12 Tips for Working From Home in the Midst of COVID-19

I recently wrote this for our employee blog where I work but thought it would be helpful to share here.

To decrease the rapid spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, many conferences and gatherings have been canceled and some employers are encouraging (or requiring) their workforce to work from home for a while. If you’re new to working from home for more than one day at a time, you’ll need to create some habits and routines to set yourself up for success.  

Working from home can create some unique challenges, which means you’ll have to figure out things like when to work, where to work, how to work with the kids around and how to create boundaries between work and personal life. But, 70% of American workers can’t work from home even if they wanted to, so let’s be grateful that we even have a job that we get to keep during this pandemic. 

Here are 12 tips for being the most productive during your run with work-from-home life. 

Keep a Dedicated Work Space

In an ideal world, you would have not only a dedicated home office, but also two computer screens, wireless printing, and a dedicated work phone. But not everyone has these things. Instead, dedicate a small area in your home for only work use. It can be as simple as a small desk or table in the corner of a room.  It doesn’t have to be anything cute or fancy. Even a TV tray table would do.

Set Ground Rules 

Set ground rules with other people in your home when you work. Set clear expectations with your spouse as to when you’ll be working and when you’ll need their help. If you have children, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during your designated work time. 

For example, Jill Duffy, from PC Magazine, says that “just because you’re home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn’t mean other family members should assume you will always do it. If that’s how you choose to divide up the domestic labor, that’s fine, but if you simply take it all on by default because you’re home, you may feel taken advantage of, and your productivity may suffer.”

Obviously, working from home with older kids will likely be easier. So, if you have littles, check out this article from Parents Magazine on how to work from home while parenting under quarantine.

Get Out of Your PJs

If you’re new to working from home, you’re likely thinking “Working from my PJs every day is AMAZING!” But, after you do it for a while, you’ll notice that what you wear starts to affect your thinking and therefore your mood. Shower and dress like you would on at least a casual Friday. You’ll notice a definite change in your mood.

Make Your To-Do List Realistic

Just as it happens when you’re in the office, some days you will be on fire, knocking out tasks like a boss. Other days will feel like you just boarded the struggle bus. “Acknowledge you may get less done than you’d like. Working, while also keeping small humans alive, is a pretty big task,” Israelsen-Hartley said.

Nurture Remote Friendships

Loneliness, disconnect, and isolation are common problems in work-from-home life, especially for extroverts. This is even more so when you’re having to practice social distancing during a pandemic. Find virtual ways to socialize…text, call, video chat, messaging and email can all help. Getting some face time in, even if virtually, can be really good for the soul.   

Be Upfront with Others

If there’s a chance of a potentially embarrassing distraction, such as a dog barking or a young child wandering around in his/her underwear during a video call, it’s best to tell people up front that you’re working from home. That way, when it does happen (and it will) it’s not as big of a deal. 

Take PTO When You’re Not Working

When you’re not well, take the sick time you need. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s best to rest and get better so that you can be your most productive self in the long term. Also, if you have some personal obligation that day or your toddler is having one of THOSE days that prevents you from getting any work done, just take PTO. Work will be one less thing you have to worry about. That’s what PTO is for anyway…it’s meant to be used. 

Use Your Extra Time to Catch Up

Because you don’t have the usual office interruptions, you’ll likely find yourself with a little more time. Take that opportunity to get caught up on those tasks that you usually push off to the wayside. 

Over Communicate

Working remotely requires you to over-communicate. Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. Talk to your boss about how often they would like you to update them on what they’re working on. When you finish a project or important task, say so. Over communicating doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write a five-paragraph essay to explain your every move. It can be quick and simple. If you have the option to use chat (i.e. Google Hangouts) instead of email, even better. 

Keep Tabs on Your Work Hours

This is for the sake of both you and your employer. Because work hours so easily bleed into family time at home, it’s easy to lose track of how much you’re actually working. It’s important to set clear boundaries as to when you’re working and when you’re not, and try to keep those two worlds as separate as possible. 

Keep a Set Schedule

Have a clear start and end time to your workday. Set a schedule, and stick to it…as much as possible. Having clear guidelines for when you work and when to call it a day helps maintain a work-life balance. With that being said, one of the benefits of working from home is flexibility, and sometimes you need to extend your day or start early to accommodate other things. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning to make up for it.

It’s also important to set hours that correspond with your energy levels, as much as possible. If you’re a morning person, try working early (especially if the kids are sleeping). Also, get the things done that require the most brainpower first. Keep the emails and administrative stuff for when your brain isn’t at its peak performance, like after lunch when you hit that wall. 

Step Away from Your Work Area

It’s easy to get in the zone while you’re working from home, particularly if you have no interruptions. It also makes it more likely that you’ll realize at 3 p.m. that you’ve been hunched over your desk for five hours, which isn’t good for your spine or your health. 

So, it’s important to make a point to step away from your work area throughout the day. 

If you’re brainstorming or talking on the phone, maybe go walk around or sit outside. Your body needs to move, and fresh air and sunlight will always do your body and soul some good. 

Also, make sure you’re taking breaks during the day just as you would in the office…including lunch!

Above all else, figure out what works best for YOU. Sometimes the answer comes easily, but other times you might need some inspiration from other people who are in the same boat. Find out what your co-workers are doing that is working for them or ask your boss for ideas or help if you’re struggling with this new work environment. 

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