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Do More, Stress Less: The Work From Home Edition

I'm a productivity coach who has been working from home for years. Now I get to show you what I know about working from home productively.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I’m willing to bet that as you read this, you are doing so from your home. And I bet that from that home, you are also trying to work as productively as possible, and you might also very well be trying to learn how to be a home-school teacher on the fly as you and your whole family are very likely now currently being asked to stay home to curb the spread of Coronavirus. This is our new reality.

Well, you know what? I’m also writing this from home. But here’s the thing: I am always writing these posts from home. In fact, I feel like I’ve been training for this WFH reality because I’ve been working from home for years. Not only since I opened my business, but for several years before that when I worked in startups and managed HR, Operations and a team. The primary different right now is that not only am I working at home, but my husband is set up working downstairs, and each of my kids are set up in a separate room ready to do “remote school”.

I’ve had many years to hone my work-from-home skills and now I want to share what I’ve learned with you.

To work from home as productively as possible, you need to tackle the following areas:

SETTING BOUNDARIES

When you work from home, you no longer have the same boundaries that are built into working from an office. When you’re done working, you don’t go home, because you already are home. There’s no sign that it’s time to pack up and leave as your other coworkers are starting to go home, because you can’t see them. It can easy to just keep working. And you might be thinking: “Well aren’t I trying to be productive? What’s wrong with working more?” As I’m sure you’ve heard me say before if you regularly read these posts, breaks are incredibly important for creativity, productivity, focus and stress levels. (In fact, you can read more about it here.).

In a 2019 study, 22% of remote workers reported that unplugging after work was their biggest struggle with remote work.

Setting some boundaries will be helpful for your sanity, and it will also be good for your work product. Make sure to:

  • Set and maintain regular work hours. Routine is good, and so are boundaries. Maintaining work hours help you to disconnect when you need to and not let work bleed into all aspects of your life.
  • Select a dedicated spot to work. You want to associate one spot in your house with work. And avoid working in the bedroom, if possible.

STAYING FOCUSED

In an office, we are distracted, on average, every 11 minutes. The level of distraction in your home may be higher or lower, depending on who else lives there. But in addition to the distractions we have at the office, we have some very specific, very different distractions at home. We’ve still got all the beeps and pings of our technology, and we’ve still got our own brains distracting us, but we’ve also now got family or maybe roommates, pets, household chores, and the siren call of TV and video games. So what to do?:

  • Define, and mitigate, your distractors – Sit down for a few minutes and really think about what distracts you most at home, and come up with a plan to limit those distractions so that you can set yourself, and your environment, up for success. This is going to be different for everyone. (Me? I need absolute silence when I work. So for my family, it meant creating a separate workspace, in a separate room, for each member of the household where we wouldn’t hear each other’s calls/classes.)
  • Give TV/video games a hard no – even as a break. The slope is too slippery, so make a bright line rule, and stick to it.

COMMUNICATING EFFECTIVELY

Communicating remotely is a bit different than being in the same space as others. It loses its casualness. We have to be more intentional. Dr. Mehrabian’s well known 7-38-55% rule tells us that only 7% of the meaning we ascribe to someone’s communication comes from their words. The rest is voice/tone (38%) and body language (55%). What does this mean for you?:

  • Use video chat whenever possible, and especially for difficult or complex conversations, as you communicate throughout this period of social distancing
  • Spend some time making sure that you have the tools you need to communicate effectively. Is your wifi sufficient for video conferencing? Do you have a chat tool like Slack set up? Are you thinking thoughtfully about which communication channels to use for which purposes? If you have questions or need something, ask your manager!

STAYING CONNECTED

Do you have friends at work? (I hope so.) And how do you typically maintain those relationships? Most likely through casual office chit chat, going out to coffee, etc., right? So, what can you do to continue to maintain those relationships (and the goodwill that comes with them) while working from home?:

  • Schedule a virtual coffee/lunch with a coworker. You’ve both got to eat (or get caffeinated), so why not do so together over video chat?
  • Recreate an environment for “water cooler chat”. Create, or make use of, a random/general/not-work-related chat channel for sharing weekend plans, just saying hello, etc.

MANAGING YOUR TEAM (IF YOU HAVE ONE)

Managing your team remotely presents different challenges than being together in the office. No more “have you got 5 minutes?” as you’re walking down the hall. Now the time you spend with your direct reports is going to be more intentional, by default, and you might be worried that your ability to manage well was based on proximity. What can you do?

  • Resist the urge to micromanage! Start with trust and go from there. Your team will thank you.
  • Honor the 1:1! Use video chat, don’t cancel it and make sure you are fully present for your employees. Even in the office your 1:1 is probably the only dedicated time they get from you all week. And now they don’t even get those random questions-in-passing answered. Protect this time and use an agenda to ensure you are using it wisely.

It’s going to be an adjustment, but you can do this. And you may even enjoy it!

Want some additional Work From Home resources?

  • I’ve created a FREE “Working Parents Guide to Surviving Coronavirus Quarantine” and if you are trying to parent while working from home, please grab a copy HERE.

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