The global spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, is keeping people at home. Major conferences, including Mobile World Congress and Google I/O have been canceled to decrease the risk of infection. Some employers are encouraging or requiring people to work from home for an indeterminate amount of time. If you’re new to the work-from-home lifestyle, whether due to coronavirus or because you’ve managed to find a remote-based job, you’ll need to change some of your habits and routines to make working from home a success.
I’ve worked 100 percent remotely for more than five years, and I have some friends and colleagues who’ve done it, too. We all face unique challenges, not only because we have different personalities, but also due to our various lifestyles and the type of work we do. Still, many of the core issues we face as remote employees are the same.
Everyone who works remotely has to figure out when to work, where to work, and how to create boundaries between work and personal life. What about office equipment, career development, training opportunities, and building relationships with colleagues? Working remotely, especially when working from home most of the time, means figuring out these issues and others. Here are 20 tips for leading a better and more productive remote-working life, based on my experience and what I’ve learned from others.
1. Maintain Regular Hours
Set a schedule, and stick to it…most of the time. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. That said, one of the benefits of remote work is flexibility, and sometimes you need to extend your day or start early to accommodate someone else’s time zone. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning to make up for it.
Automatic time-tracking apps, such as RescueTime, let you check in on whether you’re sticking to your schedule. They can also help you figure out what times of day you’re most productive versus when you slack off. You can use that information to your advantage by reserving your hours of high focus for your most important tasks.
2. Create a Morning Routine
Deciding you’ll sit down at your desk and start work at a certain time is one thing. Creating a routine that guides you into the chair is another. What in your morning routine indicates you’re about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee. It might be returning home after a jog. It might be getting dressed (wearing pajama pants to work is a perk for some, but a bad strategy for others). A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day.
I say “morning,” but not everyone who works from home follows a nine-to-five schedule. Yours might be a “getting started” routine at another time of day.
3. The kids are alright — but they’re home too.
With school closures and concerns about putting kids in day care, as well as staffing those places up, parents are faced with a challenge, especially parents who have to physically go to work because they have no remote work option.
If you are working from home with kids in tow, you’ll need to make a plan for education and entertainment. Stock up on books and puzzles. Also, it’s OK to use streaming services (Common Sense Media has good recommendations for kid-appropriate content).
One note on play dates, though, since school closures are designed to limit contact among kids. Our Life Kit parenting hosts, Anya Kamenetz and Cory Turner, reported on managing parenting in the time of coronavirus, and cite this advice from Maria Litvinova, a scholar who has published several papers on school closures in epidemics:
“If the school is closed for a certain amount of time, even if it’s long and difficult for parents to organize the care, it’s important that they do not regroup children again because the effect of the school closure will be much less.”
Families across the country are getting very creative with virtual play dates using video chat as well as platforms like Roblox, which allows kids to chat while playing a video game together.
Also, be flexible about how much work you might realistically be able to get done if you’re balancing child care. #WorkLifeBalance. Just not the kind you were hoping for.
Here are more tips on managing parenting in the time of coronavirus, including ideas for working from home with little ones.
4. Manage expectations.
It’s wise to have a discussion with your boss about what can actually be accomplished from home.
Ask your manager what the priorities are, and discuss how tasks will get done.
How are teams going to track projects they’re working on? How will they meet to discuss this? Will you all be connecting on Slack or email? Will there be standing meetings at a certain time to get everyone coordinated?
This should be an ongoing conversation. Remember, going fully remote is a new experience for many companies and their workers. Be honest about what isn’t working or can’t get done in these circumstances. More overall communication is going to be necessary.
5. Leave Home (get fresh air)
You don’t have to eat out every day, but try to leave your home or work space regularly. The same advice applies to people who work in traditional office settings, too. Leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good.
You don’t have to go to crowded public spaces to get away from your solo workspace. Take a walk. Weed the garden. You get the picture
6. Don’t Hesitate to Ask for What You Need
If you’re employed by a company or organization that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a day or two when you realize you need something new. It’s extremely important to set precedents early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably, including the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, printer, software, and so forth. Organizations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. Ask what it is and how often it’s renewed. It also doesn’t hurt to ask whether there’s a loan agreement or who will pay for return shipping or disposal of outdated equipment.
If you’re working from home unexpectedly due to coronavirus, ask for what you need within reason. You could be working from home for weeks on end and you should be comfortable, but ordering a new office chair and desk might be asking too much. Consider a mouse and keyboard, plus a back-supporting cushion instead.
7. Keep a Dedicated Office Space
In an ideal world, remote employees would have not only a dedicated office, but also two computers, one for work and one for personal use. It’s more secure for the employer, and it lets you do all your NSFW activities in private. But not everyone has a separate office in their home, and keeping two machines isn’t always realistic. Instead, dedicate a desk and some peripherals only for work use. For example, when your laptop is hooked up to the monitor and external keyboard, it’s work time. When it’s on your lap, that’s personal time. You may want to go as far as partitioning your hard drive and creating a separate user account for work.
8. Socialize With Colleagues
Loneliness, disconnect, and isolation are common problems in remote work life, especially for extroverts. Companies with a remote work culture usually offer ways to socialize. For example, they might have chat channels where remote employees can talk about common interests, meetups for people in the same region, and in-person retreats. It’s important to figure out how much interaction you need to feel connected and included. Even if you’re highly introverted and don’t like socializing, give a few interactive experiences a try so that you’re familiar with them if you ever decide you want them. If you’re not at a company with a strong remote culture, you may need to be more proactive about nurturing relationships.
9. “Show Up” to Meetings and Be Heard
Certainly, you’ll take part in video conferences and conference calls, but it’s a good idea to attend optional meetings sometimes, too. Be sure to speak up during the meeting so everyone knows you’re on the call. A simple, “Thanks, everyone. Bye!” at the close of a meeting will go a long way toward making your presence known.
Working remotely requires you to overcommunicate. Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. When you finish a project or important task, say so. Overcommunicating doesn’t necessarily mean you have to write a five-paragraph essay to explain your every move, but it does mean repeating yourself. Joke about how you must have mentioned your upcoming vacation six times already, then mention it again.
11. Be Positive
I like succinct and clear messages, but I know that the less face time I have with people, the less they know how to interpret my tone in writing. When you work remotely full-time, you must be positive, to the point where it may feel like you’re being overly positive. Otherwise, you risk sounding like a jerk. It’s unfortunate, but true. So embrace the exclamation point! Find your favorite emoji :D. You’re going to need them.