In these ever changing times, one new reality that many of us have had to confront in the past few days is transitioning from working in an office to working remotely. More and more organizations are attempting to slow down the possibility for infection and transmission of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. While we’re still learning details on how this disease spreads, one clear takeaway is that we all have an obligation to keep ourselves healthy, and to reduce at all costs the chances that we might spread infection to those most vulnerable members of our society. If you haven’t seen this graphic on flattening the coronavirus curve yet, it’s the perfect way to illustrate how we all have a responsibility to reduce risk for everyone.
Should you be in the position of having to work from home when you never have before, you might be thinking to yourself- this is great! But, I’m not sure what this is going to look like in practice. Or, you might be a few days into remote work, and realize that you haven’t changed out of your pajamas in three days and you actually miss the annoying chatter from the office kitchen. No matter how you’re feeling, know this– it’s not that easy to go from working in person to being on your own. So, if you’re feeling nervous or overwhelmed, that’s OK. We’re here to help!
At She+ Geeks Out, we have a blended team– some of our people already work remotely 100% of the time, and others choose to work from home some of the time. Based on the team’s own experiences, I’ve collected some thoughts to share with you. Working from home has its ups and downs, but hopefully these tips will help you settle into your new work reality.
Where are you going to actually be working? It can be very tempting to roll out of bed, grab some coffee in your pajamas, plop down on the couch and start working. However, working from home requires discipline just like you would exercise if you were commuting into a physical office.
Designate an area of your home as your work zone. If you don’t have a home office, maybe this is your kitchen or dining room table. If you can, stay away from working on the couch or from your bed. If you have a family member, partner, or roommate who is also at home and/or working from home, try and have a separate work space from whoever else shares space with you. Also set some guidelines for interaction. Is it OK to chit chat randomly? Do you have any phone or video calls that you absolutely need privacy for? Will you take breaks at the same time? Having these conversations early will help streamline your working experience later on. One other note– your ‘roommate’ might be a young child. Don’t forget to have conversations with them too! What does a closed door mean? Let’s not forget this infamous moment:
Try to create a special space that includes a chair (or sitting/standing space) that you’re comfortable using, and get a headset/headphones that work for you – if you go bluetooth, you’ll have the added advantage of wandering around and moving a bit. If your space is mixed-use, use the below routine ideas to make it used for working only at specific times.
I usually work from home 1-2 days a week, and I always think to myself- I’m going to get sooo much extra work done because I don’t have to hop on a bus or a train! If I’m not careful, what can happen is: I sleep late, hang out on the couch doing my morning Twitter check, and before I know it it’s later than I would have started work had I gotten up to leave my house, and I haven’t even opened my laptop yet. Avoid this trap!
Come up with a morning routine or rituals, to signal that it’s time to get up and ‘go to work’. My routine is as follows:
Your routine might look very similar, or you might start off with a bowl of cereal or a gym workout. No matter what your morning looks like, set a routine and stick to it. Come up with a routine to end your day as well. Perhaps it’s stepping away if it’s after 6 PM, whether it’s going to the gym, making/going out to dinner, or finally having that precious time to watch Drag Race. Tell yourself that once you do X, you are done for the day. This can be a challenge in our hyper-virtual world even without commuting to work, but do your best to put work away so that you can come back fresher than ever the next day.
One of the biggest dangers with working from home is that the lines between personal and work time start to get blurred. Set a schedule, and stick to it. It’s so easy to fall into one of these two extremes: either you find yourself getting extremely distracted (TV! Laundry! Naptime! Now would be the perfect time to clean out the fridge!), or you fall into a depth of working nonstop with no breaks at all (there have been many times where I would get super engrossed in a project, only to realize that the entire apartment was pitch black and it was much later than I’d realized).
Take frequent breaks to get up and stretch. If you use a step tracker, make find ways to hit your step goal. Take a break for lunch and actually step away from your desk or work zone. It’s not only good for stretching, but you also want to give your eyes and brain a rest, too.
Your schedule might shift day to day depending on what else is going on, but make sure to clearly communicate your working hours to the rest of your team. It’s a lot harder to tell when someone is ‘at work’ when everyone’s remote, as opposed to being able to look over and see if your teammate is sitting at their desk. Personally, I like to keep my shared Google calendar extremely up to date so people know when I’m around, when I’m available, and when I’m truly offline.
Working from home means that you’re going to have to shift how you work. Instead of having quick chats or hallway catch ups (if that’s your thing when you’re in person), you’ll want to find ways to create opportunities for conversations virtually. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to miss out– it just means that these discussions will look different.
If you’re in a position to choose technology for your team and can set standards/make suggestions, consider the following:
Lots of people love working from home, but it’s not for everyone. If you’re new to it and having trouble adjusting, make sure you don’t get completely isolated from the rest of the world. For those extroverts among us, if you have other friends, colleagues, or family near you, schedule some social time in. Get coffee, lunch, or even just set aside some time to chat about non work-related topics. If you’re worried about public health, consider using the Vulcan salute instead of a hug.
And finally, give each other (and yourself) some grace. If you’re not used to working from home, it’s going to take some time to get used to it. If you have children, pets, or someone else working remotely with you, know that distractions can happen just as they can at the office. Funny story, one time I presented a last-minute webinar at home and my cat decided it was the perfect time to investigate what I was doing and co-facilitate with me.
It’s alright- these things happen. What’s most important is to maintain a sense of humor and empathy. Take a breath and roll with it.
Remember that no matter whether you’re super excited to be finally remote, or if this is your worst nightmare, there are ways you can support yourself and your colleagues when making this transition, no matter how long or short your remote work experience ends up being. Ultimately, in these times of new realities, the most important thing to remember is to take care of yourself, and take care of your community.