With more and more employees being encouraged (or even mandated) to work from home in order to minimize transmission of COVID-19, workers around the globe are waking up to a new reality—trying to perform the daily functions of their jobs without the tools, equipment and resources normally available at their disposal. Another challenge—for those who work in a communal office environment—is maintaining lines of communication with fellow employees who are now spread out in different locations. But perhaps the biggest obstacle to working remotely is dealing with distractions while trying to stay focused on job responsibilities. This ranges from: keeping children occupied while schools are closed; caring for loved ones who might be ill; or simply just trying to strike the right balance between staying informed on the how the nation is coping with the coronavirus crisis while not being so transfixed on the TV, computer or radio that production is negatively impacted.
BBC News recently published an article offering tips on how workers can perform their functions outside the office while still maintaining productivity. Following are some key pointers:
1. Maintain Contact
The key to working from home is clear communication with your boss – and knowing exactly what’s expected of you. “Have really clear-set expectations for communications day to day,” said Barbara Larson, a professor of management at Northeastern University in Boston who studies remote working. “Ask [your manager] if they don’t mind having a 10-minute call to kick off the day and wrap up the day. Oftentimes, managers just haven’t thought of it.”
Most people spend their days in close proximity to their boss, meaning communication is easy and effortless. But that’s all out the window with remote work, and communication breakdown is even more likely if your workplace isn’t used to remote working. Your manager might not be used to managing people virtually, for example, or your company might not have a ready-to-go suite of tools for remote workers, such as the chat app Slack or video conferencing app Zoom, Larson noted.
2. Develop a routine
Just because you can lounge around in your pajamas when working from home doesn’t mean you actually should. “Take a shower and get dressed—treat it like a real job,” Larson said.
If you don’t have a home office, do as much as you can to create an ad hoc space exclusively for work. “Not having a well-equipped home office space when [people] begin remote working can cause a temporary decrease in productivity,” said Sara Sutton, CEO and founder of FlexJobs, a remote job listing site. She says double monitors and a wireless keyboard and mouse make her more productive at home.
Creating a dedicated “workspace” also has other benefits. Lying in bed with a laptop, for example, can wreak havoc on your neck muscles. The fix could be something as simple as moving a nightstand into a corner far away from distractions, plopping down your computer and sitting in an upright chair, like you would at your office desk.
Having a home workspace also serves as an important signal to those who live with you that you’re “at work.” It creates boundaries within your home that your family members understand. “When the door is closed, pretend I’m not there,” said Kristen Shockley, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Georgia.
3. Set work schedule guidelines
More often than not, those people who work remotely on a regular basis actually report working longer hours than if they were tied to a chair in the office. But in these trying times, experts recommend striving for an even balance. “It’s also important to bookend your day,” Shockley said, citing a Buffer survey that showed the most-cited work-from-home complaint was the inability to unplug after work. If you can’t commute or enter and leave a physical office, which provides clearer boundaries to the workday, Shockley suggests “psychological segues” that can help put you in the right mindset. This might include a 20-minute coffee in the morning and then exercise right after work to open and close the day.
4. Accentuate the positive
In trying times such as this, it’s important to manage stress. Experts believe the more effort you put into communicating with colleagues, the better chance you have of avoiding feelings of isolation, which can lead to depression.
“Overall, a short-run period of, say, two to four weeks full-time working from home I think would be economically and personally painful, but bearable,” said Nicholas Bloom, a professor of economics at Stanford University in California who has given TED Talks about remote work. “A longer period of, say, two or three months full-time working from home could lead to serious economic and health costs.”
At the end of the day, it’s up to managers to provide clear communication while maintaining morale. “It’s easy to be stressed out or depressed these days,” Larson said. “Set up a norm of some kind of norm. Keep people’s spirits up.”