that can ultimately boost your overall productivity.
The current public health emergency has also necessitated school closures, which means not only are employees working from home, their school-age children are there as well. This creates a very interesting dynamic for two-income families and will require flexibility and understanding across the board. As someone who has worked from home full-time for over five years and strived to balance work and life with young children, these are my tips and tricks to make the most of working from home.
Have a Dedicated Workspace
One of the biggest changes when working from home is losing that physical, and often mental, transition from ‘home’ to ‘work’. Having a dedicated workspace is key to facilitating that mental switch. You may not have a dedicated home office, but try to find a space in your house that you don’t utilize as often in your daily home routine. A formal dining room, a guest room, even a large walk-in closet can be repurposed to serve as your workspace. Try to keep it clear from at-home distractions like personal mail or laundry so when you sit down, you can immerse yourself in a professional mindset. Listening to the same music or radio shows that you would when commuting can also help you psychologically transition.
Create a Schedule
Some folks struggle with the lack of structure that can arise when you work from home. It’s important to create a daily schedule and stick to it. Take breaks and a lunch like you normally would and set a time to sign off for the day. It’s critical to establish boundaries between your home life and your work life, especially when both are occurring in the same physical space.
Resist the Urge to Multi-task
Women, in particular, have an almost innate ability to do multiple things at the same time. And while it might be tempting to fold that load of laundry during the all-hands call, those distractions can add up and keep you from being fully engaged with your work and your colleagues. Set clear times in your schedule when you will focus on home tasks, so you can give your co-workers and work tasks your undivided attention.
Optimize your Commuting Time
Not commuting to an office is a huge advantage of working remotely, and in many cases, it can add an hour or more back to your day. And while it can be tempting to sleep in and enjoy an extra cup of coffee in that free time, think of how you can optimize your schedule now that you don’t have that requirement. When do you do your best work? When do you prefer to exercise? I have personally found that I am most creative right when I wake up. When I work from home, I can have that creative, productive time when I would normally be getting ready and sitting in traffic. I can have two solid hours under my belt by the time I would normally be arriving at the office. Working from home gives you a different kind of autonomy over your daily schedule. Consider switching up your workout time or talk to your manager about starting and ending your day an hour earlier to really experience the flexibility that working from home offers.
Turn On Your Camera
Loneliness can be a major downside of working from home, especially if you are naturally an extroverted personality. Using your web cam during conference calls can help you feel more connected, and it can motivate you to keep a more professional appearance which often translates to improved productivity. Staying in your pj’s all day might be comfy and novel at first, but it can negatively impact performance in the long-run.
Discover your inner Marie Kondo
You don’t have to clean out your closets to adopt the key principle that the Marie Kondo model is based on: a place for everything, and everything in its place. With entire families staying home all day, the house is going to pretty messy pretty fast, and that can add frustration and tension when you are having a stressful work day. Encourage your family members and housemates to embrace that simple idea: put things back when you are finished with them. And give everyone a unique water bottle for the day or the cups are going to multiply in your sink like a science experiment.
Give Compliments, Recognition and Praise
When you’re in the office, and you close a big deal or finish a tough project, co-workers are there to give high-fives and go out for a celebratory lunch. But if you’re at home with just your cat, the response can be a little underwhelming. Not having regular feedback and encouragement can be a tough aspect of working remotely. Managers can play a big role here: create opportunities for your team to share their accomplishments, provide positive feedback and make sure employees and co-workers know just how valuable they are.
Have a Plan for Partners and Children
One reality of working from home, especially in the current environment, is that you may not be the only one there. Establishing clear boundaries with your children, partners and roommates is essential to making work from home work for you.
- Have a visual indicator when you are busy – something as simple as a neon-colored post-it note can let your family know you are on an important call and can’t be interrupted.
- Build family time into the daily schedule – kids thrive on routine. If they know they are going to have lunch with you, they can usually save their ‘really important question’ for that time. Have a place where they can write down or draw pictures of things they want to tell you so they don’t forget. You can also set an old fashioned timer outside your door so they can see how much longer until you are available.
- Anticipate interruptions – if your kids are like mine, they are already bored and need a snack. Keep healthy snacks and bottles of water where kids can easily reach them and help themselves. Have puzzles, toys and art supplies at the ready, and try to coordinate their screen time with your critical meetings and projects.
- Anticipate boredom – if you have a playroom that is teeming with toys, pack up half of them, especially things they don’t play with often, and store them out of sight. In a couple of weeks when you bring them back out, they will seem like brand-new toys, and their interest will be renewed.
- Over-communicate your needs and expectations – Kids can perceive when their parents are stressed, and it tends to make them needy. They feel unsettled by your stress, and so they seek more of your attention as a way to feel reassured. Which, if you are a stressed parent trying to work from home, extra attention for your kids may be in short supply. Talk honestly about your expectations for the day and listen to their concerns and ideas. Explain as best you can what you do and why it is important. Talk through the day’s routine and create a visual schedule for younger kids to keep them on track. Choose specific toys or games for the day and help them get started before you dig into work. When the work day is over, reward their great behavior and tell them how much you appreciate all they did to help you get your work done.
Whether you are at home with your family, at home with a roommate, or flying solo, adjusting to our new normal is going to be a challenge. The most important thing we can all strive for is an overabundance of patience and good humor. Sometimes the audio on the web conference just isn’t going to work. Your dog will inevitably spot the mailman when you get to the most important part of your presentation. And all the planning in the world is not going to stop your 4-year-old from coming in and announcing to your top prospect that she has a gummy bear stuck in her ear. Learn to be quick on the draw with your mute button and roll with the punches. All families are struggling with the current situation; a sense of humor and a forgiving attitude can go a long way to helping us feel connected and engaged. We are all in this together, no matter how isolated we might feel.
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