With the acceleration of the COVID-19 virus and the accompanying social isolation strategies to slow it’s spread, many are being asked to work from home. As a grizzled work-from-home veteran let me share some thoughts that might be helpful as you make the transition, even if it’s only temporary:
Sounds easy, right? One of the things you immediately notice when working from home is the lack of structure. Nobody notices when you walk into or out of your work area. This can cause people to slide into a funk. The first few days working from home you shower and dress professionally. A couple days later, you’re wearing sweats. Shortly afterwards you’ve stopped showering completely and spend all day in your Harry Potter bathrobe. When people hear I work from home I often hear something like “I’ll bet you work all day in your pajamas”, but I can honestly say I have never spent a workday in my pajamas in the 20+ years I’ve worked from home. Just as our posture impacts our energy and engagement, so too does our clothing impact our “I’m ready to work” attitude. Get dressed.
Do you like being a slave to your in-box? Do you like the feeling that comes with never completing your ever-expanding “to do” list? Neither do I. The solution is to identify the three most important things you need to accomplish in the coming week and (here’s the important part) schedule time blocks on your calendar to focus on those tasks. These time blocks are sacred and can only be moved in urgent circumstances. You don’t blow off meetings you called with five people, so don’t blow off these meetings with – and for – yourself. Weekly planning helps us avoid the busy-but-not-productive reality of most people. Bonus: this applies to office jobs just as much as work-from-home jobs, but I find it particularly important if you want to make use of your flexibility. Plan your week.
Take a Break
Sometimes people have a different sort of problem when working from home – they rarely get up from their work area. Unlike the office, where you might take a break by the coffee machine, chat with someone, or walk upstairs to this or that meeting, working from home can involve unbroken hours of computer tapping and conference calls. Suddenly it’s dark outside and you have a messy desk that includes dirty dishes from your lunch (which was likely microwaved leftovers). This isn’t a healthy way to be. Do a one-minute plank. Get outside for a walk. Jumping jacks are a great way to get your body moving. Feel stupid doing pushups or jumping jacks in your home? So what? Nobody else is there. Take a break.
Being asked to work from home? Think about how much time you will NOT be commuting. Go ahead, calculate it. How much time does it take to walk out your door and get your body all the way to your desk at work? Then calculate the return trip. Then multiply that total commute time by five days per week. Then add the extra time you spend going out to lunch every week that you wouldn’t take at home. Then calculate the number of meetings you won’t necessarily go to, and the transit time to/from those meetings. Then add it all up. The result is usually a few hours. These hours have been created out of thin air. For you! Think of these hours as a gift and ask yourself: what will I do with this gift? What I hope you do is use it to make a difference – for you, for your company, for yourself. Maybe you can use some of the time to write down some creative ideas for your team and predictions for your industry. Maybe you’ll use some of that time to create something interesting. Maybe you’ll use it to master a new skill. Either way, don’t lose that time. It’s a precious gift. Take advantage.
There’s more, of course, but these are the basic building blocks to successfully working from home.
Wash your hands! Don’t touch your face!