And so it begins.
If you’re one of the many people used to working in an office environment who now find themselves working from home, you may be finding the adjustment a bit challenging, especially if your job requires face-to-face collaboration like my husband’s does and/or you are an extrovert who thrives on and is motivated by human interaction like he is.
I may not be able to ease your separation anxiety or help you with the technical aspects of the switch, but having worked from home full-time for six years now, I can help you settle into a rhythm of healthy and responsible productivity.
- Keep a regular work schedule. If at all possible, work the same hours you’ve always worked. Start at the same time. End at the same time. Take the same amount of time for lunch. Your boss may allow you to begin a little later and take longer breaks, but make sure you add any time you take up front to the end of your day or to your weekend. Failure to work the amount of time they are paying you for is theft, plain and simple. If you don’t want to work later than normal while you are at home, start on time and stick to your break schedule.
- Plan meal, snack, and stretch breaks. Most offices encourage a little human interaction for morale and team building purposes. Workers eat lunch together or meet in the break room or cross paths in the hall going to and from the restroom. Mimic this rhythm by planning to eat lunch with your family or with your coworkers via phone or the internet. Chat about your day. Process together. Encourage each other. Then get back to work. If no one is available face-to-face, scroll through social media and make contact, but don’t lose track of time. Do the same during breaks. If possible, give yourself a good ten to fifteen minutes every hour to hour and a half. You’ll find you’re more motivated to work when you know a break is coming and earned. If your kids are home, use breaks to check on them, hug them up, or play a quick game.
- Cue your mind to work. If you are used to working away from home, your house itself probably cues your mind to disengage and relax. Establish or continue personal rituals that cue your mind to work. For instance, when it’s time for me to work, I get a cup of coffee, light a cinnamon candle, pull the chain on my desk lamp, and put my glasses on. Once I lift the screen on my laptop, there’s no going back.
- If you couldn’t/wouldn’t do it at work, don’t do it at home during work hours. TV, movies, social media, casual conversation, personal calls/texts, and computer games all disrupt productivity in a big way by dividing focus and slowing thought processes. Most offices allow for personal calls/texts and casual conversation within reason, but understand this: sitting with your computer on or open is not work. Work is work. If you aren’t producing, you’re stealing. Stay focused!
- Settle where you can’t see the chores waiting for you. To a certain degree, out of sight is out of mind. If you don’t have an in-home office, find a place to work facing away from any area of the house that might taunt you. If you were at work, you wouldn’t do dishes, fold laundry, vacuum, or dust during the day. Pretend you can’t now, but if you must do some housework during the day to feel balanced, work it into your breaks. Call a family member while you switch out the laundry, make the bed, or dust the living room. If your kids are home and older, get their help and chat while you work.
Mark your territory.
- Create a designated work space for yourself. Even if the only space available is your seat at the kitchen table, claim it for your work day. Set up everything you might need for work before you begin and don’t allow that space to be used for anything else during work hours.
Dress for success.
- Dress sharp, play sharp, or so they say. I don’t know much about sports, but I do know that dressing for work helps you focus on work. For me, this includes full makeup and a piece of jewelry from each family member. Not sure why, but I just feel more productive when I’m wearing reminders of my squad. Granted, wearing pj’s for days sounds dreamy at first, but as a friend of mine in the health industry once confided, “Elastic is not your friend. We, like goldfish, tend to grow to the size of our bowl.” If you want to fit into your work wardrobe when quarantine is over, keep wearing it—or at least trying it on—now!
Set up systems of accountability.
- If no one is doing this for you, set daily and weekly work goals and record your progress.
- Give your boss work updates even if they don’t require it. They may not say so, but being kept in the loop while you’re at home will give your boss confidence in your work ethic, ability, and integrity. Too much information is always better than not enough.
- Find an accountability partner. Knowing you’ll have someone to answer to at the end of each day may be just the thing to keep you on track. Because I work for myself, I begged Todd to do this for me for a long time before he actually did. Once he realized it was helping, not nagging, I got a lot more done.
Communicate with your people.
- Talk to your family and friends. Share your work goals and schedule. Express your needs. Establish ground rules for conversation, phone calls, and texts. My family knows if I’m in my office, they can knock, but if I don’t answer and it isn’t urgent, they should walk away and try later. My friends and family know they can call or text anytime, but that I may not be able to answer immediately. If it’s urgent, they should call and leave a message. I check voicemail immediately.
- Thank your family and friends for their cooperation in advance and then as they help. If your needs require more help from your children than normal, compensate them as you would any adult whose help you would employ. If you can’t pay them, make an effort to return the favors they have done you or grant them special privileges for doing adult work.
- Stay connected to your coworkers. Don’t go silent and assume they know what you’re thinking and/or doing. Set ground rules for communication and then touch base at regularly scheduled intervals. Don’t pop in and out of each other’s work days unexpectedly or expect immediate responses to every comment/request, but respect individual work rhythms as much as possible by sticking to a mutually agreed upon communication schedule. When you do make contact, do work and encourage each other.
Now, every work situation is different, of course, and the nuances of working and family relationships vary. You may not require a set of guidelines this rigid to get things done or be able to follow each suggestion, but it’s a great place to start.
Make changes as you figure out what works best for you and yours in this new normal, but flex slowly. Remember, it’s much easier to loosen a grip than regain one.
May we all experience a surprisingly productive season in the days ahead and get to stand within six feet of each other soon!