For several weeks, most of the country has been on lockdown in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The change was swift and furious, so workers had only a short time to respond. One day everyone was sitting in rush hour traffic, and the next day those same individuals were scrambling to find a workspace at home. Now social media feeds are full of photos of people working from their basements, garages, and kitchen tables. And if that isn’t enough to paint a vivid picture, check out one of the myriad video conferences taking place from homes everywhere. You’ll hear dogs barking, kids running through the house, and deliveries at the front door. This, of course, is the new normal.
To help you co-manage work and home life – and stay productive at the same time – we gathered a few helpful tips to consider. Take a closer look to see what works for you.
When working from home, the lines between work and personal life can be blurry. It may be difficult to switch gears and focus on the task at hand. A regular routine helps you stay productive, and it keeps your mental health in check as well.
- • Establish regular hours. As tempting as it may be to roll over and grab another hour of shut-eye, there’s still work to be done. Set your alarm and get out of bed at the same time each day. Similarly, you may be tempted to overwork yourself remotely, so take breaks, eat lunch and end your day at a pre-determined time as well so you don’t burn out.
- • Use a planning tool. Whether you choose to use pen and paper, an electronic calendar, or any of a variety of digital planning software, the point is to establish a system that suits your needs. It’s important to maintain structure in your day and not overlook important tasks and appointments.
- • Make most of your mornings. Now that your morning commute is nothing more than a few steps from the bedroom or kitchen to your home office, you may have a little extra time on your hands. Consider using that time to address your own well-being like taking a walk or working out on a stationary bike. How you use this time is up to you, of course, but don’t overlook the positive effects of exercise and healthy eating.
Ideally, you’d like to have a quiet, secure home office with a door that locks, a coffeemaker, and separate computers for work and personal use. In reality, you’re probably shuffling dirty dishes around the dining room table to make space for spreadsheets. Keep in mind that an acceptable middle ground is attainable.
- • Set some ground rules. The other members of your household need clear guidelines about when it’s okay to enter your space, as well as when and how to get your attention. Discuss these rules with the big and little people in your house.
- • Dedicate a desk and a few peripherals to your work. You may not be able to have a separate computer for work and private life. But you need to designate a space specifically for your work. When the computer is there, you’re working, but when it’s elsewhere, you’re not. This is one way that you can separate work life and home life.
- • Designate the best way to reach you for work. You might work best with a messenger application, video meetings, e-mail, or a phone number. Specify your preferences. If you use a phone number for your clients and colleagues, try using a separate phone number for your work as another way to maintain a work-life balance.
Jessica Lipnack is an expert on working remotely and co-author of the book, Virtual Teams. In a recent with the National Center for the Middle Market, a research center located at The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business, she emphasizes the importance of focusing on sociological needs when working from home, such as:
- • Host regular check-ins. Remote work eliminates daily chats at the water cooler or coffee machine. Although they can sometimes be distracting, these discussions are often a form of collaboration, and they need to be replaced with other opportunities for colleagues to exchange information. That’s where the daily stand-up or huddle comes in. While this is more challenging when everyone is distributed, it can still be accomplished virtually.
- • Track team progress. It’s critical to balance socialization with the need to stay focused. When working from home, it’s easy to procrastinate and sometimes harder to get the work done. This may be especially true during the pandemic when kids are home and the news and social media are a constant source of distraction. To avoid this, communicate with your team and document progress toward goals. Then make sure this information is recorded and accessible to everyone.
You may be familiar with the basics of online safety – at least enough to follow the instructions outlined at the office. But your home network and the computer system may need a security tune-up. Your work is sensitive and often confidential, and it’s important to keep it that way. Shannon Lewandowski, innovation and digital consultant at American Modern, shares some basic recommendations:
- • Beef up your router security. If you’re still using the same password that came on the packaging when you set up your home router, you need to change it. To avoid giving away the keys to the castle, use an iron-clad password that includes numbers and characters. Router security should be your most important tech consideration.
- • Invest in antivirus protection. It’s time to bring your antivirus protection up-to-date as well. This goes for any device that connects to the internet through your router. Fortunately, antivirus protection doesn’t need to cost a lot to be effective. Several free or nearly free options are available.
- • Practice email safety. Spammers and phishers are working overtime to steal your data during this pandemic. These folks try to obtain financial or other confidential information from internet users. Right now they know people are stressed and out of their comfort zones, which makes everyone especially vulnerable. Be vigilant about deleting suspicious emails and don’t click a link you don’t trust. Keep in mind that this is not how businesses will communicate with you. Scammers are masters at playing on your emotions, so when in doubt, don’t click.
- • Update your passwords. Your work computer may have alerted you when it’s time to change your password, but now that task is up to you. Update the passwords on your devices using a complicated and random arrangement of numbers, symbols, and capital letters. And don’t use the same password for multiple logins like your bank, video streaming accounts, and email. The extra effort will be worth it in the long run.
- • Research video conferencing options. You may have heard in the news that some conferencing platforms aren’t as robust, reliable, or secure as you need for your business. Take some time to research the many options – including some that are free – to find one that’s right for you. As you read the reviews, keep privacy settings and security top of mind. If this is how you’re conducting business with your clients or communicating with your team, the channel needs to fit your needs.
At this point, it’s hard to know for sure how long any of us will be working from home. But even when the pandemic is over, there may be times when remote working makes sense. A manageable routine, a space that’s conducive to working, and the right technology can make a big difference in your workday and your ability to get the job done. Add in a little socialization, and you’re good to go.
For information only. Not applicable to all situations.