The outbreak of COVID-19 has more people working from home than ever. If you're new to working remotely, these tips might help you get organized and provide a guideline on how to plan your days. As our working culture shifts over the coming years keep this guide handy.
Set a schedule
Set a schedule and follow it…most of the time. One benefit of working from home is the flexibility it provides - so this may mean starting earlier one day to attend a call or putting in extra hours another day to meet a deadline. Many people are taking care of other family members or assisting their kids with online school, so it is important to consider these aspects when setting the schedule. If there’s a time when you are not as available as usual due to anything like this, make sure you communicate with your team and have an agreement from your manager.
Having a consistent schedule helps your coworkers to know when to find you and when you might not be available. Just as if you were going to the office, make sure to communicate if you need to step away to run an errand for a longer time.
In your schedule, also consider breaks and lunchtime. When working from home, it is easy to forget about them or rush through your meal to get back at the computer. While in some cases, this might be necessary, breaks help you regain focus and maintain a work-life balance. Without the camaraderie of coworkers, if you live with someone else at home, it might be a good idea to schedule lunchtime at the same time. The silver lining for many families, under the current situation, is the flexibility to share more meals.
Set up a place where you’ll work
The pandemic has made people think creatively in terms of home layout and how spaces are utilized. While some may be lucky in having a dedicated space for an office, some are not, and now with kids home as well, the available space might need to be shared.
Depending on how you work and the type of work you do, there will be different preferences for how to set up the working space. Consider surrounding yourself with things that make you happy such as plants, pictures, and music. And make sure the setup you define is an area that allows you to focus and avoid as many distractions as possible.
While having a defined working space is a good measure to ensure you go into work mode the moment you sit down, now is a time where experimentation and flexibility are needed, especially if you’re sharing the space with other family members or roommates. Maybe you need to move to a different room if you need to take an important call, or maybe you want to try working in a standing position for periods of time during the day. If having a dedicated space to work is not possible, try using technology available so you can focus, such as noise cancelling headphones. Whatever the situation is, it is important having a place to work where you can feel inspired and productive.
Set up routines
The commute time to and from the office can be considered a transition between home and work. Without this transition, it is beneficial to set up a morning routine that prepares you for the working day ahead, as well as a routine to finish the workday and transition into other activities at home.
While at the beginning of the pandemic, thinking that this was a short and defined period, many may have jumped out of bed directly to the computer. Now, seeing that this is a more long-term situation, routines are a helpful tool to make the most out of our days.
The purpose of having a morning routine is to put you in the working mindset. The general suggestion is to do something you enjoy and prepare for the day. The enjoyment part can mean different things for each person. It could be a workout, reading a few pages of a book, walking your dog, or anything else that you look forward to each day and wakes you up. Get dressed each day. Since video conferencing is an important tool that we will turn to more as we are distanced from our coworkers, make sure your appearance is as if you were at the office. And while wearing pajamas might seem a perk for some, it turns out it is a bad strategy for others. And if you are a breakfast person, include this as part of your morning routine as well.
While during the workday, you have a shared calendar and still unscheduled calls can come up, having a general routine during the day is helpful. Breaks and lunchtime, as previously explained, can help exponentially. When beginning your day (or the day before), look at your calendar to see which calls and meetings you need to attend and then plan your to-do list and define how you’ll tackle it. Keeping any deadline in mind, schedule your most creative work at a time that feels best for you. For some this might be during the morning, while for some, this might be the afternoon or evening. And remember to include breaks to stand up and stretch your legs as part of the working day routine.
For some employees, it will be difficult to stop working if they cannot physically remove themselves from their workspaces, and that is where afternoon routines are helpful. Something as simple as shutting down your computer and turning on the TV can help you disconnect from work. Whatever you choose, do it consistently to mark the end of working hours.
