Working from home — some people love it, other people hate it. Regardless of which camp you fall into, you’re likely spending an increased amount of time in the confines of your own home these days.
Even before the coronavirus was impacting our physical work environment, the number of telecommuters had been steadily ticking up. According to Global Workplace Analytics, telecommuting has grown 173% since 2005, with 4.7 million people now working at least part time from home.
Working from home during a global pandemic adds an increased amount of pressure and strain beyond typical remote work environments, and leaders should take this into consideration and adjust their expectations of employees and of themselves accordingly. While we know these recommendations might not be feasible for all, below are 10 tips for establishing an efficient, productive, and sustainable home office setup. Whether you’re in this situation temporarily or for the long haul, we hope this working from home advice will help you adjust and stay productive.
1. Set a schedule.
When you go into an office every day, you typically adhere to a routine with fairly consistent start and end times. Those lines are blurred when you work from home. No one is paying attention to your arrival or departure times, so there’s less accountability. For some, this may make it hard to stay on track. The challenge is compounded when you add in new responsibilities the coronavirus pandemic has introduced, such as homeschooling or grocery shopping for high-risk family members. For others who already maintain long hours to accommodate heavy workloads, the lack of a schedule can make it even harder to maintain work-life balance.
Before you establish a start time, think about your morning routine. Allow plenty of time for the things you do to get your day off to a good start, such as eating breakfast, walking the dog, or taking a shower. Consider your evening routine as well. Make sure you make time for wellness throughout your day. After discussing your proposed schedule with your family or roommates, share it with your colleagues so they’ll know when they can expect you to be responsive to questions and available for meetings.
2. Get dressed.
Even if you won’t see anyone else for the entire day besides your cat, it’s hard to feel productive psychologically in your pajamas. In the early days of telecommuting, staying in sweats might feel like a perk. But for many remote workers, this habit can cause a sense of sluggishness by the end of the workday. Even if you’ve accomplished a lot, it can feel like your work day never really started if you skip getting dressed.
Putting fresh clothes on can also help draw a line in your head between work and the rest of your life. You don’t have to pull out your 9-to-5 finest, but putting on something you haven’t slept in will make your day feel more successful in the end.
3. Stay connected.
Depending on your line of work, you may still feel connected through conference calls and virtual team meetings. But even if you’re independent and don’t join as many of those, try to find excuses to have regular, virtual check-ins with key colleagues. Consider starting your calls chatting with them about what’s going on in their lives or big projects they’re working on. This helps to make up for some of the water cooler conversations you miss out on when working remotely.
Keep in mind that during the stressful times we’re all experiencing due to the pandemic, you may need to be more flexible with yourself and with colleagues. Acknowledge that meetings may need to be cancelled or rescheduled on short notice, and work with your team to keep lines of communication open.
Watch our webinar, Building Resilience and Leadership in the Context of Crisis & Telework, and learn practical ways to enhance personal and team resilience and effectiveness during times of crisis.
4. Take a walk.
Chances are, working from home means a much more sedentary lifestyle than you’d otherwise lead. Especially if you’ve suddenly made the switch to working from home, the shift can be jarring. Taking a walk — whether it’s around your neighborhood, up and down your apartment building’s stairs, or even just around your backyard — can provide a much-needed break to clear your head, get your blood flowing, and to look at something other than a screen.
You might be able to take a work call while you walk, but even a 10-minute break to get some light exercise is worth it for your mental health and your overall productivity. Plus, if social distancing leaves you feeling isolated, even seeing other people from a distance can help you feel less alone.
5. Designate an official home office.
Just as you don’t want to roll out of bed and start working in your pajamas, it’s also not a great idea to roll over in bed and grab your laptop from your bedside table. Having an established workspace will help you maintain boundaries between home and work life.
While we’d all love a spacious home office with grand windows that let in plenty of natural light, space is a luxury — especially if you’re not the only one in your household working from home. Ideally, you want to position your “desk” in a low-traffic area with minimal distractions. Even a small table or tray in a closet can work. If you can spare the funds, an ergonomically designed chair might be worth the investment, as are storage solutions that allow you to keep your desk decluttered.
6. Limit distractions.
By far, one of the biggest challenges when it comes to telecommuting is finding ways to limit all of the distractions around you. With the current crisis, it’s likely that you’ll have to interrupt work for things that are normally not part of your routine. Acknowledge that you’re doing your best and that your team members are as well.
At the same time, having a set schedule and a designated workspace can help create and maintain work boundaries so you can limit unnecessary distractions.
7. Adjust the sound.
For some people, it’s too quiet at home. There’s no office buzz going on around them, and they miss it. For others, playing music — especially with headphones in — can help cut out the noise from family members or roommates who might also be working or schooling from home. Figure out what works for you, whether it’s quiet background noise from a playlist, your favorite band’s music channel, or even the sound of a noise machine or a TV in the next room.
8. Create house rules.
Many seasoned telecommuters have experienced a partner or roommate coming home from work and asking, “Why didn’t you clean up? You’ve been home all day!”
It’s easy to put this pressure on yourself, too. Maybe one of the benefits of working from home is that you can take small breaks to tackle things like laundry, but that shouldn’t be an expectation. You need to give yourself permission to focus solely on work when you’re working, otherwise you’ll never get anything done. Don’t feel guilty about putting off other things on your to-do list. This is where that schedule comes in handy.
9. Set team norms.
When teams are working remotely, check-in meetings are more important than ever. So is setting clear expectations with team norms. But before you send out a meeting invite, consider your colleagues’ schedules and preferences. Are they also working remotely, and if so, from what time zone? What added responsibilities have they recently taken on (such as homeschooling or caring for children or aging relatives, as is the case for many during the current coronavirus pandemic). What is their ideal teleconference platform? Will you use video or not? Nobody likes logging on and find everyone on camera when you’re still in your pajamas (again, get dressed each day!) or haven’t run a comb through your hair.
At the same time, video can help people feel connected and offers greater communication and focus. The key — especially if you and your colleagues are newly remote — is getting on the same page. Consider sharing this working from home advice list as a starting point for a conversation about shared expectations. For more tips, check out our best pactices for managing virtual teams and meetings.
10. Be patient.
In this time of uncertainty, it’s particularly easy to feel stressed out or overwhelmed. As much as possible, try to practice patience — with yourself, with your colleagues, your homeschooling children if applicable, and with anyone else you live with. Cultivating and expressing gratitude can make you a better leader, and it can also help you thrive in the face of change.
Even if your organization, routine, or other aspects of your life are upended or changing dramatically, making time for your wellness and react patiently is worth the time and effort. It will also help you deal with uncertainty and anxiety.
As you and some or all of your colleagues settle into life as telecommuters, remember that everyone’s needs are different. People are facing unique challenges and distractions you don’t always see on a video or conference call. Try to be flexible and understanding as you find your rhythm and dial into working from home. Even if this is only a temporary arrangement, you’ll be glad you did.
Ready to build on this working from home advice? Learn more about our Online Learning solutions, which provide actionable ways to grow your leadership skills virtual to equip you to address today’s complex and uncertain world.