Updated: Jun 27, 2020
We are living unprecedented times due to the COVID-19. I don't believe anyone anticipated how quickly this pandemic was going to spread and how many people was going to be impacted. I have to admit, I didn't. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has changed the world, and people's lives.
Many companies are asking their employees to work from home whenever possible to encourage social distancing and reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
I am very grateful at work at a company that support workplace flexibility. It's part of our culture. People are used to work from home one or two days a week, even before COVID-19. I personally have taken advantage of that before, and agree with those that regularly telecommute with the fact that the days I work from home are very productive. I am able to minimize interruptions and distractions, I save the commute time to work and back home, and as a result I typically get a lot done.
Now, working from home for extended periods of time, as it will happen in the current environment, it might be a different story. It can be challenging for many people. We are use to the social interaction, walking to our colleagues desks to discuss topics, meeting face to face to solve problems and even grabbing lunch with peers to socialize. This can be especially challenging for those who are extroverts in nature.
Also, because schools are close those with smalls kids will be facing the additional challenge of trying to work and be productive while taking care of their little ones. This can also add additional stress and make it challenging to get things done.
Here are some tips when working for home that can help you increase your productivity and feel more in balance:
1. Establish and follow a consistent routine. It's important to get organized. Plan in advance your day. Establish a schedule you can regularly follow. Account for all your meetings, day to day work, projects and also family needs. To help your kids stay active, continue to learn and stay entertained and as a side effect help you stay focus and avoid distractions during the day, I also encourage you to establish a daily schedule and routine for them. Here is an example. I have some regular meetings throughout the day, so I am intentionally doing to plan my kid's activities so I can be free of distractions during those periods of time.
2. Be flexible and adapt your schedule. As much as you might want to keep your regular schedule, 8am - 5pm or however that looks like for you today, if you want to stay productive, especially if you have kids at home, you might need to shift your schedule. Maybe that looks like starting your day earlier to get an hour or two of quiet time before your kids wake up. Taking more breaks through the day to look after your kids; and maybe it also demands you spending a couple of hours at your computer after putting your kids to bed.
Another tip here is to tag team with your partner or other family members. Probably you are not the only adult staying home. I know it sounds like a lot of synchronizing so far, but here it comes: Leverage your partner or other adult family members at home and tag team. If someone has an important meeting, the other can take care of the kids, and vice-versa.
3. Set priorities for the day. This is a practice I do every day, even before COVID-19, and I recommend you give it a try, especially if you are now going to work from home, being out of your daily routine. Every day, the first thing I do when I get to the office is to write down in a post-it note the three things I want to accomplish that day. These become my non-negotiables for the day. I keep that post-it note in front of me all day to remind me of my priorities. It helps me stay focus on the most important things and be intention on how I used my time during the day. Learn more about this strategy along with other tips to stay focused and get things done here.
4. Leverage technology. One big advantage of living in the XXI century is the technology we have available at our fingertips. Think of all the tools you have available. Identify any challenge you might face in trying to get your job done now that you are working remotely for an extended period of time and think of what tools you can leverage to help you overcome those challenges. Remember your manager and peers are always resources you can leverage to figure out what tools are available or to recommend you the right ones to use to overcome your challenges and make your life easier.
5. Let others know how to reach out to you. If you are part of a team its important you talk about what is the best way to communicate with each other. Let your customers (external and internal) know what is the best way they can reach you while you are working remotely.
6. Have a designated work space. Find a space at home that you'll call your work space. Pick a place with good lighting, where you can work comfortably, a place where you can minimize distractions as much as possible and that simulates as much as possible your work space at the office. This helps in several ways: You will be able to keep all your work-related materials and tools in one place, away from kids. It will make it easier for you to transition from work to personal life easier.
It's also important to consider setting up a designated space for your kids based on the activities they will be doing throughout the day. If they are in school age you might want to consider a space for them to do homework or read vs a different place for them to play. Make sure you equip their space so they have everything they need and that it encourages them to stay there for the define block of time, that will help you also reduce your distractions. Of course, if you have small kids this can be a little more challenging.
7. Take breaks throughout the day. When we are at the office, we are constantly changing environments. From our desk or office to different conference or meeting rooms, or common spaces. When working from home you will find yourself "stuck" at one place. This can be more draining and make it more challenging to stay focused. Stand up and move around. Get outside (if possible and following the social distancing recommendations) to get some fresh air and vitamin D. Breaks don’t have to be long, 5 minutes in between meetings or work blocks of time can make a big difference. If you have kids home, try to align as much as possible your breaks with theirs so you can spend some quality family time and take care of your kids with the least disruption to both your schedule and theirs. It might take some time to synchronize, so stay flexible and adapt as you go.
8. Communicate, communicate and communicate. Not being able to talk to someone face to face means you will need to compensate with other types of communication. Don't rely only on email to communicate but make sure you use several methods of communication. Sometimes you might need to communicate several times the same message to ensure it has been received by the people you need to receive the message. To that point, it's also important that you check in with the recipients to ensure they received the message and they understood it the way to intended it. Allow them the opportunity to ask questions and clarify when needed. Be ok with the extra time you will need to put into it; it's totally worth it! We all work differently and it's important we adapt to the new way of working, interacting and communicating.
9. Arrange regular virtual meet ups with your team. One of the things you probably going to miss most when working from home, as I mentioned at the beginning of this article is the interactions with your colleagues. It's always a good idea to schedule regular touch points with your team. On one hand to coordinate, align on priorities and ensure things are not falling through the cracks but on the other hand to satisfy your need to social interaction. Leverage video call conferences when possible to be able to see each other. This will help on one hand, both with your individual productivity as well as your team’s productivity and on the other hand with everyone's need to socialize and interact with others.
10. Take care of yourself. Last but not least, it's important that you take care of yourself. Follow all the recommendations around COVID-19 regarding hygiene, and social distancing. Also, make sure you eat healthy and drinking water through the day. Since you are home you will tend to move less, so it's important you add some movement to your schedule. Moving your body for at least 30 minutes a day can help increase your level of energy, improve your mood and boost your immune system. Get enough and good quality sleep. Because your schedule will be more fluid, and it can be more challenging to separate your work and personal life, you might find yourself working till late at night. That is ok, and there will be days you need to do that, but make sure you are getting enough rest to recharge. Finally, is important that you also take care of your mental and emotional health. Stay positive, practice gratitude, stay in contact with family in friends (even if it's virtually), listen to music, read a book, invest some time in learning and personal growth and lean in into hobbies and personal projects. Distracting yourself with other things besides work is also important to feel in balance and recharge your energy and boost your mood.
Do you have any additional tips? Please share in the comments below!