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Working Remotely During the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Tips on how to remain productive during a prolonged period of working from home or otherwise remotely (Updated version from that previously published on LinkedIn)

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Today, many employees already work from home on a regular or ad-hoc basis.  You may be part of this cohort.  Thankfully, the millennial generation pioneered and pushed through the normalcy of flexible working options including work from home or remote working.  In certain industries and sectors like IT, it is more prevalent than in others (read manufacturing).

I’ve been privileged that throughout my career I have had the opportunity to work from home.  In the early days, and particularly while at law firms, these were on a very infrequent ad hoc basis (side note – law firms still have some way to go to truly embrace work from home policies being more than just marketing blurb).  Normally, I needed to be at home due to the plumber, for instance, coming over or some other reason.  As I have progressed through my career, I have taken more control of when I work from home and have been afforded this luxury as it has not affected my performance or productivity.  I have found that I tend to be more productive working from home, than having the distractions of office life.  That said, it is important to have the right balance of an office environment and flexibility of working from home or remotely.  Face time and general chit chat can help build relationships in a way that working from home or remotely cannot always deliver. 

With Coronavirus (COVID-19) in full swing across the globe and now the World Health Organization labeling it a pandemic we are seeing an increasing number of companies starting to follow public health expert recommendations by implementing extended periods of “work from home initiatives”.  

While many people may have experienced working from home or remote working, I do not believe that many will have experienced it where it is mandatory and for prolonged periods of time.  Yes, once a week or ad hoc arrangements are fairly normal, but asking entire office blocks of employees to work from home for 4 weeks (and potentially longer) is not the norm.

With this backdrop in mind, I thought it would be beneficial to share some tips for working from home or remotely to help you get through a mandated and prolonged work from home initiative.  

1. Get Dressed

While you don’t need to wear a suit or even business casual, you do need to get out of your pajamas and into daywear.  Although it is possible to work in pajamas for a day or two and still be productive, you will not be productive if you are in your pajama’s day in day out for prolonged periods of remote working.  You do not go to the office in your pajamas, so do not do it from your home office.

2. It is work, and not a holiday or paid time off

While you may feel that being home for an extended period is like a holiday or paid time off, it is not.  You are still responsible for completing your work tasks to the same high standards and deadlines as if you were in the office. This is work, just from a different location.  Put in the same number of hours you normally would.  You may (and I think you will) find that you are actually achieving more in those same number of hours which could have positive effects on you by improving your sense of worth and achievement.

3. Stop worrying and just get on with it

It is all too easy to get distracted by (usually unwarranted) thoughts that your colleagues or bosses are sitting somewhere wondering if you are actually doing any work.  These thoughts can lead to a lack of focus on your tasks and may even lead to overcompensating – ie communicating by phone or email way more than normal just to supposedly show someone you are working.  This is unproductive and does not effectively deal with the work needs to be completed.  Just focus on the work and stop worrying whether anyone else is thinking about whether or not you are working.  They will see for themselves eventually.  You do not need to prove you are working except by delivering that work product.

4. Maintain your routines

To the extent you can, try to maintain the same routines you normally have in the office.  If you have regular in-person meetings, try doing these at the same time (just via phone or skype).  If you usually start at 8.30 am, then be ready to start your work at home (or the remote working location) on time (and dressed).  If you normally have lunch at 1 pm then do the same at home (this may require you preparing your meals on the night before so as not to waste too much time during the day).

If you were considering tweaking your work routines in the office to drive some productivity improvements, then use the opportunity while working from home to experiment with these tweaks. Also, with no travel time necessarily (assuming you will be at home), keep these times for yourself to mentally prepare for the workday in the morning, and decompress at the end of the day.  You could maybe try exercising if this is not something normal in your routine.

5. A dedicated workspace

If you are fortunate to have a home office – now is the perfect time to really make use of it.  If you do not have a dedicated room that is your home office, then try to find an area of your home that is comfortable and separate from the hub of the home (assuming that will be busy during your working hours).  Try to avoid sitting on the sofa to work, or with other family members around, and particularly avoid working with the TV on in front of you.  If you don’t have that in your normal office environment, then you don’t need it at home.

Sometimes, it may be easier to find somewhere other than your home to work.  During the first weeks of remote working due to Coronavirjus, I worked from my home office on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and from other remote working locations on Tuesday and Thursdays.  Why?  Well, with the best will in the world, I cannot control the volume of my 3-year-old son who is at home on Tuesdays and Thursdays with his own routines.  So instead of disrupting his routine, and then finding myself getting annoyed as I cannot concentrate or am not as focused and productive, I get to work from the library or a coffee shop or two.  It is nice as this also forces me to leave home.  However, I have re-evaluated this as I recognize the importance of social distancing to quickly flatten the Coronavirus curve.

If you will have to do calls, then try to find quiet places to do those calls.  Even though you may work in an open-plan setting at your company’s office, discussing your company’s business in a phone in a coffee shop or other public place could lead to some potential confidentiality and privacy issues.  Use headphones when on calls in public places.

6. Stay connected

After a while, it could be that you start feeling isolated, disconnected from your team and colleagues.  By working at home, you may only be seeing your family or other housemates.  You are at home, but not present with those there with you as you are trying to focus on work.  All of this is difficult.

Try to have regular calls with members of your team or other colleagues.  Check on how they are doing by sending the occasional text message.  

If you do conference calls, consider using video chat so that you can see each other (and if you do utilize video chat for conference calls, remember to maintain the same etiquette as you would for an in-person meeting).  If you are a manager or leader, it is incumbent on you to facilitate this regular communication.  I’d even go as far as to say this is part of your leadership mandate.

Not everyone enjoys being at home.  Enforced and mandatory work from home policies could lead to mental wellness issues.  Be there for your colleagues and talk regularly. Getting to a stage where you feel isolated will only reduce your productivity levels and could lead to undue stress. 

There you have it.  This is a difficult time with lots of uncertainty as to what will happen with stemming the spread of COVID-19.  That said, if you find you are required to work from home for an extended period, utilize the tips above and embrace the situation.  I believe that with a positive attitude, you may find yourself being more productive and feeling a greater sense of achievement. This list is not exhaustive so please feel free to give feedback and share additional ideas.

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