Data security and storage
Many companies are moving to store everything in the cloud instead of on each computer. Now is a good time to ensure we follow this best practice. We are not commuting, so the risk of getting a computer stolen from a car is less an issue or nonexistent altogether, but it does not hurt to be extra cautious when storing work information. If not for data sensitivity issues, for collaboration purposes. While some freedom exists when working from home but the need to continue working as a team remains. It is important to ensure you do not hinder your team's progress on something you’re working on together.
This also supports the previous item. It helps to give visibility on the progress of what you’re working on and make it easy to share with the team. It minimizes the confusion that can occur when multiples versions of the same file are floating around different email chains, different chats, and different computers. So embrace cloud storage. Many tools support this, and if your organization still doesn't employ this practice, talk to the corresponding team to see how you can enable and support it.
Give updates and (over)communicate
In any job situation, an important factor of success is the ability to communicate clearly and efficiently. In the current situation, good communication takes even a bigger role in ensuring everything runs smoothly. By now, most team members have the tools that can enable this. Here are some tips that can help minimize the barrier we have by not being able to see our coworkers face to face:
Keep scheduled team meetings and one-on-one appointments if you already have them. If not, consider adding them to your calendar as an additional way to provide visibility and ensure the team is on the right path.
Keep calendars up to date and visible to everyone in your company. Remember to add times when you might not be available due to assisting kids with online classes, having to run an errand or a change in your schedule for a specific day.
Using a webcam may be overlooked under normal circumstances, but now, it is a good idea to implement this practice. It can help to make meetings more dynamic, hopefully fun, and to contribute to a healthy work environment (that is why it is important to get dressed for the day). If, one day, you're not feeling well or are unable to turn on your camera, let your team know. And remember you can change the background if there's a lot of activity at home that can distract the people in the call with you.
Take advantage of the available tools and features. Remember to set your status on Teams, Slack or any messaging tool being used accordingly. If you're going to step away for more than a few minutes or going to take your lunch break, set your status to Away. If you're working on a critical task or project, it helps to also communicate this directly to your team.
If you're deep in work, attending a call or busy, don't feel pressured to respond right away. If it is urgent, your team will let you know.
In summary, working remotely requires everyone to overcommunicate - on availability, progress, and updates. Make sure you notify your teammates of any change in your schedule. And notify others of the status of your tasks, don't wait for weekly calls, and notify when you finish tasks and have some bandwidth to take on more tasks.
Don’t forget about wellbeing
This is not a normal, working from home situation, where you can go outside and carry on your normal life after you finish work. For some, it may be difficult to find a work-life balance as work and life are happening in the same place. Hopefully, this post is giving you some ideas on how to structure your whole day (not just your working hours) in a way that helps you stay focused, inspired, and healthy.
Having the morning and afternoon/evening routines we already talked about also has benefits in terms of wellbeing, not just getting you in the mood for work. And, of course, these routines will vary greatly from person to person. After all, we all enjoy different things and have different living situations. But always consider including the following activities in your day so you can stay physically and emotionally healthy:
- Eat healthy and nourishing foods
- Get a good night sleep
- Get up and move, even for a few minutes
- Do something you enjoy
- Get outside and enjoy nature, even if it is just taking a walk around the block.
- And whether you live with someone or alone, try to reach out to your family, friends, or coworkers. Sometimes all you may need to do is talk for a few minutes.
Another thing to consider for your wellbeing is that when working from home, it might seem difficult to take sick days if you're not feeling well because after all, you're already home. Reach out to your manager, as it is important to take sick days if you need them, just as if you were at the office.
Remember, for some employees, it might come easy to work from home, but for others, it may represent a challenge. This is not a usual work from home situation where you can finish work and head outside. It is important to identify and acknowledge how you are doing and, if needed, reach out and ask for guidance. After all, that is what teams are for. It can be helpful to talk to someone else about their routine and strategies for making this arrangement work. Being self-aware and knowing what works best for you is a crucial step in these times. We are all different, and with this situation, we have some flexibility to plan our days, so let's take this opportunity to make the most of it.