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How to Work from Home and Stay Sane

Staying focused and productive in the midst of chaos

It’s what we all dreamed of! The day we get to telecommute and work from home. How long have we thought: I would be less stressed, less anxious and much happier if my boss would just let me work from home. Well, that time is upon us and guess what? It’s not as easy as we thought it would be. This was our thought before COVID-19, and now here we are; being told we must work from home; being told we can’t report to work at the office; being told to stay home and distance ourselves from our co-workers, family and friends. Hmmm…not happening quite the way we thought it would. Will you be able to successfully post up at home, or do you work best in an office environment? Uncertainty looms.

Managing your remote workspace
So now what? You’ve packed and schlepped your office equipment (along with other essential office items) to your humble abode. Computer or laptop is unpacked and you’re ready to fire it up. You’ve got Zoom, Google Hangouts, ezTalks, Facetime, Duo, Microsoft Teams and an additional arsenal of apps and software to keep you connected, interacting and productive.  You’re dialed in and ready to get sh** done. You’ve totally got this under control! What could possibly go wrong? Feeling much like Wonder Woman or Superman-confident and invincible, you pour a cup of coffee and head to your new ‘office space’. Head high with purposeful strides because after all, this is what you’ve always dreamed of, right? And then…it begins. The kid starts crying. The dog starts barking. Your spouse is hollering for you from the other end of the house. Your phone rings. Your sister is texting about the latest on social distancing. Your Zoom meeting begins in 5 minutes. You can’t locate the data on the VPN. Well, it seemed like a good idea.

Who Benefits from working remotely?
The truth is, employers and employees alike can benefit from remote work. Employees experience boosts in morale, productivity and product/service/company loyalty. Employers experience less turnover, fewer ‘sick days’ taken, and lower, overall operating and overhead costs. Sounds like a win/win for everyone. But in order for this to work effectively, a little structuring needs to happen first. Let’s explore this more. 

Key Points

  • Working remotely may or may not be a permanent situation for you.
  • Having a home office requires separation of work space and personal space.
  • Statistically, employees who work from home are more productive (think no office gossip, inefficient meetings, loud coworkers, etc.)
  • Working from home requires addressing a whole set of different distractions.
  • There are many resources available for telecommuting.

How to get Into a Productive Work From Home Routine

Routine out of alignment?

A little story: My spouse is a Research Scientist. She is very structured. Her night ends with choosing an outfit for work and selecting workout clothes (even on the weekends). Nightly hygiene, face serums, meds, alarm, etc. Her morning routine is the same everyday. With the exception of Saturday and Sunday mornings, it’s always the same. She drives to work, knowing that when she arrives at the lab, everything is in order. Did I mention she’s very structured? So what happens when a very left brain, exacting scientist is suddenly forced to work from home? Well…it isn’t easy! A work space in the dining room has its own challenges. I’ve witnessed first hand what happens when routine is disrupted. When this happens, remember the 4 R’s: Realign, Reassess, Rinse, Repeat.

Take a look at your typical work day and break it down into manageable doses. 

What did my work day look like? Did I work 7a-3:30p so that I could pick up the kids at 4p? Did I have flexible work hours? Was I an employee or a contractor? Did I leave the office or ‘campus’ to take care of personal tasks? Structuring your work day at home will allow you to operate in the same way as you did at the office. 

4 ways to keep your daily routine structured-Work Space/Personal Space

Do you need structure? Well this really depends what type of work you do, and how much interaction and collaboration your position requires. Working from home isn’t easy for everyone. It’s something you have to learn-like riding a bike, or playing baseball. If you create a solid plan for maintaining structure while working from home, you’ll hit a home run. Yeah, that was intentional.

