If you are one of the millions of people suddenly working remotely from home as a result of COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders, you may still be trying to find your “WFH (work from home) groove.” While working from home has a certain appeal (casual Friday every day, canine office mates, no commute), it also creates quite a few challenges (a blurring of the line between home and work, lack of routine or structure, inability to focus).
Luckily for people who are new to remote working, there are entire networks of people who have been working from home for years. (Remote or “dispersed” teams were actually a growing trend long before the pandemic struck and changed the work landscape overnight.) These WFH veterans have plenty of advice to offer.
As our own team adjusts to the WFH lifestyle, we thought it might be helpful to share some of our favorite tips for becoming a WFH master.
Set Yourself Up Right
Finding space to work is one of the first hurdles new WFH folks need to clear. If you don’t already have an established home office space, you may need to get creative. Whether you’re working at the kitchen table or from a favorite armchair, you’ll want to do your best to create a space that is comfortable, at least somewhat ergonomically correct, and—optimally—away from the hubbub in the rest of the house. You’ll also want to ensure that you have the right technology.
- Is your computer or laptop running well?
- Do you have all the right software installed?
- How’s your network bandwidth and WiFi?
- Do you need a secure line?
Getting all these things figured out early on will save frustration later.
Create Some Structure
Without the normal schedule of going to an office, your days can start to feel a little “fluid.” And while flexibility is one of the primary perks of working from home, too much of a good thing can hurt your productivity.
Most WFH pros recommend getting up at the same time each day. They also recommend getting dressed. You don’t have to put on your usual work garb, but the routine of getting dressed helps put you in the right frame of mind for getting things done.
Clearly defining and sticking to working hours is another key way of creating structure in your day. You might start before the sun is up and finish by early afternoon, or clock in after lunch and work through the evening; the point is to be consistent. It can be helpful (and soothing) to create some transitional rituals for yourself—one to start your work day, and one to end it. These could be as simple as brewing that first cup of coffee, catching up on emails, or sending an end-of-day note to your team.
Establish Ground Rules
Once you’ve defined some routines for yourself, it’s time to set expectations with other people. The best approach is to be as direct and clear as possible. Let your spouse, roommate, kids, and colleagues know when you’re available and when you’re not. Establish guidelines about when it’s okay to interrupt you. Make sure people know the best ways to communicate with you while you’re “at work.” You might use a do not disturb sign to let family members know when you’re on a video call. You might set work communication platforms to “away from my desk” while you have lunch with your kids. It’s all about good communication.
When you work from home, it can be tempting to take “just a few minutes” to do a household chore, check Facebook, or catch up on the latest news. Friends might call to check in. Your dog might need yet another walk. Distractions are a big challenge even under the best circumstances. Trying to work during a pandemic requires Herculean feats of focus. When it comes to distraction, the best strategy is to “know thy enemy.” Pay attention to which distractions are most likely to lure you away from the task at hand so you can be prepared to resist their siren call. You can also employ time management strategies like the Pomodoro Technique to help you wrangle your attention.
On the flip side, constant focus is not entirely healthy. You need breaks to refuel. Aim to take time out of your day for lunch, but also incorporate additional breaks throughout the day. A break doesn’t need to be long to be beneficial. A quick fifteen minutes can do wonders. Even five minutes to get up, stretch, and get away from your screens can help to reset your body and mind. If you’re in a position to get outside for a quick walk or just to sit, you’ll come back feeling even more refreshed and ready to tackle whatever’s next on your to-do list.
Make Time to Socialize
On a related note, remember that everyone is adapting to life in this strange new world. In addition to learning how to work from home, we’re all also navigating the mental and emotional stress that comes from isolation, loneliness, and a general sense of uncertainty.
Spending time socializing with colleagues is a great way to dispel some of the anxiety we’re all feeling. This can be as simple as allowing a few minutes at the beginning or end of video calls to share some personal stories or talk about the latest binge-worthy shows. Many teams are coordinating virtual coffee klatches and happy hours. Some are even engaging in more complex online games and team building activities. In times like these, a little fun goes a long way toward creating a sense of comfort and normalcy.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
Above all, don’t be too hard on yourself or others. There’s a lot going on right now. Everyone is doing the best they can. Some days will be easier than others. Remember that you’re operating under completely unfamiliar circumstances. Your physical space is different, your routine is different, the demands on your time are different. And—just as importantly—there’s the very real weight of processing everything that’s happening in the news, worrying about yourself and the people you love, figuring out how to get your groceries safely. It’s a lot. Lower your expectations a little. Build some down time into your day. Don’t assume that you’re going to be able to crank through tasks and projects as quickly as you did before. Be honest with yourself and the people you work with about what’s possible, and go from there.
The Bottom Line: Find what works for you and take it one day at a time.
There is no one-size-fits-all way to WFH success, and you won’t figure it all out on day one. There will likely be some trial and error. Some strategies will work perfectly on Monday, but completely fail you on Friday. Working from home is about being flexible, adaptable, and patient.
In the meantime, do your best to enjoy the perks. Take the time you would have spent commuting to go for a walk or have a little read with your morning coffee. Enjoy a leisurely lunch with your family. You might even choose to do some work from your backyard. This is a time to notice and be grateful for the little things, and being at home will certainly help you in that department.