Due to the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus, many companies have allowed their employees to work from home. For those who have never worked from home before, the idea can seem both appealing and daunting. Here are some tips I have learned from frequently working from home in the last couple of years.
1. Check All Your Hardware
Before you start working from home, make sure you have a reliable internet service and a backup hard drive to save your work in case you encounter any unexpected power shortage or technical issues, and make sure your home computer’s antivirus software is up to date. This last point is especially important. Many employees sign in to their corporate network remotely, therefore the risk of exposing these networks to computer viruses and hackers increases exponentially. Try not to be the one who endangers your company’s network.
Besides ensuring your antivirus software is robust and up to date, follow the best recommended practices, including refraining from clicking links — even if it they’re from a known email address — unless you absolutely have to and double-checking with the sender by phone before you click. Create a strong password for your home network and use multi-factor authentication if you can. If you have to step away from working, even for a minute, log off from your computer.
2. Have a Designated Work Space at Home
One of the downsides of working from home is that there are many distractions in the house, especially if you are also at home with your spouse, children, or pets. To mentally focus, you need a physical “separation” from your non-work life.
If you have multiple rooms in your home, designate one as your office. If you have limited space, use a corner or a desk in your room to work. Having a designated work space not only helps you concentrate and build your context-dependent mental state to work more efficiently, but when you are in that space, both you and your family know you are working and need to focus. Your husband shouldn’t ask you what’s for lunch, and your kids shouldn’t expect you to join them to play nor come into your workplace to play.
3. Set a Schedule, Have a Routine
Remember that even though you don’t have to go to the office, you are still working, so it is important to have a schedule. Plan your day ahead. Try to start and end your work day at the same time with the same routine each day. The more you can stick to a routine and a schedule, the less sidetracked you will be, increasing your productivity.
If you are a morning person like I am, plan to do the most challenging tasks in the morning before you check your emails, as emails can be very distracting, and we all send and receive an abundance of them daily. Getting your most challenging task done first thing in the morning will give you a sense of accomplishment for the day while still leaving you plenty of time to catch up on email.
4. Set Ground Rules for Family Members
Most likely, your spouse and children are home with you during at least some working time. Let them know where your work space is and what your work hours are. Set expectations and rules up front.
For example, when you are on a conference call, they should try to be quiet and avoid being seen and heard. When you are in your work area and during work hours, they should try not to interrupt you unless it is an emergency. You may also want to give them some examples of what constitutes an emergency.
5. Dress for Success
Since you don’t have to go to the office, the first temptation is to wear pajamas all day. Don’t do it. Research shows that what you wear will determine how you act. I am all for wearing something comfortable at home, but wearing PJs will make you less focused and more easily distracted in your work space.
Furthermore, consider a situation in which you have to jump on a last-minute video conference call — you wouldn’t want your colleagues, customers, or boss to see you in your PJs, would you? Remember, you are still working.
If those pajama pants are too comfy to take off, make sure to dress up at least your top half: Put on a presentable blouse, a non-wrinkled shirt or sweater. Ladies, there is no harm in putting on some light makeup even when working from home.
When you are put together, you feel more energized and ready to go. Dressing up helps put your mind into work mode. When you present yourself professionally, others will treat you professionally.
6. Earn the Trust of Your Colleagues Through Transparency
One of the benefits of working from home is the flexibility. So if you have to take some time during your work hours to get something done for yourself or your family, let your colleagues and boss know how long you will be gone, how you plan to make up for the time and work missed, and how they can reach you if there is a work-related emergency.
The more transparent you are, the more you can build trust with people you work with. Your boss and colleagues will be more understanding and appreciative when you keep them informed ahead of time.
7. Take Smart Breaks
Since you are not in your typical office, your breaks are not limited to talking to co-workers or walking around the block near the office building. Instead, you now possess a variety of options: If you want to relax, you can do a short meditation or yoga class. You can find countless relaxation apps and YouTube videos.
One of my favorite apps is Calm. It offers a series of meditations, with some focusing on reducing anxiety and others on training and strengthening your mind. Besides reducing stress and maintaining calmness, meditation has also been proven to help lengthen attention span, which is especially useful in eliminating external stimuli when you are working from home.
If you like to be active during your break, go for a run, walk your dog, do something with your garden, or fix something in your house you have been meaning to do for a long time.
8. Stay Connected with Existing Relationships and Build New Ones
For those who work for a small business or are self-employed, working from home can sometimes be a very lonely and isolated experience. You may feel there is no one to talk to or bounce ideas off. It takes effort to stay connected with existing relationships and to build new ones.
See if you can identify at least one accountability partner from your existing relationships. Share your goals with others and have regular daily or weekly check-ins to help each other stay focused on them. For new relationships, look for like-minded people through professional networks or websites such as LinkedIn, make a virtual introduction, and see if they want to meet either in person or through a video chat.
Additionally, see if you can join a Google group or a group chat. I’m part of several such groups either through work or hobbies. We chat about a variety of topics, from world events to homemade chicken soup recipes. I usually set aside a timeframe dedicated to participating in these online chats, so I can finish doing my regular work while staying connected.
9. Use Downtime Wisely
Just like working in the office, you will have some downtime. The benefit of working from home is that you can fill that downtime with things you like or tasks you need to do but for which you haven’t found time in the past: Read a book, take an online training class, learn a new language, work out, do something around the house, send a belated “thank you” note, play with your children, or call your parents and grandparents to check on them — just to name a few. Time is the most precious thing, so use it wisely.
10. Have an End to Your Work Day
This sounds straightforward, yet sometimes it is hard to do. One of the biggest complaints from those who often work from home is that their work days never seem to end. They feel they are working all the time.
You may find it tempting to check work emails after putting your kids to bed, or your boss may take the liberty to call or email you for some work-related issues late at night. Unless it’s a work emergency that must be dealt with at the moment, you need to set boundaries for yourself and the people you work with so you can spend quality time with your family, especially during this challenging time.
Working from home can be fun, productive, and exciting. But it is up to you to make the most of it.