We live in an interesting time where businesses have suddenly been forced into a remote work model in order to stay profitable during the COVID-19 crisis. Because of this, many people have now been thrown into a work from home situation (whether it’s something they wanted or not).
I’ve worked from home on and off for the majority of the last decade. Along the way I’ve found some things that helped me be more successful and productive with this form of work (as well as some that didn’t). So I’d like to share with you some quick tips from my experience. I hope they help!
- Keep the same schedule that you always have. This seems counterintuitive. At first you’re looking forward to sleeping in longer now that you don’t have a commute, have to look decent in front of people, etc. You’d like to take that extra time and enjoy it as a perk of your newfound freedom. Don’t. Staying in the same rhythm has a passive psychological effect that will make you feel more productive and on top of things. And if you end up going back into the office eventually your schedule won’t be thrown completely off. Find productive ways to fill that extra time, or snuggle with the kids a little extra before starting the day.
- Wear real clothes. Speaking of looking decent, continue to do that even if no one will see you. When I first started doing WFH I rocked the jogging pants and Crocs like no one’s business. I was at home and I was going to be comfortable. But it doesn’t take long to start feeling like a slob. After getting up on schedule like mentioned above, clean yourself up and put on clothes you’d be proud to be seen in. That doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit, but leave the yoga pants in the drawer. Just making yourself look presentable makes you feel ready for the day and its challenges. It also saves some embarrassment if you need to jump on a video call.
- Take breaks. WFH can strangely lead to you working too much. Without John the Jokester to derail your train of thought for an hour, you plow right through your morning assignments and realize four hours have passed. It’s lunch time and you never went to the bathroom, much less had a snack. Build in regular breaks to your routine. Your body and brain will thank you. I also find it helpful to stretch and/or do some light exercise during these times.
- Be ergonomic. Even though you could totally work from your couch all day, your body will thank you again if you don’t. Find a desk, sitting or standing, at which you can work in an ergonomic style. Take advantage of your ability to work in unique places where there is sunlight, etc, but save your neck by not craning it downwards at your laptop screen with your feet propped up.
- Have a dedicated space. This will be more difficult for some than others depending on the layout of your home and how many people you share it with. But as much as possible, find a place to dedicate to work. Just like with clothes and schedule, this has a subtle mental effect. When you’re there you’re in work mode, and when you leave it’s easier to disengage from that. Make sure up front that your family or roommates know and agree to this as well. Having them respect your workspace will make you all happier in the long run as you will be more productive and easier to get along with.
- Stop when work stops. When working from home there isn’t a natural stopping point where you see all of your colleagues leaving for the day and you all have the usual end-of-day routine together. It’s also easy to remember at 8pm that one thing you forgot and just grab your laptop to knock it out quickly. Resist the urge. Very quickly the lines between work and home blur and you become discontent, feeling like both work and home are being cheated. Give work your all during work hours, and then give yourself and your family your full attention after 5pm.
- Just because your kitchen is down the hall doesn’t mean you should visit it frequently. It’s far too easy to tank up on snacks when you’re home. After all, you literally picked the food selection and it’s right there. Maintain self control, both your mind and body will feel better. Your body because of the fewer calories circulating through it and your mind because you’re being disciplined even in the midst of temptation.
- Recruit your family as your team. It can seem daunting at first to try and be productive with your family around, especially now with schools also being closed at the same time. But we homeschool our children while I work here and have been very successful with it. The key is to get everyone onboard as teammates. Be intentional about talking to them of the importance your work has, both for you and for them. It can seem to them like it’s playtime since you’re home, but work still has to get done. My wife and kids have been incredible at respecting my space, respecting my time, and doing everything they can to set me up for success. This is crucial, and I couldn’t do it without them. She created a green/yellow/red sign on my door so that they know whether I’m available or not. This allows them to not feel like I’m locked away but still be aware of when I need to not be disturbed.
- Communicate proactively, and over communicate. You will quickly find that it is easy to get out of sync with others or to feel underrepresented. It’s just the nature of physical separation. You can’t yell over the cube wall to ask a quick question, and your boss doesn’t walk in the room as you’re doing something awesome. Make sure you’re communicating proactively when you have a need or successes to report. Don’t let this be the time when you become a person of few words. Refrain from blowing them up with text every few moments, but when you do need to bring something up make sure you’re being proactive and descriptive. There is a gulf left by the lack of proximity and body language, or even voice tone. Be sure that you’re being heard and that the message you’re intending to communicate is the one they’re hearing. Also, with everyone being in their own silos, hours can go by without realizing you haven’t really interacted with others. If you’re more of an extroverted person this can begin to make you feel very unhappy. Utilize the great technology that we have available today for both chat and video conference options. Don’t wait until there is a specific work need, reach out to your friends and colleagues just to be social.
- Have fun with it. Now that I’ve gotten all of the serious warnings out of the way, I’ll hang an umbrella over it all to enjoy yourself. Keep in mind all that I’ve said above, but also don’t forget to enjoy the benefits that this unique situation brings you. Take those breaks and play with your kids. Have your favorite coffee instead of the cheap stuff served at the office. Sit in sunlight when you’d normally be in a dungeon. Spend extra time in the morning and afternoon with the ones you love instead of being on the road alone. Being around them more has a profound way of reminding you what you’re doing all of this work for anyway.