“Canada’s workforce is having to adjust to working from home.”
“COVID-19 could cause permanent shift towards home working”.
Headlines like these decorate the front pages of newspapers everywhere. As the world struggles to put an end to the pandemic, businesses have been put in the spot: how to contribute to “flattening the curve” while still maintaining productivity. The answer for many has been to ask their employees to work from home.
If you have been affected by this situation, how do you feel about it? For some, it’s a dream come true: to not have to leave the house in the morning, but be home with the family all day while getting your work done from the couch – who wouldn’t want that? That is, until you discover that at the end of the day you got very little done, thanks to all the distractions… For many others, working from home is the stuff of nightmares: they will at some point break down in tears over their poor office plant dying while worrying how they are going to manage that video conference with the toddler screaming in the background.
It’s a challenge for all of us, no matter our outlook. It’s time to rethink the “normal” workday. Following are five steps that can help you get up to speed.
Create a Home Office Space
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, it can be very tempting to just grab the laptop and try to work from the couch. This is a bad idea. Instead, take the time to create a healthy mental space for yourself – an office that is in your home, but separate from it. If you don’t have a whole room to yourself, be creative: use the balcony, a desk in the corner, or even a shelf in the little space underneath the stairs. The goal is to take you out of “home” mood and put you in “work” mood. The more private your home office space is, the better. If you need to make a call or have a virtual meeting, you can do so with confidence. And remember, these are unprecedented times: if you have small children or pets at home, warn your coworkers about the possibility of them walking in on you unexpectedly. They probably won’t mind, as everybody is in the same boat.
If you share your home with another remote worker – be it your spouse, relative or roommate – communication is vital. Small spaces can be coped with by establishing clear boundaries. Talk about what a normal work day looks like for both of you, and designate separate spots for each worker. When scheduling a meeting, be sure to check in with the other person first, and ask them to do the same for you.
When you worked at the office, you had a set routine: get up, get ready, commute, be there on time. Get some tasks done. Get up, stretch, have a coffee, or maybe lunch. Get some more things done, go home. You may not have thought much of it, but that routine was key to prep your brain for work and maintain focus throughout the day. Now that you are at home, you’ll do best if you stick to that routine. Prep your brain by setting aside “commute time”: listen to a podcast, or read articles about how to boost your productivity. If you stick to the same working hours you had at the office, the transition will be easier on your entire team. If you make your own schedule, decide on a time to start working, and stick to it. Be disciplined; engage your natural work ethic. Consistency and continuity are going to be your best tools.
Schedule your Breaks
When working from home, some of us are tempted to find any excuse to take a break. Others find themselves working even more hours than they would at the office. To avoid both these extremes, it is important that you schedule time for breaks – stretch your legs, have a cup of coffee, or just stop and smell the roses. Try out the 90-20 rule: work hard for 90 minutes, then take a 20-minute break. Studies have shown that intense focus during shorter periods is more effective than longer periods of “work”, mental tiredness and potential distraction. There are plenty of productivity apps that have been designed with the sole goal of helping people to get things done. This is your chance to explore them! Find your favorite, and use it as a platform to organize your tasks, set up reminders, and even schedule meetings with your coworkers.
Set Clear Goals
Do you want to overcome procrastination, measure your progress, and visualize your dreams? The key is to set clear and attainable goals. Decide on what is really important to you, and focus on that. Otherwise, you might get distracted with arranging and organizing the small, unimportant things. And remember:
“Failing to plan is planning to fail.”
Once you have decided on what you want to achieve, you have to plan on how to get there. Separate a large task into smaller, less time-consuming steps, and decide in what order you are going to accomplish them. Give yourself a deadline for each one, and keep the bigger picture in mind. There are few things that are more rewarding than time after time accomplishing what one has set out to do.
Don’t isolate yourself when working from home
Social distancing is very important these days, but remember: it’s merely physical. So schedule time into your busy routine to call your family, friends and colleagues. The friendly conversation you were used to at your workplace can still continue, but the channel has to change: instead of gathering around the coffee maker at the office, each of you now gets their coffee at home, sharing a laugh over a video call.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed the entire workforce in uncharted territory. But with a good mindset and clear goals, we can overcome it.
Let’s take on the challenge of working from home, and make a thundering success of it!