Around the country, the world, even, people are being asked or told to work from home due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic. While working from home might sound attractive on the surface, for some people, it might be a lot harder than you think to make it work. I want to share 5 tips to make sure you can work from home and be as successful as possible.
1) Set up your space for success
We don’t all have a home office ready to go, and so you may be scrambling a bit to improvise here. Here are a few things to consider.
Think about the kind of space you truly need and what might be critical. A clear and sizable work surface? Access to a plug and good wi-fi? Quiet or do you need a little background noise? Well-lit? Whether this is very temporary or you’re moving in for a month or more, think about the critical environmental factors you’ll need to find in an acceptable space. You might clear out a closet to create a makeshift office, or perhaps the dining room table will be just fine for you. If this isn’t a long-term thing, you don’t need to spend money on this move, but if you’re inclined to want a standing desk or need some special equipment, be sure to talk with your boss about whether *any* spending to help you be as productive as possible is available.
Have some basic supplies available and within reach. It’s amazing how much time you can lose when you say, “I just have to go into the other room and grab a pen…” and suddenly, your time and attention-span has been kidnapped, and work is just not getting done.
Do you have to do some video calls? Set your space up for a solid experience for you AND your viewer. Make sure you’ve got a view of what’s behind you when you’re on your call. If you’re not used to a camera in this space, take a look around to see what might show up on your call that you’d rather not appear. Test out your camera before you’re connected and preview the view.
2) Plan your day the right way
Make a plan for what you’ll accomplish. What are the most important things you need to accomplish each week, each day? Outline your priorities and goals for the day, even knowing that life can derail you sometimes. And write them down, keep them in your vision, and visit that list regularly.
Think about how time can fly during the day. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in something and lose track of the day. Can you set up a schedule for your time? Do you have the ability to turn off your email for an hour at a time, checking it only periodic for new and important mail, but off when you need to focus and get work done?
If you have trouble getting in the groove or focusing, consider trying out the Pomodoro technique, where you focus for 25 minutes, and then break for 5, then repeat.
Having a plan is great, but staying on track actually gets the work done. Make a plan for accountability. Maybe you can manage your own efforts, or maybe you need someone else to check in with to help you stay on track. Check-in with a colleague at the beginning of the day, trade your goals and “must do” list for the day, and then check-in at the end of the day to see how you both did!
3) Manage distractions, boundaries, and temptations
Managing distractions is key to not sucking at this. There are SO many distractions and temptations at home. I think of a distraction as an external force trying to get your attention, and a temptation being something you willingly offer your attention to, even though it didn’t ask for it. Phone calls and kids want to play? Distractions. Web-surfing, tv-watching, laundry, and snacking all day? Temptations.
You may not be in control of eliminating all your distractions, but spending time to think about what IS in your control will pay off dividends. What some easy ones?
- Set a start time and set an end time to your day. One of the hardest parts about working from home is that it seems to turn your home life into a 24-hour workday. It’s not, but it’s up to you to set those boundaries and manage them. Connect with your boss, colleagues, or employees to let them know what to expect as your “on” time.
- Eliminate the noises and interruptions that you can. Turn off the ringer on your home phone, since you didn’t realize just how many telemarketers call you all day. Turn off notifications on the motion sensors on your video doorbell, and treat it as if you weren’t home.
- If your interruptions are other humans in your home who think “you’re home! It’s playtime!” have a conversation about what it means to be working from home and what they can expect in terms of interaction with you. For some kids, this may seem like a total treat, or they just require more attention and caretaking. Some of this you can control, some you can’t, but for the kids old enough to play independently, help them be successful on that front, too.
Managing Temptations requires some mindfulness and will power since that’s all on us!
- Social media and web-surfing can be so much easier to do without coworkers looking over your shoulder. Have a plan on how to manage your online distraction time. Really concerned and need help? Consider an app for your device or an extension for your computer that helps monitor and event prevent your visits to non-productive sites. (note: this includes obsessively googling the latest on COVID-19)
- You miss your colleagues and it’s easy to pick up the phone or video chat or text with them. But remember, they’re trying to be productive, too. Make sure you’re not wasting time and justifying it because it’s a colleague. Connect but be respectful of the time you’re both taking that isn’t overly productive. And speak up when your colleague isn’t offering you the same respect for your time.
- It can be easy to say, “Oh, I’m being productive and multi-tasking if I just take care of this other thing over here…” Suddenly, your housework that seemed valuable sucks up your whole day. Beware of the myth of multitasking, and beware that sometimes, when we think we’re being productive with these other tasks, we’re actually procrastinating!
- If you’re concerned about your diet when you’re home (snacking all day), remove temptation by making sure you just don’t have the items in the house if you can manage it and have better food choices available to select.
- Don’t go stir crazy! Set up frequent breaks and get away from the space, but be mindful of the time away and don’t get distracted by something shiny along the way.
4) Recognize what’s different about it
Working from home is more than just a location change. For a lot of people, it’s a communication change. When we’re talking about things around the water cooler or in the halls, communication is fast and easy. When we have to think about proactive communication, things get a little more complicated. If you’re a great communicator in person but hate to send emails, recognize that you might have to pay a little more attention to effective communication when the environment changes. Think about how technology might help; could an instant messenger like Slack help you and your team stay connected in real-time for quick conversations?
Keep in mind that this change so many are going through may be stressful for a lot of your colleagues, clients, and business partners. Some may really be struggling — they don’t have a great situation at home, they have to keep an eye on kids whose schools are closed, they may be concerned about their own health or health of family members… find the empathy and patience that will help make your and everyone’s days a little easier as you navigate through this stressful time.
It’s also… lonely. If you’re an extrovert, or if you just really like the people you normally spend your 9-5’s with, this can feel very isolating. Got a work BFF? Maybe arrange to check-in via phone or video once or twice a day, or set up a virtual coffee video with your boss to strategize for the day. Yes, we’re all doing this because of social distancing, but if you are not self-quarantining, is there a person you could meet for a coffee or lunch to get some human interaction with minimal risk? If you’re a manager, be sure to check in on your own staff and how THEY are doing when it comes to this isolation and loneliness, too.
5) Celebrate the good parts
So, working from home isn’t all bad! Think about some of the good parts! Sleep “late”, no commute, easily access last night’s leftovers for lunch, and, yes, you CAN do a little multitasking like get some laundry done or walk the dog. And, hey, if you’re not expected to be on a video call, who cares if you wear your pajamas all day? Maybe you’ll even save a little money with reduced commute costs or not paying for lunch every day.
But one of the big surprises of working from home? You might actually get SO MUCH DONE and be the most productive employee you’ve ever been! Without the distractions of the office, you might find you have much more focus and get much more done. When quitting time comes, you may feel more of a sense of accomplishment than you normally do! Yabba-Dabba-Do!
Good luck to you… and stay healthy and sane!