By Kay D. Congdon, Marked by Excellence
Many people work from home or remotely every day and have done so, by choice, successfully for years. They have figured out and finetuned over time the formula that best suits their personality, learning style and organizational needs. For so many of us, though, this remote, work-from-home world is new, and it comes at a time when we are all worried about how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting us, our families, our friends and our communities. If you’ve never worked from home, you may be wondering how you can possibly succeed at it now, in such a stressful time and without your own formula, without practice, without the desire to even do it in the first place.
I promise you that you can succeed—and stay sane—by embracing six simple principles.
# 1. Organize Your Environment for Success
Before you get started, take time to set up an area with all the items you will need to do your work.
- Make sure you have materials, supplies and equipment within reach so you will not interrupt your work to find things when you need them. Plug in your laptop, or have the cord available, so you won’t be distracted by a low battery in the middle of your work or concentration.
- Ensure your work area is in a part of the house where you will have the fewest interruptions and distractions. For instance, if you have others in your household who are staying home, it’s best if you can set up in a room with a door you can close. Additionally, it would be ideal if you could leave the work area set up continuously so you don’t have to spend time everyday getting prepared. For example, working at the kitchen table may not be best if you live with other people; setting up the dining room table for your temporary office may be better.
- If you have children home from school, then set up an area for them away from you where they can do their schoolwork at the same time you are working.
# 2. Schedule Your Workday
Whether you have others in your household or you live alone, it is very effective to space workflow over intervals or blocks of time. This will help reduce distractions and interruptions as well as increase focus time and productivity.
- If you have children at home, give them reasonable intervals in which they are requested to not interrupt you (unless there is an emergency!). Younger children naturally will require shorter intervals. Unreasonable expectations will only cause frustration for everyone involved; therefore, you may want to begin with shorter intervals and work up to longer periods of time as everyone becomes more accustomed to the experience.
- Provide children with a variety of things to do while you are working. This will help school-aged children to maintain some level of discipline as they complete their classroom assignments.
- Set a timer to stay on track. The more you reinforce to your children that you will be available for them at the time you designated the more readily they will trust the process and stay within the parameters of the work interval.
- Don’t expect yourself—or your kids—to work without breaks. Take time between
#3. Prepare Yourself—Body and Mind—Before You Begin a Workday
Working from home can produce many variables that can easily distract your focus and productivity; therefore, the more you concentrate on behavior that helps you with focus and time management, the more successful and energized you will be.
- Get up at your regular time every morning, and prepare yourself for the workday as you normally would. Wearing jeans or casual clothing is perfectly fine and could psychologically feel like a reward for working from home. As tempting as it may be to stay in your pajamas or bathrobe all day, resist the urge to do this on a regular basis. Your mind needs to be focused on work and your environment can affect this focus.
- Take your dog for a walk, eat breakfast and do all the things you usually do before going to work. Set a time every morning to begin work after these activities have been accomplished. The idea is to have a personal mindset and a work mindset. You have to discipline yourself to move in and out of these mindsets when you work from home while having distractions throughout the day.
- Consider using your commute time to do something for yourself, like meditating, exercising or spending time with your family, instead of just jumping into work early.
- Communicate with your children/spouse/significant other/roommate when you are going into a work session, and emphasize that you should not be disturbed unless there’s an emergency. Set times that you can check in with each other throughout the day.
- Plan for simple and small rewards for you and your children like eating a snack together, taking a walk around the block or reading a short book to a younger child. Having a little treat to look forward to can help everyone stayed focused during work intervals, and it gives you a chance to connect throughout the day.
#4. Maintain Consistent and Effective Communication with Your Boss, Coworkers and Customers
Have solid ways to communicate with the office and coworkers to get updates as well as to provide support and accountability to each other.
- There are multiple ways to communicate virtually that are very effective and help to connect you with the outside world. Zoom, Skype, Go-To-Meeting, Google Hang-Outs are some of the most popular. These tools allow you to have video communication as well as screen sharing so you can share documents.
