With the current shift to working from home across the country, some individuals find themselves in unchartered territory. It can be overwhelming to be socially isolated from co-workers rather than communicating face to face. However, working from home has its benefits. In fact, a Stanford University study from 2014, published in the Harvard Business Review, found that the productivity of employees who worked from home was 13% higher than their office-bound colleagues! In addition, you can save time and money not having to commute and you have an opportunity to take breaks and do things around the house that would otherwise have to wait until the evening hours. Although working remotely does come with a unique set of distractions, by embracing these five key tips you’ll be far more productive and set yourself up for professional and personal success.
Notice the word “spaces” is plural? Now that you’re home, you are no longer tied to a desk! You have freedom, so take advantage of it! While it is still important to have a dedicated home office space that’s comfortable to work at and that you don’t mind showing during an online video conference, it doesn’t need to be your only option. Our bodies are not designed to sit in the same place for an entire day and you shouldn’t have to. You can stand, stretch, pace, walk, kneel or even lie down! The article “How to Perfect Your Home Work Setup So Your Back Stops Hurting So Much” by Fast Company goes into more detail and can provide some great suggestions. If you don’t have to take notes or be seen, perhaps take a walk or pace around the house or the backyard during a call. Heck, you can even sit on a swing while enjoying a cup of coffee during a conference call, as my husband did just this morning!
Some people find it helpful to get up early, get a pot of coffee brewing and jump right into work. For those with kids, starting early can mean getting in a few hours of focused work before the little ones wake up. Personally, I like to start my day with exercise to wake up my mind and body. After a quick shower, I get dressed, grab some breakfast and coffee, get my kids set up with whatever they need and then dive right in to the work. Find what works best for you and commit to it for a more efficient work day.
If you are engaging in video conferences, getting dressed appropriately is a must and may help you transition to work. If your work doesn’t involve engaging visually with others, feel free to stay in your PJs if that works for you. We won’t tell anyone.
Some jobs require lots of back to back meetings with colleagues, while others allow greater flexibility. Either way, it’s important that you set a schedule that will maximize your efficiency and sanity when working from home. Find a rhythm that works for you, set your calendar accordingly and stick to it. For some that means an early start with a daily mid-morning break for a run. For night owls, it could mean a 10am wake up and a few focused hours of work at night after putting the kids to bed. During these unprecedented times, working parents are finding ways to coordinate schedules so that both get to put in a full day of work while also giving the kids at home the attention and help they need for at-home learning.
When you are in an office, in-person meetings and breaks naturally occur with co-workers. Without these breaks, it’s easy to lose motivation and focus. The traditional 8-hour day without breaks does not need to be the norm, especially when working from home. Breaks help reduce decision fatigue, lack of focus and eye strain.
A study in 2017 conducted by the Draugiem Group, tracked employees’ work habits to evaluate how much time people spent on various tasks and compared it to their productivity levels. It revealed that people who were religious about taking short breaks were much more productive than those who worked longer hours. The ideal work-to-break ratio was 52 minutes of work followed by 17 minutes of rest, where they separated from work completely (that includes no checking email!). So, to increase your productivity and beat distractions, be sure to take a 15 min. break after an hour of work. This is a great time to get up and take a walk, stretch, put up a load of laundry or make a new cup of coffee. If your kids are learning at home, utilize your breaks to check in with them.
By using an online calendar, like Google calendar, and scheduling time for these personal breaks, you’ll be more likely to take them and then return to work refreshed and ready to tackle the next project!
In order to give 100% to your work and 100% to your family and yourself, it’s important to set clear expectations and boundaries as to when you are working and when you aren’t. If you define your working hours early on and maintain them, colleagues and family will pay greater respect to them. As a marketing consultant for the past 12+ years, whenever I started with a new client, I was quick to let them know that I was available from 8am-2:30pm and again later in the evening for a few hours, but 3pm-7pm was my family time. This early communication helped set expectations for meeting times and email responses.
I’m not going to lie; working from home when your partner and kids are also home is not easy. Communication and prioritization are the keys to making it go more smoothly. Schedule time to sit down with your partner and review your work schedules. Identify who is responsible for the kids throughout the day (it may rotate every couple of hours or switch half way through). Be sure to communicate the plan with your kids.
When you are in a designated room working, hang a sign to remind your family and request no interruptions. There are some really cute Do Not Disturb signs that you can buy on Etsy! Another tip, give your kids a 10 minute warning before you start your work. Ask them if they need anything from you and get them set up before you dive in to your projects. This check-in will reassure the kids that they are a priority to you, which emotionally will help them cope with the new schedule, as well as help to minimize interruptions.
As for setting expectations for yourself, be realistic about what you can accomplish during the day. Set a list of priorities at night for the next day and stay focused on those top priorities. This will help you stay on track and be a more efficient and effective employee.
Working from home can be a beautiful thing, but with it comes a unique set of distractions that can really throw you off your game. Distractions can vary from person to person, so sit down and make a list of the ones that impact your focus and efficiency the most and come up with a plan to combat them. Perhaps it’s ignoring the doorbell when packages arrive, not answering your phone for personal calls, or sitting far away from the kitchen to avoid mindless snacking. Technology can be our biggest source of efficiency or our largest distraction. Know thy self. If you are tempted to check Facebook, schedule a block of time to allow yourself to do it on a break, so that you can remain single-focused on work when it’s time for work. For some, background noise or music is helpful for others it’s disrupting. Again, figure out what works for you and embrace it.
Like many, I have two children (10 and 13 years old) who are currently home while my husband and I are both trying to work. In order to limit distractions from my children, I’m implementing a few different strategies. I try to work in shorter blocks of time aligned with them completing age-appropriate activities (Their school has not yet started remote learning). I let them know when my husband and I require quiet. I also align my breaks with their need for help. Given this difficult and tricky situation, I’m a bit more flexible with technology. In addition, I encourage them to take ownership of making snacks and lunch and helping with more housework. They have risen to the occasion and have actually enjoyed these more grown up responsibilities. In fact, my 13 year old made waffles for breakfast for my husband and I and my younger daughter helped her older sister with the laundry. These strategies all result in fewer interruptions when we’re trying to focus on work. It also keeps them busier!
Distractions can vary based on the age of the kids. Admittedly, it is harder when they are younger and you may need to adjust your schedule and expectations accordingly. In response COVID-19 and the requirement that parents work while kids learn remotely from home, Fast Company published a great article with additional tips on how to work from home with kids of all ages.
While working from home has been thrusted upon many and will likely shift the working paradigm in the US for years to come, hopefully these tips will help you not only embrace the change but enjoy the opportunity that comes with it!