How to work from home in this time of uncertainty

With novel Coronavirus and COVID-19 cases rising across the world, many of us are either being asked or required to work from home. Telecommuting has been going on for 25 years, but generally it’s what consultants like me, contractors and the like do day to day.  But in recent years, more and more corporate employees work from home occasionally (especially Fridays!).  If you have not noticed, Thursday traffic has become the new Friday in larger metropolitan areas.

Since I’ve had about 20 years’ experience in this, here are some do’s and don’ts on working from home in the age of Coronavirus:

1.     Be disciplined about your work: Find a permanent space in your home where your remote work gets done. (If possible, not the bedroom, because working there for long hours can actually disrupt your traditional sleep patterns). Stick to your spot because you will come to identify it with work, rather than, say, where you store the holiday ornaments, and this will help keep you focused.

Additionally, you’re home, so you’ll get more distracted more easily without the influence of co-workers around you. (“I think I need to re-arrange the dining room furniture.”) In your head or on your calendar, block out time to do work in your workspace (the dishes can wait!) Do your work for an hour or whatever time you block out, then take a break, clear your head, stretch, get a little exercise.

Don’t over-work either. Again, it’s discipline.  Some employers like staff to work from home because they feel they get more hours of work out of them.  It’s true, if you are a workaholic (wink, wink, that’s me) you can fall into working more than 8 hours a day, with no break.  Before you know it, you check your Fitbit and notice you have walked 420 steps all day and it’s 5:00 pm. That is not good either.  You need to find a healthy balance. 

2.     Don’t be guilty about household chores: The beauty of working from home (again, if you’re disciplined) is that you can better balance work and life. It takes 10 minutes to do the dishes, five to put in a load of laundry, 10 minutes to work the dog. You need to take work breaks anyway, so it’s good to allot some of them to “the home work.” This way, by the time your work day should end, say 5 or 6 p.m., you don’t have to dive into the house chores that you would have put off otherwise.

3.     Be comfortable in your clothes: We all joke about working from home in our pajamas; heck I do it all the time! But again, I’ve been doing the work-from-home gig for over 20 years. Seriously, find your literal comfort zone. I’ve known executives who don’t start working from home without dressing as if they’re going into the office. There’s no shame in wearing your PJs all day, but if you feel guilty about, get dressed.

For those who are working from home on a temporary basis due to the current Coronavirus crisis, I strongly suggest staying on your routine.  If you wake up at 6:00 a.m., have coffee, shower and dress, then do the same.  It’s a slippery slope to get out of your routine and then have to jump back in.  We don’t know how long this will last, so it’s best to stay on scheduled.

4.     Teleconferencing: First off, leash the pets and have the kids occupied (see #5). How many conference calls have all been on where someone doesn’t mute, and the dog starts to bark like crazy in the background or Jane is crying because Jimmy stole her doll? It’s a huge distraction. When it comes to videoconferencing, I’m a bit old school in that I tend not to turn on the video feature. But I’m rethinking that in this crisis. The social distancing we’re required to do will truly strain us as humans because humans crave interaction.

Additionally, younger workers are much more comfortable with video conferencing, so time to change it up! Let’s pledge to run a comb through our hair, put a little makeup on, and turn on the video part of the teleconference. People will want to see you, just as much as you want to see them. It’ll remind us all that it’s going to be alright.  And you don’t need a suit or fancy blouse. Just a t-shirt and a smile on video will go a long way.

5.     The Children: This is probably the most difficult work-from-home challenge with Coronavirus and COVID-19 because schools are shutting down and kids have to stay home. In many areas, you don’t really have an option to send them to the recreation center or your church because those institutions are also closed. I worked from home since the day my child was born. Yes, the older years were easier due to school, but from age 1 to 5 it was a challenge to find balance.  Conference calls were during nap time or quiet play time; work hours were during the a.m. when she was not fussy, rested and watching Sesame Street, anyway, you get the idea.  Try to divide and conquer, assuming your spouse is having to work from home as well; build time in each of your calendars each day to look after the kids. He does it during certain time periods and you do it during others. Build some discipline into the kids’ day as well, whether that’s around remote schoolwork, helping with chores or exercising. 

Teach your children that we are all doing our work from home – schoolwork along with Mom and Dad work.  While you block out your scheduled work time (see #1), coordinate your child’s schedule at the same time. Take breaks at the same time too; this will give you and your child quality time, learning time and most of all balance at home.

In the end, this too shall pass, but hopefully these tips will help you work from home more efficiently and with less guilt. I’d love to hear about your experiences in the coming weeks!

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Michelle Clancy

President, Cayenne Global