In the wake of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, there’s a good chance you have been assigned to work from home. If you’re not used to performing your job remotely, it can seem a daunting proposition. Blocking distractions, staying motivated, maintaining lines of communication, even knowing when to knock off for the day are all real challenges for work-from-home neophytes. Fortunately, a significant portion of the employment universe has blazed a trail through the remote-work wilderness. Freelancers, contractors, consultants, and other contingent workers know how to deal with the hurdles associated with non-traditional work. You can learn from their processes, tricks, and hacks that help them take advantage of all the benefits working from home offers.
As a traditional employee, you probably work a set schedule. It’s no different during these extraordinary times. Keeping to your 8-to-5 workday is important so you can synchronize your duties with those of your coworkers and teammates. Sticking to the work routine also minimizes disruptions to your home life and circadian rhythms.
Try to keep things as normal as possible. Do not succumb to the temptation and home-worker stereotype by working in last night’s sweats and T-shirt. Shower and get dressed, signaling to yourself that this is just another day at the (home) office. You might get away with wearing jeans, but you should be business presentable from the waist up – more and more work-from-home assignments include videoconferencing. If your usual workday starts with a long commute, forcing you to wake early, keep getting up at the same time. You can use the additional time to send personal emails, watch the news, meditate, listen to some tunes, or anything else that helps you transition into work mode.
Create a Workspace
If you can work in an actual home office or spare bedroom, the physical separation from chores, pets, roommates, and other distractions can be enough to shift your focus to the job at hand. If you’re not as fortunate, you should carve out workspace wherever you can find it: a large closet, dining room table, or even just a dedicated “work chair” in the family room. As long as it’s quiet, allows for good lighting, and has electrical outlets for your computer and phone charger, it doesn’t have to be fancy. Make it clear to your family that when you’re in your workspace you’re not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency.
Make use of technology to make your workday easier. If there’s time, save your work to a memory stick or upload it to the cloud so you can access it anytime and from any device. Make sure you have a powerful internet connection and plenty of bandwidth, as well as videoconferencing capabilities. Download Skype or another video conference app, and a project management suite such as Asana.
Don’t Overdo It
Before COVID-19 struck, a day at the office included much more that strict adherence to work tasks. The same should be true even though the virus forces you to work from home. Taking breaks to socialize with coworkers, take in some fresh air, stretch your muscles, and rest your eyes will break the monotony. Take a walk, grab a cup of coffee, fix a nice lunch. Time away from the computer will recharge your batteries and prepare you for another round of productivity.
You are doing no one any favors when you skip your breaks. You won’t convince your boss that you are indispensable, nor will you get that much more done by squeezing 8 ½ hours of work into an eight-hour day. In fact, overwork makes you more susceptible to mistakes that could cost your company time and money and put you in a bad light. If you find it hard to get away, set your cell phone’s timer to go off every 60 or 90 minutes to remind yourself to step away from the laptop.
Communicate with Your Team
COVID-19 puts the kibosh on face-to-face communication, so finding a workable alternative is a primary concern during this period of social distancing. Communication is, of course, essential in any working relationship. Establish primary and backup modes of communication with your colleagues and members of any committees and project development teams on which you serve. Instant messaging via cell phone may work best to keep everyone informed when a milestone is achieved and the next project phase begins. On the other hand, the team may prefer daily video chats to communicate individual assignments and discuss problems.
Establish work from home communication “rules,” including overall objectives and interim goals, individual responsibilities, deadlines, hierarchies, etc. Team leaders should make it clear when their direction should be sought, and when teammates can work independently. As a manager you should insist your work from home team members communicate their weekly accomplishments and upcoming tasks. Do not force them to justify their methods or work habits but make certain they have the resources they need to remain productive.
Balance Work and Life
Work/life balance usually refers to turning off the working you in order to devote attention to your family, your friends, your home, and your psychological wellbeing. While it is important to live life and enjoy your non-work time, it is also important to give total effort during working hours.
As you work from home during the COVID-19 quarantine, you’re probably sharing the space with your spouse and children, your parents, or a roommate or three. Temptations abound. Of course, you wouldn’t ignore your email inbox to sit in on an all-day poker game or binge watch a season of Better Call Saul. But you might want to mediate a family disagreement or answer a call from your long-winded sister in law. Don’t do it. At the beginning of your work from home stint, explain to everyone that you are still at work, even though you’re not physically there. When your office door is closed or you’re sitting in your work chair, no one may interrupt. Let other occupants know when you’re making an important call so they can be courteous and keep the noise level down.
Call It a Day
There’s nothing wrong with coming to work early or leaving late. A pressing deadline, last-minute changes, and a host of other reasons can justify waking up with the chickens and burning the midnight oil. The same is true when working from home, but it is easy to convince yourself to work extra hours from home just because the computer is staring you in the face, and you’re really not doing anything else important. If it has been a routine workday, force yourself to knockoff at your normal quitting time. File your papers, shut down the computer, and begin fading back into civilian life. Give yourself a few minutes to fully transform into spouse or parent mode and enjoy the rest of your evening. If tomorrow’s another workday, get plenty of sleep so you’re refreshed and ready to do it all over again.
If it’s Friday and no deadline looms, take the weekend off. Don’t even think about logging into the project management app, proofreading that report one more time, or doing anything related to the job. A couple days off lets your subconscious work on any problems and stimulates the creative juices flowing for the new week.
Navigating the current ordeal with successful work from home strategies could set the stage for a more permanent arrangement. Demonstrating that you are equipped technologically, psychologically, and professionally will show your firm that work from home can work. You may find, after the Coronavirus crisis passes, that working from home suits your lifestyle.