As of mid April 2020, about 95% of Americans—or 306 million people—were placed under a stay-at-home order to stop the spread of the coronavirus.1 And we’re not the only ones. All across the world, political and business leaders are asking people to stay put. This means that, in a matter of days, we’ve been thrown into the largest work-from-home experiment in the history of the world!
But you know what’s exciting? Disruption is an opportunity for innovation. Human beings are incredibly adaptable, and we have wonderful technology and tools on our hands to figure this thing out.
It’s critical that you stay as productive as possible during this time—for your own career, for your company, and for our larger economy. You were created to contribute. Here are eight tips for working from home, whether you’ve been doing this for years or for just a few weeks.
1. Create a schedule.
No one really knows how long the coronavirus shutdown will last. For now, you need to think of this as your new normal and get into a regular routine. Wake up at the same time every morning, get dressed, show up, and work hard—just like you would when you go into the office. Don’t get caught without pants like this guy!
If you have kids, especially little ones, then writing and posting a physical schedule is a must. Look at the day (or week) ahead and plan out meetings, schoolwork, screen time for the kids and even chores that need to get done. Involve your kids in the planning process—it will really help them buy in and participate. Post the schedule on some poster board or on a whiteboard where everyone can see it.
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Also, make sure to power down at the end of the day. You don’t have a physical commute that separates you from the office, so create a ritual to help you disconnect—like walking the dog, going on a short drive, or working out.
2. Set clear boundaries with your family or roommates.
Unless you live alone, you’re sharing your home and your office with other people. If you’re not clear about your expectations and respectful of what everyone else needs, you’ll start to feel tension rise up! If you live with other adults, then you should be able to set clear expectations in just one or two conversations. But if you’re married or have kids, it’s a good idea to have a regular check-in to make sure you’re all on the same page.
Ask your roommates (or family) to be respectful when you’re digging into a project or on a conference call. Or put a “do not disturb” sign on your door when you need your kids to leave you alone. They’ll adapt! But like kids do, they’ll test the boundary, so you need to be prepared to enforce it.
Most schools have moved to online classes, and all of a sudden, you’ve found yourself in a position of having to homeschool and get your own job done! If you’re married, work with your spouse to help manage the kids and their workload.
3. Take your personality into account.
Some of you introverts are having the time of your life working from home, and some of the extroverts out there are panicking about not having human interaction for the foreseeable future. If this is a new thing for you, it’ll take some getting used to. Don’t feel guilty because your routine looks a little different from your coworker’s, or even your spouse’s.
Reflect on how it’s going and check in with yourself from time to time. Are you easily distracted? Do you need to move around and be active? Are you able to sit down and just knock out work hour after hour? Be patient with yourself as you settle into the rhythm. Everyone has an “off” day now and then, and that doesn’t change when you’re working remotely.
4. Understand what technology you’ll need.
Now’s the time to make friends with your IT department. You’ll probably run into a few snags as you figure out technology from home, and that’s okay. Ask your leader about the software you’ll need and make sure you’re able to access it. You don’t want to waste time at home because you don’t have the tools you need to get the job done.
If you have kids, you might need to limit their screen time or Wi-Fi use if you’re going to need a lot of bandwidth. For example, if you’re leading a video call, it’s okay to ask your teenager to pause that show they’re binging on Netflix.
5. Create a workspace.
Sorry, folks, but sitting in bed in your pajamas doesn’t qualify as a workspace.
Having a space for your home office will help you stay focused and get into work mode. It also helps you create a physical boundary to separate you from roommates or family. If you don’t have a home office, you might need to claim the dining room table or a desk in your bedroom. Make it personalized and keep it clean.
Settle in and get comfortable. Maybe you’re missing your standing desk at the office—so why not order an inexpensive computer stand to mimic that environment? Sitting on the couch hunched over your computer can lead to tech neck—poor posture from craning your neck over a phone or computer screen that causes tension, headaches and back problems. Take care of yourself by paying attention to your posture and taking breaks to stretch and walk around.
6. Step up the communication.
Your success as a remote worker boils down to one thing: your ability to communicate with your leader and team. And if you’re in leadership, then it’s even more critical for you to communicate well as you manage your team remotely. You don’t have the luxury of leaning over to ask your desk mate a question about a project. You have to actually pay attention to emails (i.e. read the entire thing!)
John Felkins, one of our Entreleadership business coaches, has some wonderful advice on how to stay in touch as you work from home:
- Clarify expectations.
At the same time, don’t let the digital communication overwhelm your productivity. Unless your position requires you to be on call, feel free to unplug from notifications when you need to focus. Just communicate to your teammates about when you’ll be available again.
7. Take breaks.
When you work remotely, it’s easy to blur the lines between life and work. Some people tend to work extra-long hours, and others might be tempted to slack off. Neither extreme is healthy. By scheduling breaks throughout your day, you give yourself something to look forward to (so you can stay focused and work hard now) or force yourself to slow down and rest.
Here are a few ideas on breaks:
- Take a lunch. Stop, power down your computer, eat, savor your food, and rest.
- Get outside. If possible, step outside and get some fresh air for 10 to 15 minutes a few times a day. Or work from your back porch. Why not soak up some vitamin D while you’re answering emails?
- Connect with someone. Disconnect from the digital world and actually have a conversation with a human being. Hug your kids. Ask your roommate how their day is going. If you live alone, call your friend or family member to chat.
- Read a book. Instead of watching TV, why not try reading a good book? It’s often the perfect mental break you need to return to your work feeling more creative.
- Exercise. Even if your gym is shut down and you can’t get outside, you can find thousands of online classes for an in-home workout.
8. Have some fun!
Let’s be honest: Working from home has its perks. You should enjoy them. For many of us, this is a season, and sooner or later we’ll return to meal prepping and morning commutes. Take advantage of the slower pace. Play with your dog. Have breakfast as a family. Set up a puzzle on your kitchen table that you can solve together. Or maybe it’s time to pick up that hobby you’ve always wanted to try.
Also, make sure to have fun with your coworkers. Since you’re not seeing each other nearly as often, it’s easy to feel isolated. Share fun pictures and updates from your life in addition to the “business as usual” communication. It will help you strengthen your relationships and feel unified.
The Best Perk of Working From Home
The number one advantage of working from home is that it allows you to develop self-discipline and perseverance. Sure, it offers a lot of freedom and flexibility. But at the end of the day, your character—not your environment—determines who you are as a person. How do you act when your manager isn’t around? How do you respond when your routine turns upside down?
Let’s rise to the challenge of remote work during this season of Covid-19. If we do this thing right, we’ll come out on the other side scrappier, more efficient and more creative.