  1. Good morning sunshine! Evaluate your morning: What was your morning routine before you started working from home, and how can you incorporate those actions into your new remote world? Minus the awful commute, of course. Mornings are a good time to take stock and evaluate your work day. Remember POP: Plan, Organize, Prioritize in order to remain focused. TIPS:
    • If you know you need structure, wake up at the same time you always did. Do the whole, ‘go to bed early, wake up early’ if that’s what you’re familiar with.
    • No commute means more time…to do what? Maybe you can spend that time having a longer, more engaging family breakfast. Dog acting antsy? Take the pooch for a quick walk. If you have neither kids nor pets, take this time to organize your thoughts and your work schedule for the day. It’s proven that individuals who plan their day are far more effective and productive.
  2. Time flies when you work from home! Evaluate afternoon: What was my mid-day/afternoon routine at the office? Did I take lunch break at the same time? Did I have daily scheduled meetings at 2p? Meetings require timeliness and organization to stay out of the hot seat with your supervisor. It’s difficult to miss a meeting when you’re in the office, but might be a struggle to show up on time when working from home. Damn that dryer buzzer went off just now. Now I’m folding laundry-ugh. TIPS:
    • Take your lunch at the same time each day. This will keep you on track for those afternoon Zoom calls, meetings and webinars. Seriously, one benefit of working from home is lunch! You have more options-do I want to go out to the pizzeria on the corner, or have that delicious carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, vegan leftover dish? No more packing your lunch in little containers. No more communal refrigerator and hoping no one steals your meal. Just walk over to your fridge and consume. Since you have more time in the morning to do other tasks, you can actually plan your lunch meal and make it more healthy. 
    • Take your afternoon break at the same time each day. If you took a break in the afternoon at the office, take it at home. If you didn’t take a break, take one. No one needs to chain themselves to their desk. I get it…you have deadlines. Stick to your schedule (remember, the one you planned this morning?). Now, you can really incorporate that work/home balance you’ve been searching for. 
  3. That shiny bright object! Keep Distractions at a Minimum. Nothing will derail you faster than your environment. You can attempt to concentrate and remain focused, but the reality is-distractions are all around you…like a tiger (not of the Joe Exotic kind), waiting for the right moment to pounce. You are the likely prey. TIPS:
    • Solitude. Awesome, we’re already quarantined and now I have to isolate myself even more in a dedicated ‘office space’? Yep, that’s exactly what I’m saying. If you have the ability to dedicate a room to your new work space do it. If real estate is at a premium, you’ll need to set ‘office hours’ so that others in your home know when you’re working. Be firm, yet understanding. Set boundaries and stick to them. You are all in the ‘same space’ together. Do you really think your kids and spouse want to spend all day with you? Yeah…no. May the force be with you.
    • We all know you love Fluffy-your dog, not the bunny. But Fluffy needs to behave and maintain his/her boundaries. Do your best to recreate your office space at home. If you don’t take Fluffy to work, then maybe you should reconsider allowing him/her to sit on your lap throughout your shift. You owe this time to your employer. A gate, a door, a backyard. Barker? Now is the time to research options for training your barking dog. 
  4. How Stella kept her groove! Evaluate evening: Night time is so different for us all. I’m not saying that all day parts are the same for everyone. But there’s something about evening activities and engagement that are very personal, and obviously vary from person to person and family to family. In the morning, most get up and go to work. It might be 7a-3p, 8a-4p or 9a-5p (nod to Dolly Parton), If you’re a 3rd shift night owl, then you probably sleep all day. If you’re a morning DJ, your evening will end earlier than most. You see where I’m going with this. TIPS:
    • If you are more structured and your evening routine was to set your clothes out and get your lunch ready, then continue to do it. If you did a workout, took a shower, and watched Netflix…continue to do it. If your routine was to jump on IG or Twitter while eating gummy bears and drinking wine…do it. Do whatever you were doing before you started working remotely. This will make the transition less stressful. 
    • Begin a new habit. Maybe your evening isn’t as structured as others and you have the time and inclination to do something new like take a long walk, or schedule a happy hour Messenger call with family or friends. So many fun apps (Houseparty), so little time. Most of us are watching or binging tv to some extent. It’s all good! Spending time alone is not a bad thing, and if your evening includes spending time with your family, that’s good too.  Now is a good time to incorporate something new into your evening routine. 

Summary: Working from home does not have to be daunting and overwhelming. By using available resources, creating a schedule, and sticking to a routine, you’ll be able to jump into your work with no additional stress. Keep it simple, keep your workspace organized and private as possible, and make sure you have a phat pipe. I’m talking about internet bandwidth, jeez!

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