May 19, 2020

Work-from-home wisdom for the long haul

One of the (many) great challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic has been learning a new way of working, on top of everything else we are experiencing.

For some people, working from home (#WFH) is nothing new.  Although the past couple months have challenged them in other ways, they at least had some level of comfort with remote meetings, the technology needed for file sharing and other aspects of remote work.

For the rest of us, remote work during the pandemic has brought relief that there is still a way to contribute and earn an income … and all kinds of new challenges.  You have probably done some troubleshooting of the basics – internet connection, preferred videoconferencing tool, etc. – but it looks now like many of us are going to continue working for this way for some time, if not permanently.  You need to think about how to ensure working from home works on a longer-term basis.

Here are some best practices from the #WFH trenches.

Set up a dedicated space, even if you don’t always use it

One of the great benefits of remote work is the ability to be truly anywhere.  Even without the ability to leave your home, there’s the couch, the back porch, the front yard … even your bed.  Some people need a straight-backed chair and a desk to get into a professional mindset.  If that’s not you, enjoy it and roam wherever your heart takes you.

Yet, constantly surfing around your house with your laptop — as many new WFH-ers do — can get old and leave you feeling unfocused and unproductive.  However nomadic your work style, you should set up a home base where your documents, headset and other work items live.  Keeping everything corralled will keep you sane, and if you find you are having trouble drawing a line between work and the rest of your life, you can make greater use of this space.

What does your space need?  That’s up to you, but potentially helpful items include: an external monitor, a good desk chair and a wireless mouse.  Plants are a nice touch, and locating near a window will give you welcome natural light, though the right lamp in the right spot will illuminate your work without creating glare.

Unchain yourself from your laptop

People who are new to working from home often feel pressure to stay chained to their screens during work hours.  But think about your office setting.  You work, you pause and chat, you work some more, you break for lunch with colleagues, and then you slide back into work.  Allow yourself this ebb and flow at home as well.  Work through a task, then pause to toss in some laundry, throw the ball for the dog without guilt, or try one of the ideas here for a restorative break.  You will be more effective as a result.

Something that will help with this is clear expectations.  Ask for this if it hasn’t been provided.  And if you are in a leadership position, help everyone understand what is expected of them – and what is not.  Establish norms around when you and others will or should be available, while being clear that no one is expected to be available 24/7 just because they are working and sleeping in the same space.  Then, model these behaviors, including transparency about when you step away to recharge.

Find new ways to connect

Many Americans feel disconnected from others right now, understandably.  Although working from home has long been seen as a perk … in the age of physical distancing, it seems to be contributing to already worrisome feelings of social isolation.  We get a lot out of our social connections in the workplace.

Casual office chats and companionable walks around the block also can yield tangible business benefitsVirtual lunches (check out some best practices here) happy hours and video meetings are all important tools for reinforcing relationships, and those relationships will help ensure you feel like part of something bigger than you.  Which of course, you are.

By the way – if this type of interaction feels forced to you, that’s OK and not unusual.  We are all learning new skills and connecting in these ways is a skill.  We will figure this out and establish new norms with time.  Don’t give up after an awkward experience or two.

Tie your day up with a bow (if you can)

One common recommendation for work-life alignment is to draw a clear distinction between the workday and the rest of the day … commuting can be one way this naturally happens when we work in office settings.

It can be trickier when work happens at home, and trickier still if homeschooling and other challenges mean work spills into your evenings or home needs spill into your workday.  You might not be able to get this “end-of-work-day” idea perfect, but do what you can.  Consider a walk after the bulk of your workday is done, and engaging a buddy at work might help ensure you stick to your plan.  If your family responsibilities mean you have to turn back to work after dinner, try to plan your day so your evening work is different.  Perhaps you can shift from emailing and calls to more solitary work in the quieter hours of the evening.  And even then, try to allow yourself a cup of tea or some other ritual after you put work to bed for the night.

Doing the best we can

This pandemic is asking a lot of all of us, and we are answering the call, but it isn’t easy, and we are certainly making compromises.  Try to recognize that your new work-from-home life is part of that.  It’s easy to transfer the pressure we typically put on ourselves in the workplace to our home offices.  Resist the urge to relentlessly optimize this experience, and try to be OK with doing the best you can.  I will keep sharing ideas with you, and I hope some of them will help you.

What’s helping you work from home?

Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Last updated May 19, 2020

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