With social distancing now part of everyday parlance and practice, more and more people are finding themselves working from home for the foreseeable future.
The good news for many is that it means the end of long, annoying commutes, and a chance to leave the distractions of an open-plan workspace.
It might not be that simple, however. While your workday might not start out on such a stressful note as an unpredictable daily commute or having to endure your co-worker’s never-ending cell phone pacing, working at home can present a host of other challenges to your productivity. Here are some common obstacles to getting things done and how to keep focused, while at home.
1. If you need a structured workday, create some structure.
One issue that remote workers face is creating a boundary between the workday and the personal day. When your morning commute might consist of little more than rolling over in bed to open up your laptop, there’s a definite risk of always being on work mode. And the feeling of always being on can backfire and turn into being counterproductive. The idea of “I have an extra couple of hours, I can read this online article” might be an issue in a traditional working space. But when there are more hours to stretch out a workday, there are more chances to procrastinate.
In advance of going into remote work mode, it can help for the team to outline in advance typical working hours. While daily tasks may vary from colleague to colleague—some might have to be on before the markets open, while others need to be around for when Asia wakes up—having a set time for when co-workers can expect their teams to be online and logged into chat functions (more about that later) and ready to answer questions will enhance company cohesiveness during times when remote work might be necessary.
In addition, knowing that one can reasonably expect work to end at a given time can help people manage themselves and set deadlines. Lastly, be sure to establish breaks into the workday. Working from home is a great chance to break away from the sad desk salad of today’s corporate America and take a proper lunch break to get rested and regain focus for the afternoon. Getting out for some quick exercise can help get you refreshed and hone concentration as well.
2. Avail of workplace chat platforms—to an extent.
For the remote workplace, chat platforms such as Slack or Microsoft Teams can be a great way to bounce ideas off one another, check on project status, or share something amusing discovered online. It’s also a good place for co-workers to let each other know that they’re present at work, even if not physically at the office.
But beware: endless Slack chats are a productivity vacuum. The anticipation of wanting to be the first to chime in with a witty riposte can lead to the creativity for which you were hired getting siphoned away into your digital workplace banter.
3. Mimic the look and feel of your usual working environment.
Some people can wake up and start working, roll over, open their laptop, and get to work from their bed, no holds barred. Many, though, need a hint more formality to get into work mode. As Arianna Huffington has preached, bed should only be for two things.
If you have the space, establish a dedicated working area with everything you’ll need to get through the day at your fingertips: computer, phone, chargers, pens, paper, and your favorite coffee mug. This being said, if you live in an apartment and/or have roommates (more on that in a moment)—office space at home might be as much as a premium as quiet space in an open-plan office.
In this case, another way to mimic business as usual is to dress the part. Ever hear the advice of dressing up for job interview phone screens? The same concept applies: Being in business casual attire might be just what you need to get into your usual workday flow. Added bonus: You’ll look professional for your office video chats. If you want to use your time working from home to save on dry cleaning bills, that’s fine; just be sure at least to shower for the sanity of both yourself and those in your immediate orbit.
4. Whether human or fuzzy, related or because of rent, keep roommates at bay.
For remote workers, teleconferencing is a tool of the trade. For such tools to work effectively, rules about the “conferencing” part of said portmanteau need to be abided. Generally, the types of interruptions that dog conference calls held in the office aren’t literal dogs. When working from home, though, Fluffy McStuffer might start barking at the most inopportune moment—that is, if your spouse doesn’t waltz in in the middle of your presentation asking where you put the toilet paper, or your child comes in whining for a snack.
Find a quiet space to take calls—whether that’s your designated work space or your bedroom—and if need be, have a sign signalling not to be disturbed. This will also help give you the peace of mind to be productive and confident on your call; in turn potentially reducing later anxiety.
Granted, there are times when everyone living in a given household is going to be working from home, whether during a health scare or in inclement weather. The approach here is to be respectful—and encourage your roommates, related or not, to do the same.
Don’t take phone calls in front of your roommate’s door and likewise, speak up if your roommate has loud music blasting while you’re trying to chip away at that PowerPoint. Part of the benefit from working from home is relative freedom from noise. You shouldn’t have to endure the typical sounds that annoy coworkers within your own home.
5. Use the work-from-home time to try a different mode of working.
Have you always wanted to try a standing desk but have felt shy about asking for it from your supervisor? Go ahead and try one—however improvised—and see if you feel more alert. Interested in trying a productivity device? Tools such as Narbis neurofeedback glasses that can help you focus can help keep you on track.
While cracking into that Excel pivot table or hammering away at that blog post, Narbis brain glasses, based on NASA technology used to train rocket pilots, darken when the system detects the wearer is getting distracted. If the glasses can keep you from procrastinating from work by washing your dishes, imagine how fitter and productive you’ll be when you return to the office.
That is, if you haven’t been forever sold on working from home.