Working remotely has been on the uptick in the United States, well before the coronavirus pandemic forced employees from every sector and city to turn their homes into temporary offices. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home tripled during the past 15 years. Despite this growing movement, many people still find themselves unsure of how to work from home effectively as COVID-19 forces them to work from their kitchen tables and guest bedrooms, all while kids, pets, other working family members and the chaos of life echoes in the background.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach, these 10 working from home tips will make the transition more manageable if you’ve never worked remotely or have done so sparingly.
1. Create a workspace that best fits your needs. If possible, find a space in your home that’s devoted to your work where you don’t have to set up or put away everything each day. Craft an area in your home where you can create boundaries for starting and ending your day. This space might be a guest bedroom with a desk, a quiet corner in the house or even a room entirely dedicated to your office. Avoid places like the dining room table or kitchen counter that serve dual purposes and where family members tend to gather.
2. Establish a routine that resembles your office days.
Wake up at the same time and get dressed and ready each day. Carve out time for lunch in your schedule or take a break to meet with people virtually when you would have typically had scheduled meetings. When it comes to a “working from home dress code,” causal and comfortable is fine, just keep a consistent routine. That means getting out of your PJs! If you’re on Zoom, FaceTime, hangouts or other visual platforms where you’ll see colleagues and clients, dressing the part is nice, but give yourself and your team permission, where appropriate, to wear comfortable clothing, especially during this time.
3. Craft your working hours based on your personal productivity.
Are you at your best early in the morning, or are you better during the middle of the day or evenings? We each have different body rhythms that are now being interrupted by a new normal. Talk with your employer to discuss your needs during this time and how to work from home effectively. Is it possible for you to work at 5 a.m. because you have young children and can focus best when the house is quiet for 2.5 hours? Can you prepare that report at 10 p.m. when you have a second wind and still have it ready for the morning meeting? This new reality won’t last forever. It calls for flexing to the needs of your family and your responsibilities while considering yourself, too.
4. Give others at home a “no interruptions” signal.
Help others who are at home while you’re working, especially your kids, know when they can and cannot interrupt you. A great way to do this is to choose something you can wear that is visible from a distance that alerts them when you shouldn’t be disturbed (like when you’re on a conference call, video chat or working on a critical deadline). A red hat, a funky necklace, a scarf around your neck — get creative! Be sure to wear the item you choose, even when you reheat your coffee or take a bathroom break. Once you’re up and out of your office area, it’s natural for others to start asking you questions or trying to engage you. This can take you off track if you’re constructing an email in your head or thinking about the next 10 things you need to do.
If you have young kids at home, have them make you a colorful paper chain from construction paper. Wear it when you’re working, and take it off when things are more relaxed. Consider removing a ring every hour as a visual cue for how much longer until you have time for a break with them.
5. Hold a daily team meeting.
If you’re managing remote teams or employees, hold an open conversation with your teammates each morning to hear the top three needs each individual has. A 30-minute call at the beginning of each day can help with communication and camaraderie. Be flexible, given that various team members may be caring for children or an elderly family member. Listen to each other with care and concern, as your most prized possession is your willingness to be flexible with yourself and others.
6. Schedule your breaks.
Even when there’s no one depending on you in your house, set your phone timer for every 60 to 75 minutes to get up, stretch, move, breathe and just break away. When you return to your desk after a few minutes, take an additional two minutes to close your eyes, relax your body, take deep breaths and simply concentrate on feeling your breath move in and out of your body. Thoughts come and go — let them, and go back to feeling and hearing your breath. With your eyes open, you’ll feel refreshed, calm and more focused.
7. Talk and walk.
To integrate extra movement into your day, consider walking while talking with coworkers or participating on conference calls. Don’t feel chained to your desk. Move! Are you having calls with team members that you can take outside? Grab a pad and pen and sit on your patio or somewhere in nature. Get some Vitamin D!
8. Remove social media and news notifications from your toolbar.
While staying up-to-date with the world around us is critical, consider only looking at your social media or news outlets once in the morning, at lunch and after you finish for the day. Doing so more than that, unless it is a part of your job responsibilities, can be a time suck. Music can provide white noise and make you feel as though you’re not isolated in a quiet home.
9. Go easy on yourself as you adapt to a new routine.
Nothing is written in stone, and what works for one person may not work for you. Test tactics, see what works or doesn’t work, tweak your arrangement, adapt and repeat until you figure out how to work from home effectively.
10. Remember, others are listening.
Finally, in this unchartered time we find ourselves in where children and other family members are at home while we’re working, be aware of your choice of words, intonation and facial and body expressions. If you have children in the house, remember that they are always listening, even when we think they’re out of earshot or absorbed in an activity. They’re looking to you for safety, comfort and reassurance during uncertain times. Be courageous and carefully find moments when you can talk with yourself, other adults and coworkers about the current situation. We all need each other more than ever.
NLC trainer Ellen Nastir, M.Ed., PCC, BCC, CPCC, is a Certified Professional Co-active Coach with advanced training in organization and relationship systems coaching, tension and change management, appreciation at work, and most currently obtaining certification in positive psychology for the workplace. She received her coach training and certification from The Coaches Training Institute, the first to be recognized by The International Coach Federation.
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