With the onset of the COVID-19 global pandemic, working from home is now a new reality for many of us. We’ve compiled some tips to help maintain productivity and sanity whilst working from home.
Create your space
Possibly the biggest difference between working from home and your old office is the physical space you’re in, so it makes sense to address this issue first.
If you have a separate room or study, then definitely utilise that space to create an area away from family and other possible distractions including the TV, telephone, and background noise. Set some boundaries; if you have kids around, some people like to implement a red light/green light system to let them know when it’s okay to come in.
If you’re struggling with a lack of space and don’t have a separate room or study, try to make it work with what you have. If possible, try to keep your workstation separate from areas you would normally relax, which may include the couch, lounge area, or your bed. While you may prefer to keep your work separate from your eating area, some people may not have that option, and being comfortable in a workspace where you can spread out and sit up properly is more important. If that means setting your workstation up at your dining table, go for it!
We’ve surely all heard about ergonomics and the correct way to sit whilst working, so keep this in mind when setting up your station, i.e. computer at eye level, straight and comfortable posture, plenty of room for legs to stretch out etc. Do your best to find the right equipment, desk, and chair as early as possible. Here in NZ, we’re likely going to be in Level 4 Lockdown for 4+ weeks, so you better get comfortable!
Get familiar with the rest of your bubble's schedules
Given we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and whether you’re living with flatmates or family, it’s likely that we're all in the same boat, so they're probably working from home too and facing similar challenges. Get to know each other’s schedules and find a way to make it work for all, so everyone has their own comfortable space to work in.
Plan for productivity
So, we’ve got our workstation set up, and now it’s time to optimise your days for maximum efficiency.
Know yourself and tailor your day accordingly
When working from home, you have a lot more freedom to plan your day and figure out what works for you. For example, if you know you’re much more focused in the morning, then try to schedule the time-consuming tasks or ones that require a bit more brain power during this time frame. Alternatively, if you're not a morning person, spend that part of the day tackling routine admin or other repetitive tasks.
Set a daily routine and stick to it
Make it clear what your working hours are and stick to them. Communicate these hours with the rest of your bubble and your coworkers. We know change can be hard, but it’s a privilege to be able to work from home at this time, so be sure to hold yourself accountable so you can feel good about what you've accomplished. It's also a good way to ensure you don't get burnt out, as working from home can often lead to overworking.
Lean in to proper planning techniques, like Time Blocking
There are endless methods you can use to plan out your day/week. Whether you’re a paper and pen list-type, highlighting the most important tasks is a great tip! But to take it further, assigning those specific tasks to a time in your calendar with a set amount of time given for each task can help you to commit to one thing at a time. This is called Time Blocking, and it’s a great tip to help you work through those tasks you may have been putting off for a while. Get creative in your Google or Outlook calendar, add in some colour coding and you’ve got yourself an easy to follow, Time Blocking schedule for your week ahead!
"Over-communicate" with your coworkers
Working remotely comes with its own troubles for teams who are used to being only a few short steps away from each other in the office. Communication is key, and a good tip is to “over-communicate” with your co-workers, and to include as much information in an email as possible to avoid the annoying constant back and forth of any questions that may pop up.
Introduce new remote working tools, like Trello
Is your team new to remote working? If you’re involved in projects that require a team effort, there are plenty of free and handy tools online, such as Trello, that help to track the progress of tasks and make things a bit more interactive within a team. Maybe use this as a tool to set yourself public goals or tasks, so your team can see your progress and help to keep everyone accountable.
Work in sprints to stay focussed
If you find it difficult to stay focused, try working in 25-minute blocks and having a 3-minute break in between to walk around the house or grab a glass of water. Focus on short bursts of productive work and be kind to yourself; have a break if you need it! This is an unprecedented time for everyone and will inevitably require some adjustment.
Prioritise your physical and mental wellbeing
On a more personal note, some of the most important tips we have to share aren’t to do with work at all. Trying to keep up a normal work-life balance routine in the middle of a pandemic can be pretty stressful, and it’s important to take care of yourself.
Create a morning routine you look forward to
Keeping a morning routine is one of the best ways to set the scene for the day, whether you're at home or in the office. Waking up a little earlier, spending some time to yourself and allowing the time to shower, and get dressed into new clothes for the day ahead is a good place to start. Similar to our tip to set boundaries, make an effort to wear separate clothes to work in, and separate clothes to relax in, as this helps to turn your work brain off and on at the beginning/end of the day. If you’re a breakfast eater, maybe try to fit this in before you start work, or if you prefer to wait until you’re hungry, use this time to eat away from your desk and have a short break.
This one is super important. You’re likely already going to be spending less time on your feet, maybe due to not having to commute to work every day. Theoretically, this may mean you have more time in your day to fit in some extra movement! Whether you’re someone who likes to start the day with a morning workout or walk, or if you want to fit this in on your lunch break (or maybe both), find the time! Studies have shown that exercise and blood flow allow the brain to work more efficiently once you step back into work mode. Don’t overthink things or beat yourself up. If you don’t feel like working out, acknowledge the fact that you might feel a bit better if you get outside for sun and fresh air, or try an at-home workout to get a sweat on!
Carve out social time
Before the pandemic, our colleagues were some of the people we spent most of our time with. Having regular communication with your colleagues is important, so be sure to check in with them, as well as family and friends, to make sure everyone is handling the change well. There are plenty of apps to have group calls such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, etc. Get it on the calendar and add an extra incentive to make it fun, like virtual Happy Hour!
Be kind to yourself
Still struggling? Give yourself a break! These are crazy, unprecedented times we're living in. It is normal to find it challenging to adjust to this "new normal." Given this is a long game and not a short one, be realistic about where you're at and how you're coping and allow yourself some time to adjust. Perhaps set weekly productivity goals to help you get back into your groove. Your adjustment period may look different to your peers, so don't compare your experience to others'.
Ideally, these tips will not only help you acclimate to the adjustments required of the COVID-19 pandemic, but with your "normal" working life as well. Creating a healthy work life balance is crucial, and will ultimately help you to live a happier and more productive work life, both in the office and at home.