Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies are suggesting – even requiring – that more employees work from home. Those in some areas, like the state of California, have no choice. That means a lot of us are dealing with an unusual challenge: working from home for the first time, full time.
Even if you have done it before, working from home because of the coronavirus might feel like a whole new world with new obstacles. It’s probably a sudden change. It might be for an extended period of time rather than a day here and there (and we’re not really sure how long it’ll last). It involves your whole company. And this era of social distancing leaves you unable to socialize in person outside of work.
Six tips to help you stay productive at home
If working at home is new to you, it can take some getting used to especially while you encounter new challenges that you might not have at the office.
Everyone works differently, but regardless of your personal style, here are some tips to facilitate adjusting to your new situation during the COVID-19 outbreak, getting your work done, and maintaining your mental well-being:
1. Set clearly defined work hours
You should be clear about when you’re working and when you’re not. You’ll get your best work done and be most ready to transition back to the office if you stick with your regular hours. Plus, if your role is collaborative, being on the same schedule as your coworkers makes everything much easier.
Ultimately, one of the biggest differences between working from home and working in the office is that you are in charge of your environment. This means holding yourself accountable, but also recognizing when enough is enough.
If you live with other people, this time separation is even more critical. Communicate with the people you live with to establish boundaries and cut down on distractions during the workday. Then when it is time to disconnect, give the people you care about your full attention. Try your best to leave work at the “office” and enjoy the rest of your day. Give yourself some time to recharge.
2. Establish a designated workspace
Working from home does not mean you can’t have an “office.” Rather than setting up in your room or on the couch – spaces typically associated with leisure time – dedicate a specific room or surface in your home to work.
If you are used to going into an office every day, the separation between work and home is physical. The goal now is to try to recreate this as much as possible. Some people have the option of utilizing an extra room in their home. But this is not the case for everyone. Whether it is in its own room or in another dedicated spot, your workspace should feel as separate from the rest of your home as possible.
You will want to create a consistent workspace. Make sure it is comfortable with a chair you can sit in for eight hours and a few decorations or things to inspire you. Plenty of natural light is also ideal.
Even if you do not usually spend a lot of time outdoors, losing the time you spend outdoors during your commute can start to weigh on you quickly. Try to slow or negate this feeling by welcoming natural light into your home workspace.
Entering your defined workspace will help put you in the right mindset to get down to work. On the flipside, leaving your workspace will also help you turn “off” at the end of the day and fully disengage.
That is why it is important not to spread yourself across your home – while it might seem great to be able to move from your desk to the couch to the bed, if you allow your laptop into your downtime space, it makes it harder to separate work from home life.
3. Get dressed
Consider a “dress for your day” policy. Of course, we do not encourage a “wear your pajamas all day” attitude, as this can lead to slower starts and less production overall. You do not need to dress as formally as you might for work, but the simple act of changing clothes signals to your brain that it is time to wake up and get things done.
These small acts are especially important at a time like this, when the breakdown of your everyday routines might make you feel cut off from your “normal” life and the “real world.” Waking up and taking care of your appearance help you feel like you’re taking care of yourself. So why not a “dress for your day” policy?
Here are some ideas:
- Find out if you will be in meetings requiring video display;
- Dress based on your commitments for the day;
- If presenting with video, dress as if you’re in the office; or
- Spending the day working on administrative tasks and internal discussions? Dress how you want, but make sure your clothing allows you to focus and work efficiently. Sometimes comfort leads to great productivity.
4. Get your technology in order
Working remote would be nearly impossible without technology. So make sure you have your laptop and charger. Bring home your mouse, keyboard, monitors, and other equipment as your employer permits and as you see appropriate. You will want anything that might make working on your laptop from home a little easier.
Then there is the software. Make sure you have the right applications to facilitate communication amongst you and your team, as well as clients. A lot of remote employees rely on technology like Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, GoToMeeting, or others.
And of course, you want to make sure all of this technology actually works from home. Check in with your supervisor or IT department to ensure that everything is working properly. This might entail making sure you can connect to your company VPN, access the necessary files, and more.
You will also need to make sure you have access to the internet. Many companies are implementing online video conferencing right now. This requires sufficient internet connectivity.
Also be aware of how others in the house are using the internet. Different streaming services, for example, may slow down your internet speeds and interfere with your work. This comes back to communicating with those in your home about your working hours, schedule, and expectations.
5. Set clear goals and communicate your progress
This is not necessarily about ‘proving’ you are home working. Rather it is about communicating with the people relying on your contributions to complete their own tasks.
Over communicate. Verbal language only makes up a small amount of how we communicate, so to compensate for the loss of reading body language, facial expressions and more, we have to over communicate with the tools available. This does not mean communicating when it is not necessary.
Instead, just be transparent and don’t assume others know your status, tasks and goals for the given day/week. We all appreciate real-time updates when we are waiting for someone else to finish a task. Give the same experience to your colleagues to increase efficiency and break down the limitations of working remotely.
Another idea is a short phone call. By jumping on the phone for 2-5 minutes, you can say a lot more than through Skype or text messages. Make the call quick and efficient. If you spend more time typing up your message and thinking through how to write it effectively, simply make a phone call. Some of your colleagues may prefer this type of communication to ensure there is no confusion or misunderstanding.
6. Take real breaks and try to fight cabin fever
Along with keeping a real schedule with defined hours, make sure you take real breaks during the day to make sure it stays manageable. This may mean physically standing up, stretching and drinking water. Maybe you flip through a magazine or social web page for a few minutes. Eat lunch and snacks away from your workspace, watch a show or read for fun.
The coronavirus outbreak presents very unique social challenges as well. In doing our part for society, we are confined to our home spaces without the chance for in-person socializing. Not only do we lose the casual social interactions we are used to having throughout the day in the office, but cabin fever is a real threat.
So talk to coworkers via text, on the phone or even FaceTime about casual topics like their weekend activities, their latest binge-watching sessions, or how they’re coping with being indoors. These little interactions can go a long way.
And if you can, get outside. Go for a walk around the neighborhood, play with your pets, take up a little gardening, or read your book outside. Research continues to demonstrate that spending time in nature lowers stress, helps you relax and clears your mind.
Disclaimer: This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to substitute for obtaining accounting, tax, or financial advice from a professional tax planner or financial planner. All information is provided “as is,” with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness or of the results obtained from the use of this information.