COVID-19 restrictions mean many of us are working from home,presenting challenges to our usual routines that can be difficult to navigate. As an entrepreneur working from home for 15 years, I have learned some key strategies to ensure my days are focused, productive, and satisfying.
Before we discuss those strategies, it’s worth noting that organizations actually benefit from remote workers. According to a 2019 AirTasker study, telecommuters work 1.4 days more each month (16.8 days more every year) compared to on-site employees. The same study showed that remote workers average 29 minutes discussing non-work topics with co-workers versus 66 minutes for those in the office. And while 22% of on-site employees said their boss distracted them, only 15% of remote workers said the same. Other studies of productivity show that without the frequent interruptions characteristic of on-site work, remote workers accomplish more in the same amount of time (Bailey, 2016).
Over the course of my career, I’ve coached many managers who didn’t trust that people would actually accomplish anything at home. My response? “If that’s the case, it will show up very quickly in missed deadlines, incomplete projects, and customer complaints. If that happens, treat it like the performance issue it is”.
While employers can benefit from enhanced focus, productivity, and commitment from remote employees, work-life balances the most significant faced by such workers.
Here’s what I’ve learned over the years that keeps me productive, happy and balanced.
Keep the same office hours as you would if you were on-site
You can certainly adjust this over time when you feel you’ve got a good routine going, but I find that keeping my work hours in line with on-site hours ensures my productivity stays on track. If you usually begin work at 8:30, make sure you’re sitting at your home workstation at 8:30. Similarly, if you usually end at 5, leave your home workstation at 5. Make sure you schedule a designated lunch break and keep that at the same time every day as well.Alternatively…
Negotiate modified work hours with your supervisor
Every one of us has certain times of day when we’re more or less productive. Morning people like me happily start work at 6 a.m. while night people may love the freedom to begin work in the evening and into the wee hours. If you don’t have a customer service focused role where you have to be available during regular business hours, ask your supervisor if s/he would be open to redesigning your schedule. I have encouraged numerous supervisors to concentrate more on results versus having employees punch a figurative time clock; this is the ideal time to renegotiate your hours to suit your natural or family rhythms (especially if you have young children at home). Most supervisors are delighted with the result: enhanced productivity.
Establish a dedicated workstation
Ideally, dedicate a spare room as your home office; that way, you can close the door at 5 p.m. and create a physical barrier between you and your computer. Resist the temptation to make the dining room or kitchen table your workspace; not only does it expose you more directly to the attention of family members, you often have to move frequently to accommodate meals and it’s easy to lose or damage documents.
It’s definitely a little more challenging when you don’t have an extra room to spare. In that situation, try setting up a corner of your bedroom with a workstation. It doesn’t have to be a big area, but it will give you some time and space (with a door)to separate your work and personal activities.
Dress like you do when going to the office
This may seem like it doesn’t matter much, but I’ve discovered that dressing for work (even if your regular work attire is jeans) sends a signal to your brain that’s different from lounging in your pajamas. When working from home, every little thing that trains your brain to separate work and personal time is valuable, and staying in your house coat all day makes it feel okay to see what’s on Netflix instead of writing that critical report.
Ignore chores inside work hours
Aside from simple chores that take less than 5 minutes e.g. transferring laundry from washer to dryer, leave more involved chores for after work hours. Note: Don’t fool yourself by stringing together multiple 5-minute chores. Pretty soon, an hour will have gone by and you won’t have done any work!
Create a schedule for your children
As working with little ones underfoot is likely to continue for some time, the sooner you can teach your children that mom or dad has a work schedule, the easier it will be. When I first began working at home, my children were quite young and didn’t understand that I wasn’t available for unlimited play.So what can you do?
In the same way you’re keeping to your usual work schedule (unless you were able to negotiate flexible hours), create a daily schedule for them. Kids respond well to predictability; it gives them a sense of security, especially in times like these. Involve them in establishing a daily routine before posting it on the fridge or other common area. After a few days, they can take responsibility for checking the schedule themselves (age dependent) and get going on whatever they’re supposed to be doing. Designate academic time, creative time, break time, play time, etc. Don’t forget chore time. No matter your children’s age, you’re all stuck at home for the foreseeable future. Everyone needs to pitch in to make your space livable.
Applying these few simple tips can make the next few weeks workable and productive. While we are experiencing stressful and challenging times, it can help to focus on some of the benefits of working from home: a relief from commute times, the opportunity to develop new skills, and the chance to discover talents you never knew you had.
AirTasker, Retrieved March 19, 2020.
Bailey, C. (2016). The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time, Attention, and Energy Better. New York: Random House.
Top 3 Tips for Keeping Your Team Connected from Home
While technology allows us to keep in touch when working from home, it can be difficult to maintain a true sense of connection with our co-workers. Keep the following in mind when working remotely over the next few weeks and months.
Don’t Overdo Email
While you can communicate a lot of details via email, it’s also easy to misinterpret what and how people are saying things because you miss the non-verbal cues. It can also feel overwhelming when your inbox fills up with even more emails than usual.
Establish as Many Interactive Communication Channels as Possible
Besides informing colleagues of progress and tracking activities, you need to brainstorm idea, resolve issues, and celebrate successes (staying positive is critical for mental health and will become increasing so the longer this situation continues). However, many teams have had to make this technological shift overnight and are scrambling to set up the infrastructure. The good news is many platforms have free trial versions that you can use for teams – you can try them out and see what works best for your needs without incurring any costs. Besides Skype, Zoom and Webex, explore possibilities on Slack and Google Hangouts. A quick online search will reveal numerous possibilities with other platforms.
Schedule Regular Video Meetings and Clarify Your Purpose in all Communications
Employees are experiencing unprecedented levels of anxiety and unpredictability. Humans, by nature, respond well to routines and schedules because they offer a sense of security. Set up regular video meeting times, even if there isn’t much to discuss. People feel reassured by constant communications. At the same time, ensure you clarify the purpose of each interaction: is the meeting for updates, checking in on people’s mental health, planning, etc? Again, the more clarity you can give employees, even on simple things, the more they will feel they have some sense of control and security.