Due to COVID-19, many of us found ourselves going from working in an office to working from home almost overnight. If working remotely is new to you, this could be a significant adjustment. Suddenly, that spare room, basement or dining room table has turned into a home office. If your spouse and kids are also home, that can make your place more crowded and chaotic than usual. If you live alone, without the social interaction you normally have with co-workers, you may experience feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Working from home is not without challenges, but it can be a pleasant experience, and provide a healthy work-life balance. Here are some tips to help make teleworking both positive and productive.
1. Carve out work space
It’s easier to stay focused when you have a specific area in your home designated to get work done, even if it’s just in a corner of your bedroom. Working on your couch or lying in bed blurs the boundary between work and home—not to mention it can wreak havoc on your neck and back. Plus, setting aside an area for work, you’ll instinctively slip into “work mode” whenever you sit down.
Make sure you have the equipment you need to work from home. Basics include a computer and high-speed Internet connection that can support video conferencing, a desk and chair, office supplies and a desk lamp. If you’re used to a formal office, it might help to duplicate that environment in your home work space as much as possible. For example, if you had a two-monitor setup in the office, check with your employer to see if you can do the same at home. If you normally keep papers in a file cabinet, buy a small one for your new “office.”
If you can, set up your work space in a spot near a window or that provides natural light. Make your workspace comfortable by adding soothing music, scented candle, plants or family photos.
If you have a spouse or roommate who is also working from home, if possible, maintain separate work spaces so you don’t distract one another.
2. Set boundaries
Setting boundaries is essential when working remotely, especially with your spouse, children and pets likely all in close quarters. Let your family know what signals you will use when you need privacy. For instance, when the door is closed, that means you are on a conference call and are not to be disturbed.
If you have children at home, try to replicate the schedule of a typical school day as best you can to keep your kids on a routine and organized. If you have an especially important conference call, give your kids a special project in another room to keep them busy. If you have smaller children, focus on getting work done while the kids are eating lunch or taking naps.
And, just because you’re home and available to cook dinner, throw in a load of laundry, let the dog out, etc., family members shouldn’t assume you will always do it. If the domestic chores fall on you by default simply because you’re home, you may feel taken advantage of after a while, and your productivity could suffer.
3. Maintain a consistent routine
Young children aren’t the only ones that that thrive on structure. Set a work schedule for yourself and stick to it. Try to wake up at the same time every day and treat weekdays just as you did before. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to end your day helps maintain a good balance between work and non-work. Sometimes you may need to extend your day or start early, but try on a regular basis to stick to regular “office” hours.
Create a morning or “getting started” routine. Maybe it’s making a cup of coffee, going for a morning jog or reading the newspaper. Equally important, create a habit that signals the close of the workday. It might be a sign off on your work e-mail account, evening yoga class, or something as simple as turning your computer off or feeding the dog.
If you need help sticking to a schedule, automatic time-tracking apps may help. Some apps can also help you figure out what time of day that you’re most productive versus when you tend to zone out. You can use the information to your advantage by using your hours of high focus for more critical projects and tasks.
Because there is little face-to-face discussion when working remotely as you would get in an office, communication is all the more critical. Communicate frequently with your boss and be sure you’re clear about what’s expected of you.
“Out of sight, out of mind can be a real problem for remote workers,” according to Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a remote job listing site. “The very best remote workers will reach out to co-workers and managers regularly” through a variety of tools, she says.
When in doubt, overcommunicate. Update your boss frequently on everything you’re doing, and keep him or her informed about your schedule and deliverables. At the same time, communicate with your teammates frequently to avoid confusion over work projects and keep everyone in the loop.
5. Stay connected
Some people who work remotely start to feel disconnected and even lonely. It’s important to actually speak with other human beings, so make time for one-on-one phone calls and teleconferencing to check in with people. Video conferencing can also help bridge the gap, helping to fight isolation while enhancing team unity and productivity.
If you’re leading a virtual meeting, be aware of all participants and give each a moment to chime in so they feel connected. If you are dialing in, announce yourself to let everyone know you’re on the line. If you will be conducting video calls, look at the background that others will see. It may be time to take down those old Ozzfest posters, at least temporarily. Make your background professional.
And it doesn’t always have to be about work. Consider hosting a fun icebreaker or play your favorite song before the start of each video conference.
6. Take breaks
It’s easy to lose track of time when working remotely. In a traditional office, it’s easy to stop by a co-worker’s desk to chat or grab a cup of coffee in the breakroom. In one survey, nearly 90% of American workers said that taking a lunch break helped them feel refreshed and ready to get back to work. So, take a break from your computer throughout the day, even if it’s only for a few minutes.
If you’re able to, take a break outside. When you’re in an office, you usually at least walk to and from your car, and leave the building for lunch. The same advice applies to people who work remotely. Get out of the house at least once a day. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light is healthy. Given social distancing, you don’t have to go to a crowded public area to get away from your workspace. Take a walk around the block. Go for a short bike ride. Water the outside plants or do some calisthenics out on your deck.
Investing in your health and wellness is crucial to happiness and a surefire way to avoid “cabin fever.” Make time to stretch between meetings. Ditch the soda and chips and reach for water and fruit, instead. Take a 30 minute break to recharge. Be kind to yourself as you adjust to your new environment.
7. Train yourself
It’s easy when working from home to feel each day is a repeat of the other as the days tend to blend together. One way to beat this feeling of “Groundhog’s Day” is to look for training opportunities. This is a good time to take a class, learn a new skill, or brush up on old ones. If your company is offering online training or professional development classes, speak up and ask to be included.
In addition to top-down training, you can request online or in-person courses and coaching if you need it. For people who work remotely full time look for learning opportunities that are taught at the company’s headquarters or your closest office. That way, you get training and face time with colleagues.
8. Wear Pants
Seriously, wear them. We’ve all heard the jokes that people who work from home spend their day in their PJs—or even worse, their underwear.
“Working in your pajamas may seem like fun for a couple of days, but you’ll soon find any productivity wanes,” says Joshua Duvall, researcher and author at Research Papers UK and Last Minute Writing. “Our bodies appreciate the comfiness of our bed wear, and consciously or unconsciously, our minds react to this comfortability by shutting down the practical parts of our brains.”
Without actually dressing up for work, you no longer have these moments to condition your brain into understanding when work ends and home life begins. Most importantly, this professional attitude forces us into a mode of productivity. It is nice to be comfortable, but comfort doesn’t necessarily mean productivity. In dressing for work, we are affirming to ourselves a commitment to actually do the work.
Our clothes are a visual reminder to ourselves and others of our intentions to get things done.
Resources: Forbes, LinkedIN, PCMag, Dice.com, Fentress Incorporated, FlexJobs, Tork USA, Research Papers UK, Last Minute Writing, Zapier