This post has been updated in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. With much of the country working from home - many for the first time - we thought sharing work from home best practices was more important than ever...
Tell most people that you are “working from home” and they envision you lounging in pajamas, eating ice cream from the pint, and binge-watching HGTV. But, the truth is… that couldn’t be farther from the truth. In my experience, people who work from home have a hard time NOT working WHEN home.
I’ll admit, back in the early days of remote working – a little too much fun on a weeknight could lead to the inevitable, “I have to work from home today to let the cable guy in.” Alas…like Thirsty Thursdays, those days are long gone for this working Mama. And, like most people, I find there is simply not enough time in the day to get it all done. So, whether you’re new to the game or in a bit of a funk, take these lessons from me to get off on the right foot.
1. Set a schedule. And stick to it.
With the advent of WFH, the line between home and work has become somewhat blurred. And, it’s up to you to make sure to draw a line in the sand. First things first, set your alarm, and get up and shower. You would think this could go unsaid, but I’ve had days where I roll out of bed and straight to my desk, and they have never ended up being super productive. While it may sound tempting to work in your cozy flannels, creating a consistent routine will make you feel like you are going into an office. Just because you no longer have to fight rush hour traffic, it doesn’t mean you should sit down at your desk the second you wake up! Trade your commute for a walk with the dog to signal the start of the workday. When you get back home, then your work can begin.
2. Let other people in.
Setting your schedule and sticking to it is only part one. But keeping your schedule to yourself won’t help you stay accountable – make sure your colleagues and clients respect your time by managing their expectations. We have all sorts at PMG. Some late-night workers, a lot of early morning workers, and some with mother’s hours. A PMG colleague lists her Office Hours on her Slack status, so we know when we can and cannot bother her with work questions or water-cooler talk.
3. Go out for lunch.
I don’t mean you can’t reheat last night’s pot roast for lunch at 10:25, but make a point of getting out of your house once a day. If it can't be the gym or lunch with friends, take a walk and say hello to your neighbors. Or, take the dog on a hike on one of those trails you "keep meaning to check out." Working through lunch can set a dangerous precedent, and although you may feel like you accomplished a lot – it will take its toll eventually. I can remember the newborn stage of motherhood where I was so desperate for adult interaction I would be waiting by the door for the mailman to show up. No one wants to become that desperate. Trust.
4. Meetup. Virtually.
If you are unable to work in a coffee shop or meet a co-worker at a shared office space, you can still benefit from teamwork. Working remotely doesn’t mean you have to be alone. We live in a time where we can FaceTime relatives across the pond, so working from home shouldn't prevent collaboration. Send an invitation to co-workers for a working video session. Just because you can't meet face-to-face, doesn't mean you can't do a deep dive into a project. Even the most introverted introverts can feel energized by this brainstorming. Again, seeking interaction is okay.
5. Create a to-do list.
THIS is what I need to get done today to make me feel like I’ve accomplished something. Make it realistic. There will be the inevitable interruptions and fire drills, so make sure you pad time for that. Don’t set the bar so high that you have nowhere to go. To-do lists not only keep your deliverables in check, but they also make those middle-of-the-night “flying monkeys” go away. There’s nary a task more satisfying than crossing something off your list. HOLLA!
6. Feng Shui your environment.
I don’t mean to get all new age on you, but some very small changes in your home office can have some very big rewards when it comes to your overall productivity.
- Ditch the clutter! It’s impossible to focus when you are staring at a pile of things that demand your attention. Whether it’s unopened mail, school forms, or client contracts, invest the time in coming up with a system for paperwork that works for YOU!
- Once you clear the clutter, bring life to your office by bringing life to your desk – get a plant! Aside from the boost of color, plants are known to decrease stress and improve overall health. But, go for low maintenance; you don’t want to add tending a garden to your already full plate!
- Lastly (and most importantly), let there be light! My dream office would have a south-facing picture window, but until that day, I make do with a skylight and some dimmable overhead lighting to avoid glare. I’m also considering jumping on the Himalayan Salt Lamp train since everyone seems to be swearing by them.
- Update: I did get the aforementioned lamp, but thanks to a co-worker's suggestion, I also bought a "Happy Lamp" to help me through the long, dark New England winters.
Any virtual working tips that you swear by? Don’t keep ‘em to yourself! Please let us know in the comments below.