Updated: Apr 20, 2020
As the new coronavirus continues to spread around the globe, the World Health Organisatiion has recommended “social distancing” as one way to combat the spread of disease.
Some employers are taking the next logical step of asking employees to work from home whenever possible, and more could potentially follow their lead.
As someone who has worked remotely for nearly a decade, I am here to tell you: It's not easy. But setting some boundaries will go a long way toward keeping you functioning.
Yes, working from home has its perks, But you also have to contend with the feelings of isolation and distraction. Loss of productivity feels less urgent in the time of coronavirus. Spend enough time working alone, though, and you may start to lose your sense of self.
If your employer has asked you to stay home, here are some strategies for keeping it together.
It's also important to acknowledge that working from home in the first place is a luxury, full stop. Too many people don't have that option, which is especially worrying in a time of precarious health care and rapidly spreading disease.
With that said, doing the following will hopefully set you up for success, regardless of why you’re telecommuting, or for how long.
Not to get too personal, but put some clothes on. It’s tempting, I know, to roll out of bed and blob over to your laptop in your pyjamas. Or maybe not even get out of bed in the first place? It’s a trap. If you’re dressed for sleep, it’s going to be a lot harder to get your brain to wake up. More important, though, if you don’t get up, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed—whatever your morning routine is when you actually do go into the office—you’re breaking the cardinal rule of working from home: Set boundaries.
If you don’t get ready for the day, your day never really starts. Instead of working from home, you’re just at home, with the occasional work check-in. That’s fine and healthy now and then! You are not a drone. But if you’re in this for the long haul, you need to treat it like any other day at the office, minus the office part.
Have a Dedicated Work Space
Do not work from the bed. Do not work from the sofa, In fact, let’s just say don’t work anywhere that lets you recline if you can help it. If those are the only options available to you, that’s OK! Just try to find a nearby coffee table to use as a desk, or anything that keeps your laptop out of your literal lap for most of the day. It helps with focus, yes, but also those things get hot!
Where you set up shop is entirely up to you. Maybe you have a dedicated office space with a desktop and a view. Sounds nice. If you don’t, that’s also fine; The point here is to clearly define the part of your house where work happens. That makes it more likely that you’ll actually get things done when you’re there, but just as importantly might help you disconnect when you’re not. Remember that when you work from home you’re always at home—but you’re also always at work. (Full-time remote workers take note: You can also write off a few hundred square feet of in-home office space on your tax return.)
Spend at least a few hours at a coffee shop every now and then. It’s a change of scenery, a good excuse to get some fresh air, Should that no longer be feasible for coronavirus reasons, at the very least see if you can walk around the block a couple of times a day. There’s no water cooler when you work from home, no snack table, It’s easy to stay locked in position all day. Don’t do it! Sitting is terrible for your health, and mind-numbing when you’re staring at the same wall or window all day.
A sub point here: Having a pet helps. If you have a dog, you have to go outside to walk it. If you have a cat or a fish or a ferret you can talk out loud without feeling like a crazy person. And if you’re feeling stressed out, a good belly rub usually helps, for you and your companion.
Sorry, no television. You are not as good at working with that background noise as you think. And that one little break to catch up on your favourite show will ultimately turn into a binge. This applies to video games, books—anything but music, really. Basically, if you wouldn’t do it at the office, don’t do it at home when you’re working. Boundaries!
Prep Your Snacks
Look, you’re going to snack. Constantly. It’s something to do! Why type when you can chomp? and staring in the fridge is the perfect procrastination. The best I can do is to encourage you to keep something healthy on hand like carrot sticks which is a satisfying stress reliever—so that when you do finish off a bag of something in one sitting, it’s not, like, salt n vinegar Pringles or whatever.
Similarly, I’d recommend cooking enough dinner to have leftovers at least a couple times a week. Maybe you’re more creative than I am, but homemade sandwiches for lunch get pretty boring pretty fast, and there may not be as many outside options near your home as there are near your office.
Maintain Regular Hours
Set a schedule, and stick to it.... Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. That said, working remotely sometimes means extending your day or starting early to accommodate someone else's time zone. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning.
