The COVID-19 pandemic is causing disruption and uncertainty for people and businesses all over the world, and many companies have rolled out mandatory work-from-home policies. For many workers, this is a completely new experience – but it may well become the norm for the foreseeable future.
If your employer has unexpectedly shut down or you’re working from home for the first time, you may be finding it hard to get into a new routine that works for you. Here at Katie Roberts Career Consulting, many of our consultants are work-from-home veterans, and we know what it takes to remain productive. Here we share our top tips to help you adapt.
Tip 1: Create a dedicated space. Your work space doesn’t have to be a dedicated office, but it should be an area that mentally prepares you for work. That might be a separate room, a desk in a corner of the living room or a laptop at the kitchen table. Ideally, it should be a place that’s separate from where you relax. But if you’re productive with a laptop on the lounge, then go for it. You may have to improvise, and it might take some trial and error to figure out what’s best.
Tip 2: Set yourself up with the right tech. Hopefully your work has done this for you. As a minimum, you’ll probably need a laptop, a headset/microphone and a good internet connection, as well as the required apps to communicate with colleagues. Popular ones include Slack, WhatsApp, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Skype, Google Calendar and Google Hangouts. There are also plenty of online productivity tools out there that are designed to keep you productive, organised and accountable.
Tip 3: Get dressed. Working in your PJs from bed might be tempting but we don’t recommend it! While you can definitely embrace the opportunity to wear clothes that are more on the comfy side, getting dressed will help you get into the right mindset, and act as a signal that it’s time to start working.
Tip 4: Stick to a routine. Maintaining a regular routine of waking up, working, leisure time, exercise, TV-watching, going to bed etc. is even more important when you’re working from home and/or in isolation. Give yourself set working hours (the same as you do in the office) and use the time you spent commuting for exercise or spending with loved ones. This is important for your productivity and it’s also helpful for anyone who’s home with you, because they’ll know when they should leave you alone to work.
Tip 5: Ramp up your communication. When teams work remotely, it’s harder to maintain a sense of cohesion and collaboration. So be present on every call or video conference and respond to messages quickly. Schedule video meetings as often as you would schedule face-to-face meetings. If you’re a manager, over-communicate what’s expected and check in regularly to see if team members need support. Make sure they know they can call you to chat through any problems. For some teams, having a morning meeting where everyone shares their plans for the day can create a great sense of purpose.
In this unprecedented situation, no one knows how long they’ll be working from home, which can create new problems. Parents may need to balance work with childcare if schools close. This makes communication (and understanding) from managers a vital part of successful remote working.
Tip 6: Don’t be tempted to sneak off. Trust is one of the most important aspects of remote working. If you need to go somewhere outside of your normal break times, let your boss or teammates know, just like you would at the office. This helps keep you accountable and productive, and maintains a sense of teamwork.
Tip 7: Over-prepare for video meetings. Jump on the link a little early. If you leave it to the last minute, you will invariably experience some kind of technical issue that makes you late. You should also take a few minutes before the scheduled call to limit any distractions, check that your background is appropriate and make sure you have water/coffee/tea/snacks nearby if it’s going to be a lengthy one.
Tip 8: Embrace the solitude. Take advantage of this time alone to focus. Many people find they’re much more productive at home, away from the distractions an office brings – chatty co-workers, the kitchen, meetings, office politics, people in general! Even the commuter stress is eliminated. But be sure to find a balance – sometimes the lack of distractions means you can forget to take breaks. It can be helpful to set reminders to stretch or walk around every hour or so.
Tip 9: Don’t do the housework. If you’re going to try to do chores while you’re working from home, be realistic about what you can do. Taking out the garbage or checking the mail is a great chance for a quick break, but it’s probably not practical to try conquering the family laundry or vacuuming the entire house while you’re on a deadline. And try to avoid using housework as a procrastination method!
Tip 10: Produce results. It’s a common misconception that working from home is not the same as working in an office. Because in many ways it is. It’s normal to feel more relaxed when you’re at home, but if you don’t work, you won’t have a job. That means you need to be productive no matter where you are. The best way to prove your productivity is by producing results – the same results in the same time-frame that you’d produce in the office (assuming this is viable in your line of work).
Tip 11: Stay connected. Try to catch up with friends and family via Facetime or WhatsApp. It’s important for our mental health. You might take a walk (if it’s still ok) or do some exercise on the balcony or in the backyard. Work teams could maintain some ‘normal’ socialising by holding a virtual Friday afternoon drinks session, morning tea for someone’s birthday or a lunch via video conferencing programs such as Zoom. It might feel strange, but these are strange times. And it will add some fun to an otherwise difficult time and remind us that we’re all in this together. Read our recent article about self-care and how important it is for preventing burnout and improving job performance – it’s particularly relevant at this time.
Even with all these tips, the enforced and sudden nature of what’s happening right now may leave you feeling uneasy. These are stressful times, so go easy on yourself and take time to figure out what works best for you. The more effort you put into this, the easier you’ll find your remote working stint.
To find out more about how we can support people through uncertain times in their career, go to the Katie Roberts website.