March 24, 2020 – Companies across the globe are mandating employees work remotely because of COVID-19. The rest of the word is adapting to my norm. I have worked remotely for the last nine years. In the early years of working remotely for a company, I spent 60-80% of my time in the office and the rest working from my home office. I accepted a position in 2015 that allowed me to work from home full-time for a company based in another state. Working remotely is now my regular routine. The routine did not come easy at first, but I have a few tips to make your life easier.
Set aside time to monotask. Each of us has multitasked during meetings. We send emails, jot down notes for our projects, and brainstorm issues. You will have more distractions now that you work from home. Laundry needs to be done. Spouses, partners, and kids clamor for your attention. But some projects need your full focus; you need to monotask.
My biggest obstacle to monotasking is the desire to be hyper-available to my colleagues. Many of us are remote, live across the country, and deal with pressing issues. I learned to build monotasking time into my calendar by blocking time off, starting work early in the day, or spending a few hours late at night when no one is online. It allows me to complete my projects.
Claiming a space for your office is important. Find a distraction-free place in your home where you can take calls and become immersed in your work. Many of us have additional challenges now because we may have a loved one who also needs to use the office space. Find a solution that works for everyone.
Melodie Wiseman is a Wisconsin-licensed attorney, and a Marquette Law alumna. She is a 15+ year veteran of the EdTech space with ten years in compliance roles; six years as a manager of people; and compliance experience in K-Doctoral public, private, for-profit, and charter schools. She has focused on compliance and regulatory issues in corporate operations, marketing and advertising, and human resources.
I have a dedicated space in my home with an ergonomic desk – an essential for any full-time work from home office set up. If you do not have access to an ergonomic desk, avoid the temptation to work from the couch because it will make your body ache in new ways.
Prepare for your day. Working in your pajamas sounds wonderful until 10 a.m. and you realize you have not showered. I tend to dress more business casual for my day because we regularly utilize a now-popular video conferencing platform called Zoom.
You can probably dress more casually. Dressing for your day will give you a sense of normalcy and more confidence. I also prepare for my day by meal-prepping. It allows me to have “fast food” and avoid kitchen temptations.
Set clear intentions for your day. I create a to-do list for each day. I have a rough sketch of my accomplishments for the week. This allows me to complete my projects, but also avoid distractions like morning 'net surfing, the news, or your cell phone.
It is important to set expectations with your friends and family. When I started working from home, I had to remind others that I could not take a mid-day break to go to the pool, or watch their sick kids, or leave early from vacation. Frankly, you have more distractions now than a normal work from home set up. You may be homeschooling kids. You may be negotiating quiet time with your significant other to focus on each of your work projects. Work with everyone in your household to meet each of your needs now.
Technology. Ensure you have all the technology you need to work remotely. In addition to a secure laptop, you may need to upgrade to a faster internet connection. I have a separate phone dedicated to work, though you do not need one for a temporary office set up. I also have secure ways of accessing work files, and updated anti-virus software.
Connection. Working from home is isolating in the best of circumstances, but adding social distancing makes many of us feeling lonely. Social distance is about physical distancing. It is not about removing our social connections with others. I have built connection into my workday. Most of our meetings are held on a video-conferencing platform. I was initially reluctant to be on-camera, but I like it now because I feel like I am in the same space as my coworkers. It also allows me to see non-verbal cues from my colleagues. I have periodic group FaceTime lunches with my friends, many of whom work remotely for other companies. So, invite your coworker for a ten-minute FaceTime.
Avoid distractions. Many of us are distracted by our text messages, internet surfing, news, and background noise. Incredible silence is also disorienting. I use apps like Nosli or Coffitivity to mimic the office, or a coffee shop noise. I also have a desk facing my window. I can hear birds chirping, and see beautiful trees blowing in the wind. When I am in meetings, I change my environment. I hold many video conferences standing from my bar-height kitchen counter. The ability to stand and move around allows me to concentrate.
Be patient. Many employers have activated crisis plans for the first time. You are experiencing the holes in that plan. I expect many companies will update those plans, and their technology in response to these challenges. You may also be impacted by your coworkers outside obligations to family, and friends. Have some grace with those colleagues. If you lead a team, do not make any assessments about your staff’s ability to work from home regularly. Everyone is juggling multiple abnormal demands.
Power off for the day. Working from home means that I am always in my office. I get incredibly absorbed in my work, and it is hard for me to stop. I am still working on setting boundaries between home and work. Creating a logical stopping point for the day helps me power down. I commit to cook dinner at a specific time, meet with friends, or exercise. These activities help me stop working and ensure I have a life outside of my commitments.
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