Advice from a work from home veteran

Coronovirus (COVID-19) continues to spread, and CEOs across industries are calling for workers to do their jobs from home. Fears of infection and pandemic have instantly demolished any resistance firms had to remote employment, and it’s even helping some service workers get the paid time off that they’ve been fighting for for decades. Turns out some firms can adapt rapidly, but it often takes a major crisis for them to change the things they’ve gotten used to.

For a lot of workers, I know that the ability to work from home will be a welcome change. Countless professional jobs require intense focus and concentration that can be difficult to achieve in increasingly open-floor office spaces. While those open offices can help to make collaboration seamless and ongoing, they can also slow down technical tasks and production. They also make a great environment for illness and infection to spread, and no company wants to be known as the epicenter of a major COVID-19 outbreak.

Not everyone will welcome this particular change, however. Some people who would rather be in the office have no choice but to do their jobs remotely as offices close and quarantines become mandatory.

Either way, working from home involves a lot of changes to the routine. As someone who has been doing it for more than ten years now, I’ll try to share some of the tips and tricks that have kept me productive and happy thus far.

Create a Space

You might not have a dedicated home office, but if you’re working from home it is time to create one. For the most part, office workers will just need a place to use their computer, but it’s important to think about the context of this space. Try to set up your work in an area of the house that has fewer distractions. A small corner in a bedroom or back room will be more productive than a large space in a common room that is full of roommates, kids, or other family members.

Consider the ergonomics and comfort of your work space, too. It’s easy to brush off a slightly awkward angle or uncomfortable chair, but over time those can quickly become repetitive stress injuries and muscle strain. The Mayo Clinic has a great guide for office ergonomics, and these principles can and should be applied to any home office setting, too. Your body will thank you for it!

Get Dressed

Some people will disagree on this one, but it’s a key moment to starting the day for me. Want to stay in your pajamas or bathrobe all day? If it works for ya, more power to ya!

Personally, though, I need to change in to today’s pajamas or bathrobe at the very least. The act of changing in to new clothes separates the waking up and getting ready part of the morning from the working part of the morning. It’s also important to remember that hygiene and cleanliness are things we do to take care of ourselves – not just social niceties. A quick shower and clean clothes can go a long way toward setting a positive and productive mood.

I usually stay casual and comfortable, but some people even prefer to wear their full suits while working at home. That could be essential if you’re spending all day on conference calls with other executives.

Get a Routine

Whether it’s a shower or breakfast or a short walk that simulates a commute, it’s good to have some event that signifies the start of the work day.

You’ll need to structure and organize that work day, too. Start off with checking emails and set aside some time to respond to new requests and events. Take advantage of alerts in Outlook or Google to schedule meetings and set reminders for when they’re coming up. Most of all, make sure you’ve got some time set aside for your own tasks and priorities – because no one else will!

Remember to take some breaks and eat regularly. Every hour spent at the computer should be followed up with about five minutes away from screens. So set the phone down, step away from the computer, and take a short walk in the back yard – or even just around your house. Focus your eyes on something in the distance or just rest them for five minutes. This will greatly reduce strain and help you keep your energy levels up throughout the day.

Eating is an important one to remember, as well. Without the social cues of people leaving to go get lunch, it can be easy to get engrossed by one’s work and forget about food. Healthy snacks like nuts, fruit, and grains can keep you going strong, but junk food like chips and candy will quickly leave you feeling worse off.

Overcome Distraction

Let’s face it, your house is full of all your favorite stuff and it’s going to be hard to ignore. Regardless of what your hobbies are, they’re going to be there trying to capture your attention away from the more productive things you’re supposed to be doing.

Moving things out of your work space can help. If you’ve got a TV, switch it out for some soft music, white noise, or silence (if you prefer).

Make sure someone’s watching the kids. I don’t care how well behaved you think they are because it’s just not possible to give them the attention they need while also productively working. If no one is available to watch them and all the schools and day cares are closed, set your working hours to their nap times and after bed as much as possible. Trying to work and watch kids at the same time will really just mess up your relationship with your kids and your boss all at once.

Keep in Touch

People you’re used to seeing daily in the office won’t be available passively, but they’re also just an email or text away. Be sure to reach out regularly to coworkers, managers, and other departments – even if just to say hi! Small talk is important for maintaining rapport, and keeping those connections active will require more effort than they used to.

Still, it’s essential for any large corporation to keep the lines of communication open. Small talk turns in to business talk, and without collaboration individuals and departments may not be aware of how their efforts can be best coordinated.

Remember to Enjoy Your Home

After you’ve optimized your spaces for productivity, removed distractions, and set up routines based around work… you’ll have to take some time to remember that your home is also a place of rest, refuge, and recreation. To this end, it can also be good to set up a space that is most definitely not for working in.

This would be the place to put all your distractions that you had to remove from your work space, and it should be set up so that you can enjoy all your favorite at home activities in a place that doesn’t remind you that you work there. Try to avoid associating the work parts of your job with your home. Even being aware that these associations can form will help you mitigate them

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