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Tips for Working from Home

March 14, 2020
Due to the Coronavirus, more Americans will start working from home instead of going into the office. Here are 12 strategies to smooth the transition.

It is a Friday night.  I’m still wearing the same sweatpants I slept in yesterday and probably shouldn’t admit that I am starting to smell myself.  The dinner sitting next to me is cold and has long been forgotten.  I haven’t been outside at all today and I’ve managed to get in a total of 173 steps.  On the bright side, the work I sent to my boss was stellar! 

Contrary to what many people think, working from home is not always a holiday.  It requires being intentional and self-disciplined every single day.  As concerns about the Coronavirus disease grow, more and more companies are asking their employees to work from home.  While I’ve had the ability to work from home for many years, many other companies, such as utilities, still require their workers to keep traditional office hours.  I’ve compiled some of my best work from home tips to help you stay productive and sane during this unprecedented time.  The tips I give in this article are tricks I’ve picked up over many years, but as evidenced in the prior paragraph, I don’t pretend to be perfect.  The truth is that we are all just doing our best.

1. Designate a Workspace.
We all have a version of the coworker who has the barking dogs, kids or traffic in the background of every single conference call.  Do you wonder how focused they really are?  Well, let me assure you that their boss is also wondering the same thing.  When working remotely, it is essential to have a designated and quiet place to work.  Additionally, the ability to close the door to your workspace is very important, especially if other family members are also at home due to Coronavirus closures.  Having a designated workspace allows us to stay organized and helps to maintain both physical and mental boundaries (more on that to come). 

2. Posture Matters.
Many people choose to invest in a good office chair for their workspace.  If your most productive place to work is on the living room couch with a laptop, then I say go for it!  However, do remember the importance of good posture.  If you start slouching all day for weeks at a time, you are really going to pay for it with back and neck problems.

3. Keep Consistent Working Hours.
Working from home is just that, and it involves working.  While many companies are making allowances due to employee health concerns, they are still relying on their employees to get their jobs done.  It is important to set a consistent work schedule for yourself and stick to it every day.  I even put my dogs in their kennels during the workday, just as if I was going to an office.  If you have a doctor’s appointment or other obligation during the workday, officially take time off and notify your co-workers about your availability.  If you start sleeping in, doing the laundry, running errands and ditching work early for margaritas, I promise your coworkers will notice and the quality of your work really will suffer.  This brings me to my next point.

4. Train Your Family & Friends.
It won’t be long before people start asking you to handle all kinds of things for them because you are home all day.  You must be consistent with your working hours and in reminding those around you that “working from home” isn’t a snow day.  You are in fact working and unavailable to do anything else. This can be especially hard for kids to understand when they see you at home.  Consistency is the key here and everyone will get the message after you stand your ground a few times.  I also recommend not answering personal phone calls, text messages or social media messages while you are working. 

5. Schedule Breaks  
It is just as easy to get overly focused when working from home as it is to get distracted.  Being productive and in the zone is all good until you suddenly realize that it is 3 p.m. and you haven’t eaten all day.  Extreme focus can also contribute to frustration, irritability and employee burnout.  Make sure to take a couple of breaks during the day and eat lunch.  Set an alarm as a reminder if you must.  Use these break times to return those personal phone calls or run an errand, just like you would in an office environment.  Stretching, going outside or even taking a small walk during scheduled breaks can all be helpful.

6. Turn It Off.
Just as setting consistent office hours will keep you from being distracted by the outside world, they will also help you maintain the boundaries of your personal life.  It is equally important to be conscious about turning work off.  Having a designated space and working hours will go a long way with this too.  Knowing that you worked productively will make you more comfortable turning off the work at the end of the day, rather than feeling guilty for that undisclosed mid-afternoon errand and then working late at night to overcompensate.

7. Be Responsive.
The trade-off to the flexibility of working from home is that you must be extremely responsive.  Your coworkers or clients will not have any visual queues that you are tied up on the phone, in a meeting or working toward an impending deadline and it is not acceptable to ghost them for days at a time.  During business hours, you must respond to both e-mails and phone calls as soon as possible, even if it just to let them know you will get back to them soon.

8. Communicate.
Be mindful that the opportunities for natural conversation that occur within the office environment doesn’t just automatically happen when you work from home.  The recommendation here is to over-communicate.  Do feel free to just call someone up to pick their brain or to share an idea so that collaboration can still happen. Or, set up a recurring weekly touchpoint in advance, just to keep the lines of communication open.  I also recommend providing a report on projects and their status to your boss at the end of each week.

My team is located all over the country and even internationally; however, we communicate and collaborate frequently thanks to many different types of technology.  Aside from the obvious, like phone and email, I also use video conference platforms quite frequently.  I personally prefer platforms that also allow the sharing of screens, documents and chat and have had good luck with Sykpe, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and UberConference. 

Managing a remote team is another topic entirely, and likely an article that I will take on soon.

9. Stay Social
As you plan your week, it is important to intentionally schedule in some social interaction as well.  This recommendation may be particularly difficult given the current concerns about Coronavirus.  I usually plan a some in-person business meetings, lunches, coffee or training to help fill these needs professionally.  You’ll also want to do this, so you don’t overtax those in your immediate household with your need to be social.  Because you haven’t talked to a single living soul the entire day, you may be immediately inclined to latch onto your spouse or kids the minute they walk in the door.  Try to remember that at the same time you are craving social interaction, they are also needing some time to decompress from being around a lot of people all day.  It may help to intentionally schedule in some “buffer” time for when everyone gets home.  Then, everyone can get their needs met before being expected to socialize.  I usually just continue to work for another 30 minutes to an hour once everyone gets home, which also gives them some time to relax and decompress. 

10. Exercise.
When you are literally able to roll out of bed, make a cup of coffee and immediately start working, it is easy to get in less than 1,000 steps in an entire day.  You must be intentional about exercise.  Make sure to schedule some time to be physically active.  Going to a gym can help with social interaction too.  For others, exercise might help them take that necessary break during the workday.

11. Shower Every Day. 
One of my favorite perks to working from home is that you can hang out in your pajamas or yoga pants all day long.  My most pragmatic tip for working from home is to make sure you shower every single day. Trust me, it can get bad very quickly!

12. Don’t Waste This Opportunity.
When I first began working from home, I felt like I suddenly had a lot more time in the day because I didn’t have to spend time getting ready every morning and commuting to the office.  I decided to use that time to go back to school and work on a Ph.D., which had always been a personal goal of mine.  I would encourage you to be very intentional about how you are using your newfound time.  Don’t fall prey to mindless time sucks like social media or television.  If there is a silver lining to this Coronavirus situation, I think this is it.  Yes, it is difficult and unprecedented, but in our busy society we also very rarely receive the gift of time.  Perhaps you will use this time for professional development, getting healthy or reconnecting with your family.  Whatever it is that you do, be sure you don’t waste this time.  

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