The COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak has already had a huge effect on work and how we work. It has disrupted supply chains, led to travel restrictions and, of course, has had a terrible human cost.
So it's no surprise that more and more companies are beginning to recommend or require employees to work remotely or work from home. The growth of remote work is nothing new, but the urgency brought on by the COVID-19 coronavirus means many of us may suddenly need to work from home, sometimes for the first time, with a lack of formal policies or training.
I've been working at home for two days a week for over a year now. I've found it gives me higher productivity, creativity and workplace satisfaction and research shows that many remote workers feel the same. A little preparation can go a long way to helping you prosper in this new world of work, so here are six tips to help you get started.
1) Know Your Work-style
Working from home (WFH), like any form of remote work, presents new challenges and opportunities that require you to approach work differently. The great news is that you have more freedom and control over how you work, but to make that more impactful you need to align how you work from home to your work-style.
Does your creativity and productivity peak in the morning or the afternoon? Are you a lark or an owl? Do you work better with your head hunkered down in silence or do you thrive with music and background noise? By figuring all that out and planning your WFH experience and environment around it, you'll be more productive and more satisfied.
Take some time to sit down, understand your work-style better and use those insights to plan your approach. This is the foundation of WFH.
2) Create Your Workspace
A big part of effective WFH is making it feel like work and the physical workspace you choose is central to this. You don't need a home office or make any big investment, just a bit of planning. And maybe moving some furniture around.
What kind of workspace best suits your work-style? Is the kitchen table going to do the trick or will you need something bigger? Will having other people around help you or will you need to work in a separate room? Does a window looking out on the world inspire you or distract you? Do you want to be near a wall so you can put up some Post-its? Will you need somewhere to store documents? Position your workspace in such a way that you can concentrate and have the resources you need.
One of those critical resources is a good internet connection, so find out where in your home gets the best Wi-Fi reception. If you are doing many video calls, you may need to make one small investment in an ethernet cable. Wi-Fi can be unreliable and a wired connection will lead to better call quality.
Think about how your workspace will look and sound on an audio or video call. Will there be a lot of background noise? More importantly, what will everyone else on the video call be seeing behind you? Do they see a messy kitchen behind you, a pile of laundry or do they see a tidy, professional background?
If you're going to be working remotely for an extended period, try to make this workspace semi-permanent, so you can return to it each day and pick up where you left off. It makes it feel like your personal space.
3) Get Into The Right Mindset
When it's finally time to start your first day working from home, it's not just a matter of opening your laptop and sitting at the kitchen table all day in your pajamas. Try to make it feel like work, which can be a challenge when surrounded by your home, family or pets. But making that mental shift to "work" will help your focus and productivity. If you've set up your workspace in the right way, you're already halfway there.
One simple trick to make that mental shift is to dress in such a way that it feels like work, which likely doesn't mean sweat pants. You don't need to go formal, but dressing like you do at work, even a little, will remind you that you're in work-mode now. If you're going to be doing video calls, you should be doing this to give the right professional impression to your colleagues and customers.
Finally, make sure to start and end each workday at around your usual time. While there is a natural and admirable tendency to start earlier or work later because your commute time is now zero, try to stick to your regular work schedule to make it feel like work.
4) Schedules And Routines Keep You Focused And Motivated
You'll likely have fewer meetings and distractions from colleagues or bosses. While that can lead to the challenge of social isolation—more on that later—it gives you a chance to be more in control of your schedule, focus more on a few big tasks and dive into them for a few hours.
To build your workday focus, plot out what you want to accomplish each day and chunk out time for each of your tasks. Schedule creative tasks to the times when you're most innovative and routine work to the times that you're not. Build in time for daily rituals and routines, like the morning email check, team call or administrative tasks.
Try to schedule your entire week in advance. My first task on Monday mornings is to take a piece of graph paper, create a column for each day of the week, and write what I want to accomplish each morning and afternoon, Monday to Friday, and put it on the wall in front of my workspace. As I go through the week, I cross off what I've done and adjust the next day as needed. Friday afternoon, I reflect on the week and make some notes for the following week and repeat the process on Monday morning. Seeing a visual record of what I've accomplished each week gives a sense of accomplishment that is incredibly motivating.
5) Watch Your Physical And Mental Well-being
Working from home has some unique stresses, and social isolation is top. We're social animals, and working at home all day can affect our physical and psychological health. But you can fight it.
Keeping in touch with your colleagues is vital, and email isn't enough. Find the time for virtual water cooler chats with your colleagues, even to make small talk. Set a dedicated time each day to do this, whether they're also working at home or are at the office, and make it a video call to strengthen that social bond. It keeps your team strong and you mentally fit, with the added benefit of helping you keep up with what's going on in the company. Don't feel bad about suggesting meetings by video through Skype or Zoom—you may not be the only one who prefers live communication to solely relying on email and chat.
If you work at home with your family or loved ones, get an emotional recharge and inspiration from them when you need it. Take advantage of being at home.
Look after your physical health. Stand once an hour. Do some stretches. Go for a morning walk or run to start the day or during the day. When I began working from home two days a week, I realized I was walking less and burning 1,000 fewer calories a week, so I make an effort to go for a walk or run at lunch when I work from home. Weight gain can be an unexpected side effect of WFH so find time to head out into the world or go to the gym. Exercise, even a short walk, has been proven to boost your creativity and mood.
6) Make Lunch Into An Event
Lunch is an excellent opportunity to develop a routine, combat social isolation and stay physically fit. Eating lunch at your desk is a bad idea and a wasted opportunity to utilize the freedom of having lunch at home. Make lunch a part of your routine and make it count. Get out and check out that restaurant in the neighborhood that's always packed in the evening. Meet with other people. Have lunch with colleagues if possible. Take some online courses or catch up on some TED talks.
Don't feel bad about going out for lunch, a run, or taking a walk while working from home—it's good for you and for your company because you become more creative and focused.
Although COVID-19 means many of us are working from home for an unfortunate reason, the bright side is that we'll become more familiar with a style of work that is becoming more and more the norm. Some or all of the tips shared here can make your WFH experience more rewarding and productive, and prepare you for that future of work. Who knows; you may end up wanting to make it your default work-style from now on.