The outbreak of the coronavirus has most people working from home. If you’re new to working remotely, these tips can help you stay productive and maintain balance.
The global spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is keeping people at home. Much of the world is on lockdown, and, even in places that aren’t, people are encouraged to stay at home.
Where it’s possible, employers are encouraging or requiring people to work from home for an indeterminate amount of time. If you’re new to the work-from-home lifestyle, whether due to coronavirus or because you’ve managed to find a remote-based job, you’ll need to change some of your habits and routines to make working from home a success.
These are some of the advisable habits to adopt while working at home.
- Maintain Regular Hours
Set a schedule, and try to follow it as much as possible. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. That said, one of the benefits of remote work is flexibility, and sometimes you need to extend your day or start 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 to make up for it.
- 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. What in your morning routine indicates you’re about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee or returning home after a jog. A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day.
- Schedule Breaks
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.
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.
- Leave Home
To the extent that it’s allowed and safe where you are during the COVID-19 outbreak, get out of the house, provided you can maintain social distancing of course. 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.
- Don’t Hesitate to Ask for What You Need
If you’re working from home unexpectedly due to coronavirus, ask for what you need within reason. If you’re employed by a company or organization 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 realize 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. Organizations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. Ask what it is and how often it’s renewed. 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.
- Keep a Dedicated Office Space
In an ideal world, remote employees would have not only a dedicated office, but also two computers, one for work and one for personal use. It’s more secure for the employer, and it lets you do all your activities in private. But not everyone has a separate office in their home, and keeping two machines isn’t always realistic. Instead, dedicate a desk and some peripherals only for work use. For example, when your laptop is hooked up to the monitor and external keyboard, it’s work time. When it’s on your lap, that’s personal time. You may want to go as far as partitioning your hard drive and creating a separate user account for work.
- Maintain a Separate 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 Google Voice or a Skype number. Similar to some of the other tips, having a separate phone number helps you manage your work-life balance.
- Socialize With Colleagues
Loneliness, disconnect, and isolation are common problems in remote work life, especially for extroverts. Companies with a remote work culture usually offer ways to socialize. For example, they might have chat channels where remote employees can talk about common interests, meetups for people in the same region, and (once the coronavirus ends) in-person retreats. It’s important to figure out how much interaction you need to feel connected and included. Even if you’re highly introverted and don’t like socializing, give a few interactive experiences a try so that you’re familiar with them if you ever decide you want them. If you’re not at a company with a strong remote culture, you may need to be more proactive about nurturing relationships.
- “Show Up” to Meetings and Be Heard
Certainly, you’ll take part in video conferences and conference calls, but it’s a good idea to attend optional meetings sometimes, too. 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
When you’re not well, take the sick time you need. If sick days are part of your compensation package, take the time off that you need. Not taking it is like throwing away money. If you’re a freelancer who doesn’t have paid sick days, it can be very easy to fall into the opposite time-is-money trap and try to power through illnesses. Keep in mind that sometimes it’s best to rest and get better so that you can be your most productive self in the long term.
- Look for Training Opportunities
When you’re not in an office with your fellow employees, you might miss out on training and skills development courses that are taught in person. Your company might even forget to add you to its online training courses. It can be tempting to regard this as a dodged bullet, but you might be missing out on an opportunity to learn something useful. Speak up and make sure you’re included.
In addition to top-down training, you can request online or in-person courses, training, and coaching if you need it. For people who work remotely 100 percent of the time, look for learning opportunities that are taught at the company’s headquarters or your closest office. That way, you get training and face time with colleagues.
Working remotely requires you to overcommunicate. Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. When you finish a project or important task, say so. Overcommunicating 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 vacation six times already, then mention it again.
- Take Advantage of Your Perks
Every week, I bake a loaf of bread. Why? Because I work from home and I can. Plus, I enjoy it. When I worked in an office full-time, I struggled to find the time to pop something into the oven that often. Working remotely comes with unique perks. Take advantage of them. You deserve it.
- 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 do any full-time office job 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 vacation the next, don’t reprimand yourself too 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 app, an evening dog walk, or a 6 p.m. yoga class. Something as simple as shutting down your computer and turning on a favorite podcast will do. 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 organization’s Slack channel or online through blogs or Twitter.