Create a Morning Routine
Deciding you'll sit down at your desk and start work at a certain time is one thing. Creating a routine that guides you into the chair is another. It might be making a cup of coffee. It might be returning home after a jog. It might be getting dressed (wearing pyjama pants to work is a perk for some, but a bad strategy for others). Create a morning routine that ends with you starting work.
Set Ground Rules With the People in Your Space
Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work. If you have children who come home from school while you're still working, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during that time.
Additionally, just because you're home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn't mean other family members should assume you will always do it. If that's how you choose to divide up the domestic labor, that's fine, but if you simply take it all on by default, you may feel taken advantage of, and your productivity may suffer.
Know your company's policy on break times and take them. If you're self-employed, give yourself adequate time during the day to walk away from the computer screen and phone. A lunch hour and two 15-minute breaks seems to be the standard for full-time UK employees.
Working remotely can be hugely rewarding, but only if you keep your productivity up, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and nurture your business relationships.
Fully take your break
Don't short-change yourself during breaks, especially your lunch hour. You can just launch a simple clock or timer on the screen when you take a break. If you return to your desk after only 40 minutes, walk away for another 20.
You don't have to eat out every day, but you should try to leave your home regularly. The same advice applies to people who work in traditional office settings, too: Leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good. Talk a walk. Go to the post office. Weed the garden etc.
Don't Hesitate to Ask for What You Need
If you're employed by a company or organisation that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a day or two when you realise you need something new. It's extremely important to set precedents early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably, including the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, printer, software, and so forth. Organisations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. It also doesn't hurt to ask whether there's a loan agreement or who will pay for return shipping or disposal of outdated equipment.
Maintain a Separate Work Phone Number
Set up a phone number that you only use for calls with colleagues and clients. It doesn't have to be a landline, second mobile phone, or even a SIM card. It can be a free VoIP service, such as a Google Voice. Similar to some of the other tips, having a separate phone number helps you manage your work-life balance.
Use a VPN
Use a VPN whenever you're connected to a network that you don't control. That includes Wi-Fi at co-working spaces, cafes, libraries, and airports. Some organisations have their own VPNs that off-site employees need for accessing certain servers or websites that store information meant only for internal use. In those cases, you'll also need to use a VPN at home. In any case, it's a good idea to get into the habit of leaving your VPN connected as often as possible because it's always safer to have it on than not..
"Show Up" to Meetings and Be Heard
Certainly, you'll take part in video conferences and conference calls, Be sure to speak up during the meeting so everyone knows you're on the call. A simple, "Thanks, everyone. Bye!" at the close of a meeting will go a long way toward making your presence known.
Take Sick Days
Should you fall ill from the coronavirus, take the sick time you need. If you're self-employed without sick days, it can be very easy to fall into the opposite time-is-money trap and try to power through illnesses. Any time that money allows, however, you may find that you're more productive in the long run if you let your body rest when it's unwell
Working remotely requires you to over communicate. Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. When you finish a project or important task, say so. Over Communicating doesn't necessarily mean you have to write a five-paragraph essay to explain your every move, but it does mean repeating yourself. Joke about how you must have mentioned your upcoming holiday six times already, then mention it again.
When you work remotely full-time, you must be positive, to the point where it may feel like you're being overly positive. Otherwise, you risk sounding like a jerk. It's unfortunate, but true. So embrace the exclamation point! Find your favourite emoji :D. You're going to need them.
Don't Be Too Hard on Yourself
The most successful remote employees have a reputation for being extremely disciplined. After all, it takes serious focus to get a full-time office job done from an unconventional space. That said, everyone lets their attention drift sometimes. If you find yourself working one minute and booking flights for your upcoming holiday the next, don't reprimand yourself harshly. Instead, ask yourself whether people in an office setting do the same thing. If the answer is yes, cut yourself some slack, then get back to work.
End Your Day With a Routine
Just as you should start your day with a routine, create a habit that signals the close of the workday. It might be a sign off on a business messaging apps, an evening dog walk, or a 6 p.m. yoga class. You might have a simple routine such as shutting down your computer and turning on a favourite podcast. Whatever you choose, do it consistently to mark the end of working hours.
Make It Personal
Above all else, figure out what works best for you. Sometimes the answer is apparent, but other times you might need some inspiration from other people who are in the same boat. A supportive community of remote employees does exist, whether you find them in your organisation or online through blogs or Twitter.
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