- Absolutely do not forego your weekly meetings with you team simply because you are physically separated. Emails are great for in-between check-ins and communiques; however, the visual and verbal communication you get through video conferencing is essential to feeling connected and to clarifying information and assignments more quickly and thoroughly.
- Conference calls can be used for quick morning huddles or pullups so you can stay on top of things like daily tasks and customer needs.
- Since you are not in the same space during this time and don’t have the opportunity to drop into a coworker’s office or talk in the hallways, you should coordinate sessions for you and your colleagues to brainstorm, discuss issues and collaborate. You may not have realized how much this type of interaction supported your work processes and creativity until you are without it.
- Remember to make the best out of the situation and enjoy the moment: Show your colleague your dog during a virtual chat session or allow your child to drop in briefly on the call. Be human and personable. This is a great opportunity for us to connect with each other on a deeper level that helps us understand each other better and perhaps have more patience and encouragement for each other. These interactions may even create a better work environment or culture when you return to the office.
- Stay connected to customers and continue to network. Even though people may not be utilizing your services as much as they were before COVID-19, you should remain in communication with them to maintain relationships and to show your support. This communication can be emails, phone calls, handwritten notes or a virtual meeting. Remind your customers of how you can help them both now and when the quarantines are over. Think about the future and remember to continue to build and maintain relationships.
#5. Do Something Creative
Be inspired by the ideas that flow through your mind. Maybe you’ve never had the time or the inclination to take them on before, but whether it’s a project for your home or something you’ve been wanting to do for work, just do it!
- Dive into that scrapbooking project you’ve been putting off. Allot an hour a day to work on this project as a reward for getting your work done for the day.; Get your kids to help you with it or setup their own scrapbooking project.
- Paint that old bookcase that’s in the garage or attic collecting dust, and arrange books, trinkets and pictures on it to add personalization and joy to your home décor or your home office workspace.
- Write that article you’ve been thinking about for six months, or pick up that instrument you’ve been neglecting.
- Write down your ideas you’ve had for improvements around your office, and list two or three ways each idea can be accomplished when your team comes back together in person.
Whether it’s for work or it’s personal, just let your creative juices flow. Get them out of your head and into the world. It’s cathartic for you and useful to others!
#6. Remember That the Current Situation is Temporary, But the Positive Outcomes Can Be Lasting.
Cultivate a positive mindset. As hard as it is, this situation is temporary; you can make it through anything for a period of time. Do things during the day to help you stay positive: Go outside daily and get some fresh air; meditate five minutes several times during the day; take regular breaks; set and reach work session goals and then reward yourself and others around you; stay in communication with people in a variety of ways. And keep in mind that what you’re doing today will impact your tomorrow by helping you:
- Fully realize or more deeply appreciate the need for effective and consistent communication
- Fully incorporate efficiencies into your life through time management, prioritization and costreduction practices. This can impact just not your work life but your personal life, perhaps by guiding you to make wiser purchases (what do you really need to enjoy life?) or by helping you prioritize the usage of your time (for instance, less time on mindless TV/internet watching and more time with family).
- Experience higher levels of self-actualization or self-understanding.
When we come out on the other side of these challenging times, what will you take with you? Will you have learned to enjoy being by yourself or spending more time with your family? Will you have embraced different ways of communicating with others to create and maintain meaningful relationships? Will you have discovered tools to overcome fear and frustration? Will you have stretched yourself to new and challenging heights?
My hope is for all of the above, for all of us.
I know that all of us who can work from home are grateful that we can, but it’s okay to acknowledge that the isolation and rationing of being quarantined is hard. I hope you will embrace these principals of organizing your space, managing your time in productive segments, taking care of yourself, maintaining continuous and effective communication and encouraging your coworkers and yourself—not just now but when you’re able to go back into your normal office or work environment. Above all, though, I hope you will strive to find joy in every day, now and always!