How to Survive Working from Home

Yes, survive.

For those who have always worked in an office, the ability to work from home sounds incredible. It’s like a snow day when you were in school right?

The first day can feel that way but it can soon turn into cabin fever and the endless blending of day into night.

If you find yourself assigned to work from home for the next week(s) and maybe months, here are proven steps you can take to ensure your sanity, and your job.

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Set up a work-only space. It doesn’t have to be an entire room. I once used the kitchen table pushed up against the wall. My husband used a 6’ folding table. It was at the end of the bed with a tiny space between to walk through the room. Use what you have.

Clear it off and use it for work-only stuff. You don’t have to sit there to work, though if you can that will help. The point is to have one spot where all your work stuff lives. This keeps it from taking over everything (which can happen fast) and from getting tossed by mistake or lost with the mail, the kids school papers etc.

It also makes it easier for kids or roommates to know what’s out of bounds. Your work info isn’t interesting to anyone else, but they also won’t know what’s important. Is the post-it with the phone number a keeper? How about the notes from your conference call?

Storing stuff electronically is best but when you have other docs or notes create a place where they stay so you always know where to find them. Set up a system. It can be as simple as a notebook or file folder.Have a place where physical things reside.

What else do you need? Probably not much. If you have roommates, pets and/or kids you might want headphones if you will be on lots of calls. An extra charger for your phone or an extension cord with USB outlets will also help. Make it easy to keep your laptop, phone and other devices charged or plugged in while you are working.

Be mindful of your camera view. If you are going to be on video calls via Zoom, Skype etc., other attendees are going to be able to see some of your surroundings. Not a huge deal, but a view of your unmade bed and last night’s wine glass is not a good idea. If you aren’t sure what others will see, set up a call and log in so you know where to position yourself for optimal viewing.

Think about lighting. You don’t want to be backlit by sitting in front of your window. Ideally having a light in front of you is best. Overhead lighting is okay, or natural light from a window in front of or beside you will work too.

The first few days working at home will likely be about setting up, communications and getting access to the information you need to do your work. Your company may need to provide you with new log-in credentials fora VPN or other remote system.

Be easy to reach via phone and email. Depending on your position, you may already be accustomed to checking emails in the evenings or responding to a text here and there after hours. This may increase until you can get into a new “normal.”

If you manage others, communicate often. Even your best team-member may be worried about their job or wondering how they can do everything with kids as home too. Be up front about what you know and what you are allowed to share.

Set up a time to connect each day until systems and routines are established. A team call at 3 every day (for example) will help.That way people know they’ll be in the loop and will understand that this is the appropriate time to ask questions.

Be clear about priorities and expectations. When I worked from home for a company, I was in sales. Expectations were clear(monthly sales goals) and it was also easy to see how I was doing. Other types of jobs may be task-based with hard deadlines and it might be hard to gauge progress.

Make sure your team knows how you want them to communicate.  No one likes to be micro-managed, but it can be just as challenging when you don’t know if the priorities from last week are still the same. Don’t leave people guessing.

If you work for someone who isn’t being clear, set up your own simple tracking system. That way, you’ll be able to demonstrate what you worked on, and the out-comes.

Resist the temptation to procrastinate. It’s going to happen. You no longer need to get up at 6 to get ready. No commute means extra free time. Yay! So, you’ll sleep in and shuffle to your desk or the couch with your laptop about 8:30 and start checking emails.

Nothing urgent? Great. Next thing you know you’ve texted your friends, checked out online news, and placed an Amazon order. Now it’s going on 11 and you really haven’t done anything. But it’s almost time for lunch and you haven’t eaten.

I’ve worked from home for over 15 years and believe me, 3:00will roll around and you’ll still be in your sweats wondering where the day went. It happens. To combat this, work in 90-minute blocks.

Tackle the most important priorities first. Before distractions or calls or today’s crisis pops up. Be disciplined about getting things done.You’ll still have tons more free time than you do on a typical workday at the office.

Resist the urge to work all the time. This happens too. Because you’re at home, and because your laptop is right there, it’s tempting to log in after dinner and knock out a few things before bed.

Then an email pops up and you might as well answer it. Next thing you know you’re researching something for a client at 10:30 with no end in sight.

Set your time to work and get your work done.  Many of us have jobs where work is never really “done.” There’s always another email, another report, more phone calls etc. The best way to get lots of work done, and not let it take over your life is to set your work hours.

If you plan to stop at 6 and work out no matter what, you’ll get your work done. It’s much easier to stay focused and resist the urge to stream a movie or take a break and goof off.

Go outside, take breaks and exercise. Working from home has its own rhythm and for many it will be much less physical. You aren’t walking to the subway or getting in and out of the car. You can go 3 days before hitting 6000 on your Fitbit! We’re being told to stay home and reduce contact with others. That means no yoga class or working out at the gym.

Take short walk breaks outside weather permitting. Use online apps to do workouts at home. Plan for physical activity. Make it part of your day from the beginning.

Find a routine that works for you. Be honest about what you need. If you’re a social person, working at home can be isolating.Find ways to keep in touch with your work peers. Set up a quick call every morning or afternoon with someone from the office. Be sure it’s constructive and doesn’t dissolve into a gripe session. I have peers I talk to regularly for support and we share 3 things; what’s not working, a question or request for help and end with something that’s gong well.

Ask for help. On top of your work routine everything else is also affected. No events to look forward to, no happy hour, no vacations or book club. Life is going to be very different for a while. It might be hard to adjust and that’s okay. If you need help, seek out resources or talk to a trusted family member or friend about what you need.

Working from home is an adjustment. You may find it makes life much easier. You might also realize how much you miss the collaboration and connections you have at the office. There are always trade-offs. Give yourself some space to figure out what works for you. Be upfront about what you need, and most of all, take care of yourself.

We’ll all get through this.

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