As we trudge through these uncertain times and this unprecedented pandemic, many of us are still adjusting to our “new normal.” Initially, for those of us ordered to stay at home, this week was supposed to be our ticket back to our daily routines. However, at least for my fellow Angelinos, Mayor Eric Garcetti has now expressed that the “safer-at-home” orders will likely stand through the end of May. For those of us stuck at home, and still lucky enough to be working, this carries with it its own set of obstacles.
At face value, working from home may have seemed like a dream: less traffic, more freedom, zero distractions, and all those meetings that could have been emailed become emails. Reality, as you may have noticed, is a tad bit more complicated. Many of us have had to learn how to work remotely, find the energy to pull ourselves away from our families, resist the call of our streaming services, and have come face-to-face that with the realization that effectively working from home requires some serious discipline.
The internet, news outlets, and our emails are abuzz with tips for working from home—so here’s my five steps that I hope can help you structure your new workflow:
- Defining Your When, Where, & How
The most successful remote workers are also typically the most disciplined. Everyone working from home needs to figure out when to work, where to work, and how to separate work life from their personal life. A great jumping-off point is setting your schedule, creating a dedicated workspace, and establishing some boundaries.
Setting a Schedule. No two of us are the same and the same (pun intended) goes for our workstyles. By now you’ve probably been able to identify your peak hours. Trust and respect yourself enough to work during those hours. After you’ve determined what works best for you, formalize it—and don’t forget to schedule yourself regular breaks. Routine is important, but that doesn’t mean that this schedule can’t be adjusted. Try your best to set your new hours in stone but know that you can adjust and modify them as needed. Personally, my peak work hours parallel those of my girlfriend’s work hours (who’s still serving her community at her essential business). In my case, this has allowed me to maintain a healthy distinction between my work life and personal life.
Creating a Workspace. One of the biggest obstacles we face when shifting to a remote workplace is that we lose the comfort and efficiency of our designated environments. Create a well-lit workspace that can be your own. You need to be able to lay some papers out, put up some post-its, and organize your thoughts without worrying about having to break it down at the end of each day. If you’re on the couch with your laptop on your lap you’re going to inevitably be distracted. A workspace helps reinforce your work schedule and distinguishes it from personal time.
Establishing Boundaries. For those of us that aren’t working in a vacuum, we need to set ground rules with those sharing our space. Now that you have a set schedule and a designated workspace, it’s time to make sure everyone else is respecting it. Share with others around you your new work hours and the significance of your new workspace and urge them—if they need it—to create their own.
- Start Time Routines
Once you’ve created some structure at home, it’s time to work on how to best transition into your workday. You need to create a routine that helps trigger a shift from your personal time to a working mindset. This really doesn’t need to be anything too complicated, though some people find this far easier than others. I have met countless professionals who work from home that insist that by changing into their work outfits they’re able to trigger that transition. For me, I’ve found that shutting off the morning news and those first two cups of coffee do the trick—to each their own.
- Technology is Your Friend
Unless you’re Christopher Walken and you hate computers, chances are your remote work revolves around technology. Your internet, networks, computers, and word processors should all have all already been set up, but what about the software you’ll need for those face-to-face meetings. Luckily, there’s a ton of applications out there that can take care of this for you, all with relatively mild learning curves. Most of these applications offer either free or introductory options that’ll help you stay connected to your teammates and colleagues: Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and Hangouts. Figure out what your peers are using, and what works for you, and stay connected.
- Meetings: Be Heard, Open Up, & Listen Up
Now that you have your technology squared away it’s time to make the most of it. Depending on the size of your online meeting, you run the risk of slipping between the cracks. The squeaky wheel gets the grease. Make sure to speak up, let people know you’re there, and freely share any concerns and frictions you’re now facing with your peers. Trust that others are making similar adjustments and that they may be able to help you settle into your new normal. Similarly, make sure you’re receptive to the needs of others. Finally, if you’re work culture and meeting permits it, you might want to spend a couple of minutes before the meeting to catch up with your peers. That short window before your online meetings might just end up being our new water cooler hangouts. Use that time to check in with others and to allow them to check in with you. Technology is a great way to get connected and stay connected.
- End Time Routines
If you’re starting your day with a routine to transition into a working mindset, it only makes sense that you should end your day with a transition back into your personal time. As with your start time routine, this doesn’t need to be anything too completed. It could be a matter of simply turning off your computer, taking your dog on an extra-long walk, or changing into your favorite sweatpants. For me, this routine has become a combination of taking a shower, powering down for no less than half an hour, and beginning to prepare dinner. It’s made a huge difference in my mood and energy and has allowed me to more smoothly make that shift back into my home life.
This pandemic has put many of us on our heels. I promise you that this too shall pass; but in the meantime, there is no doubt that this is going to continue being a learning process for all of us. Don’t take yourself too seriously, allow yourself the opportunity to make mistakes while you figure out what works best for you, and check your ego at the door. Try and maintain some structure to your workflow, and don’t forget to balance your work life with your personal life. Stay positive, it’s going to make you happier and your peers will appreciate it.