The national quarantine has changed every part of our daily lives. Here's how you can reestablish some normalcy in your workday.
How to stay focused when working from home during a pandemic
Before coronavirus hit, there were an estimated 4.7 million U.S. workers working from home. Now in light of the pandemic, millions more are being asked – or volunteering – to work remotely in an effort to practice social distancing, stay at home, and “flatten the curve.”
Social distancing is meant to prevent the rampant spread of COVID-19 by pausing crowds and gatherings. That’s because the disease, if left to spread unchecked, would tax our healthcare facilities to the point of chaos – we would not have enough personnel, supplies, or medical equipment to manage the influx of patients.
So that’s the logic behind the national directive to practice social distancing for now. But how do you continue a normal work life if you’ve never worked from home before?
Here are seven work from home productivity tips to help you navigate the new normal.
1. Get your tech and workspace ready
Technology makes remote work possible, so bring your laptop, chargers, phone, mouse, keyboard, and monitors from your workplace if you’re able. Many employers will help accommodate your needs, so ask your supervisor or IT department for the equipment you need to do your work.
Make sure that you also have access to the software or applications you need to do your job. Again, your IT department should be able to install or give you access to the applications you need, like Slack, Zoom, Microsoft Office, Google Drive, etc.
The other part of this equation is establishing physical space in your home as your work area. Choose a room or space away from common areas (like the kitchen) to minimize distractions, especially if your family, kids, or spouse are also home.
2. Plan your workday
Being in an office creates daily routines. Try to maintain those during your work-from-home days by blocking off time to get certain tasks done. For example, if you spend the first hour of your morning checking and responding to emails or returning phone calls, do that at home, too. Make sure to block off breaks and lunch just as you normally would and take them fully away from your laptop.
It’s also smart to create a list at the beginning of each day to establish what you want to accomplish. Don’t just assume that the workday will be productive because you don’t have anyone in the office stopping by your desk to chat. Unblocked time and lack of clear daily goals can lead to procrastination or staring out the window indefinitely and wondering what comes next.
3. Keep your morning routine
We can’t stress this enough: sticking to your usual morning routines as much as possible can help create some sense of normalcy amidst the uncertainty. That might mean showering, getting dressed, walking the dog, and reading or listening to the news while you have a cup of coffee or tea.
It can be easy to skip your routine, grab a coffee and bagel, and sit at the computer. However, the point of a routine is to help prepare you for your day. Don’t cut it short – it’s vital to getting your mind and body ready for work.
And we’d be remiss if we didn’t include a quick note about pajamas. Do what makes you feel comfortable, but many seasoned remote workers strongly recommend getting dressed each day. You don’t have to dress in formal business attire, but forging the bathrobe and slippers can be a small gesture that subconsciously signals it’s time to work, not unwind.
4. Have scheduled check-ins and video conferences
Quarantines can be a hard adjustment when you’re used to spending your workday with coworkers, especially if you live alone or aren’t able to visit your friends and family. One study says that an adult can have an average of 12 social interactions per day (not just at work), and it’s essential for mental and emotional health.
Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean your work friendships need to fall by the wayside. In fact, your work friendships can help keep you productive by helping you talk through project challenges, allowing you to vent frustrations, or just forcing you to take a small break so your brain can regroup.
Decide on a channel of communication, such as Hangouts, Slack, or texting, and schedule some online social time to decompress and interact.
You can also coordinate with your coworkers or team to incorporate video conferences into your workday. Even digital face-to-face interactions can help everyone feel more connected.
5. Feed your brain
Your brain needs fuel to help you stay productive and focused. Experts recommend five things in particular to help boost your concentration: blueberries, green tea, flax seeds, fatty fish, and water.
Yes, you can still drink coffee. But don’t overdo it with the caffeine. Too much can cause nervousness and restlessness, and there's already enough of that going around.
6. Communicate often
Good communication is the key to successfully working remotely, but it might be a skill that needs to be cultivated if you’re not used to this style of work. Stay in touch with your team or your manager – whether that’s through email or Slack – to align on goals and report on progress. Some remote teams find a brief end of day list that details what was accomplished helps keep everyone accountable and creates transparency into how time is being spent.
Communication can also help you manage expectations. If your children are home and you are working while parenting, your productivity will probably not match your time in the office when the kids are in school.
These are wild times that call for a little more understanding and empathy. Be open about your circumstance and what you can reasonably accomplish. Chances are your teammates are facing similar realities.
7. Avoid household distractions
If you’re like procrastinators the world over, doing the laundry and cleaning the house will never seem more appealing than when you first start working from home.
Pro tip: Don’t do it.
Establish office hours and treat your home as though it were your workplace during that time frame. This means letting your now-homeschooled-children and/or significant other know you are working. It means ignoring chores as if you aren’t in the house. Just pretend you can’t see the mess until it’s time to clock out.
By keeping office hours and not tackling home chores during your workday, you will be less likely to work intermittently for 12 hours. Get the work done and get back to living life.
Remember: social distancing doesn’t mean you can’t step outside or walk the dog after work; just stay 6 feet away from other people. Getting some fresh air and stepping away from your computer can be a great way to keep your spirits up during this time. We’re all in this together and we’re gonna get through it.