Tips & Tricks To Enable Work from Home Success
Working from home can be an adjustment in any scenario, but in the past few weeks many people have unexpectedly been asked to stay home to work to help slow down or prevent the spread of COVID19. In the past, many employees have had the occasional “Work from home days” during their normal week, but this is much different than making a forced full-time adjustment. A sudden shift to “work from home” and the range of adjustments that it entails can make it difficult to find a rhythm that works for you and your family. Compounding this adjustment is a lack of guidance if you don’t have other folks who are accustomed to working from home to provide guidance.
As someone who has worked almost exclusively from home for the past 15 years when I haven’t been on airplanes, I find the below tips helpful for the person working from home to make this temporary transition easier on you as a human. There are many other great articles on either how to be productive, or what the best technology to use might be while working from home. This article will avoid most of that territory. My goal is to help new remote workers avoid the burnout and frustration that can follow this workplace to home transition if it’s not managed well.
- Dedicate a space to work, and a space to carry on your regular day to day non-work life. If you’re fortunate enough to have a spare room in your home, then simply dedicate that room for work. If you have less room, it may just be a spot at your dinner table or at your counter. The important thing to do is to treat it as your workspace and limit your work life to this space. It also needs to be somewhere you can work comfortably. But not too comfy – the couch is not a good spot for work, nor is your bed or bedroom if you can avoid it.
- De-clutter your work space, this one seems fairly obvious, but in your new dedicated “workspace” you’ll want to treat it as a work only space, don’t leave your mail or bills in the area, avoid placing things that will distract you there
- Set ground rules for family interaction. Help your family learn to treat your workspace as work. This means not interrupting you when you are at your workspace by walking into it for family time. This can be quite difficult, especially when you have little ones around the house, but it’s very important.
About 4 years ago my wife’s company moved their office out of state and she started staying at home during the day. This meant a lot of distraction for me because she wasn’t used to be home and easily being able to walk over and talk to me any time she wanted. This led to me getting distracted and commonly frustrated and having lower productivity. We sat down and discussed what was happening and agreed on some things that would help me stay focused but still let her take advantage of the new proximity we shared during the day. One of the key things was if I was wearing a headset, she wouldn’t come into my office or try to communicate with me. This allowed me to maintain my focus better.
It’s really surprising that something as simple as mouthing a question to me while on a call could completely distract me, but once we figured this out, we were able to solve it. This is also very important to keep personal frustration between you and your family low during your “work” times as I’ve seen many people have problems with their family life shortly after transitioning to working from home
- Find a routine that works for you, most people wake up, shower, get dressed and leave for their commute. It’s tempting to stay in your pajamas and skip the shower and miss breakfast when working from home. If that works for you that’s perfectly okay to do. However, many experienced WFH pros need to maintain a regular routine. It helps them mentally prepare and separate work from home, even when they’re in the same place. Having a morning/evening routine can signal the beginning and ending of your workday and help you stay productive.
- Set Calendar Blocks for Lunch and Breaks, this is incredibly important, whether it’s a simple block on your calendar at lunch or a few Outlook reminders for a breaks . It’s very easy to blur the lines and keep working longer hours when you work from home. This will not only tire you out and drain your productivity, but can impact your family negatively. This can cause a lot of frustration both in your work and family life.
- Stand Up When You Can. It’s surprising how easy it is to stay seated all day. It can absolutely break your productivity and, even worse, make you more physically tired. Arrange boxes or phone books to raise your computer, or just work from a counter height table. Standing for even 15 or 30 minutes at a time it will help you with maintaining energy. Most people naturally leave their desk a few times a day at work, getting coffee or catching up with co-workers. You don’t have this time at home and it can become very easy to glue yourself to your seat for 10 hours a day
- Take Breaks for Physical Activity, Sometimes I get out of the habit of taking a walk with my dog during my morning or afternoon routine. I find that when that happens I’m quite honestly grumpier and easily agitated. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, find even a small block of time in your day and remove yourself from your “workspace”. Going outside can be great, but even if not outside, just step away and put your phone down too.
- Get a change of scenery, this one may be especially difficult right now with everything going on in the world, but it’s still very important to get out of your home to help your mind shift gears. I find it best to do this at the end of my workday to allow my mind to shift to home. often it’s a family walk to a nearby park, or just around the block. But it helps me not feel antsy the rest of the evening and helps with the mental separation of work and home now being in the same physical space
Work from home tools
- Use the tools you have, many tools like Microsoft Teams, Skype for Business and Zoom are widely used across many companies. If you normally work face to face with someone, it can help to turn on video when using those platforms to interact so you can feel more connected. Just note if your Audio and Video start to get choppy it’s best to turn off video so you can at least have a productive call on audio.
- If all your calls are always choppy it may be a good idea to move your “workspace “closer to your home wireless. Even better to plug a network cable in (if you have one).
- If you have a work provided headset, try to use that for the calls. If not, do what you can to use a headset instead of the speakers and mic in your laptop. Maybe borrow a gaming headset if you have a gamer in the house. It will prevent echo and let other people hear you better.
- Socialize with Co-workers when you can. Working remotely, especially under forced circumstances, like the situation we find ourselves in right now, can feel very isolating. I find even spending 5 minutes having a personal conversation on a non-work topic with someone at the beginning or end of a call helps me to not feel so isolated.
Work vs Home
- Avoid the urge to do chores, at least during the active workday. People tend to disappear to do laundry or clean up the kitchen and then miss commitments or delay work. This is one of the common things I see from people when first working from home. Although chores can be a really good use of time, make sure you’re not trying to do this while working. The distraction can make it hard to stay focused and be productive in calls. It also leads to working longer when you have blended your time between “work” and home.
- Turn off your Email and work-related alerts on your phone. This is important whether it’s full on DND on your phone, or just turning off IM apps or alerts on Outlook mobile
- Leave your work equipment at “work”. Avoid the temptation to carry your work laptop to the couch after dinner or to check your work messages before bed. It will only lead you down the rabbit hole that ends with not sleeping as well.
- Find quiet time before bed, many people already do this. For those who haven’t made it a habit yet, it’s a great practice when you’re working from home. Avoid your work messages and “work space” right before bed. It’s hard at first (at least it was and still is for me) but it’s worth it.
- Avoid the snacks in the kitchen. If you didn’t have snacks readily available at your desk or in your office, do your best to avoid them at home. Often, I eat when I’m bored. Drinking lots water or the “apple test” are good ideas to keep you from snacking more when you’re at home. Also finding healthy snacks so you can reward yourself for all the new discipline isn’t a bad idea
At the end of the day, figure out what works for you by trial and error. It does take a little getting used to. Remember, this is a temporary situation for many of us. However, you never know you just might end up liking the work from home situation better than going to work at an office.