For many of us, the COVID pandemic has us using our homes as offices, which may be a new experience and may even become a new norm. Working from home can be highly productive and enjoyable, but it can also come with its own challenges. Here are my tips to give you some ideas or good reminders of ways to help elevate your “WFH” experience.
1. Avoid waking up and heading straight to your computer.
One major challenge when working remotely is keeping your work life separate from your personal and home life, especially in the mornings. Without some form of structured separation between the two, you can easily start feeling that all you do from the minute you wake up is work. Avoid this trap and the possible feeling of burnout this could lead to with some of the tips below:
Don’t give in to the temptation to just roll out of bed, reach for a coffee, and immediately sit down to start work! Creating a new morning routine focusing on yourself before working will go a long way in creating new boundaries in separating home time from work time.
Get in a habit of preparing mentally and physically for your workday – do this by creating a new sacred routine that works for you now or maintaining the one you used to have when you did go into the office every day. Maybe it’s starting your day with a big breakfast, shower, getting dressed (even if it’s casual), walking the dog, spending time with others in your household, meditation, reading, exercise - you can use this time to ensure you have “space” away from your work within the confines of home.
Even if you had been the type to do the minimum in the mornings and barely had enough time to rush out the door before work, consider how the simple activity of getting to work allowed you to switch gears and transition to work mode. If you’d now rather use your former commuting and prep time to sleep, at least make an effort to delay your start at the computer with something small - sip your coffee by a window, step onto a balcony or take a few steps outside to stretch, change out of your PJs, and make a habit to focus on something non-work related for at least 15-20 minutes in the morning.
2. Create a workspace that you feel good in for an extended time.
Many of you may already have either a home office or workspace set up at home whether you work from home regularly or not. However, if you don’t already have a dedicated workspace or are sharing your living space with other people, you may have to get a little more creative to make it work for you full-time.
Do your best to carve out a functional spot where you can work comfortably and that feels good to be in for an extended time.
Ideally, do some homework on ergonomic options for home office equipment such as a chair, desk or accessories – including a computer keyboard and mouse, and decide if you can invest in these, especially if you foresee working from home long-term where ergonomic design can do a lot to protect your health, posture and comfort.
Otherwise, use a comfortable, well-positioned chair, ensure you elevate your screen or monitor so it is at eye-level. Try to sit near natural light and have something pleasant to look at within view, such as an outside window, a beautiful plant or a piece of art, anything that can help make your workspace feel happy and enhance productivity. When you’re not necessarily able to leave the “office”, the effect of adding beauty to function can really be beneficial, so make it as pleasant as you can. If possible, try switching workspaces once in a while to help add some visual variety to your immediate work surroundings.
If you can’t find a dedicated workspace in your home and you are using a kitchen table, island, dining table or other space that will serve another function at other times in the day, keep the space is clean, tidy, and well-lit. Ensure other people who may be using that that space are aware when you’ll be using the space to work, that you can pack up your office easily at the end of your work time and move essential work items to a safe area until you need them again.
3. Define regular working hours for yourself, your team, and clients.
In the age of digital, always-on personal and professional communication, this may be hard to do, especially if you are already in a work situation where you communicate off-hours/evenings/weekends as part of your role or work culture.
However, even if this is the case, one of the most frequent comments on this topic is the necessity of communicating work hours while at home.
Because e-mail has replaced a lot of in-person back and forth that would happen at an office, people are finding a non-stop stream of e-mails to respond to at different times, and at way-off-hours. If this is becoming a problem, make sure you have a conversation with your manager and team to establish some guidelines around expectations of when you will be available to answer e-mails or attend virtual meetings outside of regular hours.
This works both ways, and also applies if your schedule might affect your team off-hours for other reasons. For example, you may opt to work in the evening, simply because normal activities outside of work are not available, and working is now filling in that void or becoming a new “hobby” - it’s fine to put in extra hours by choice or use your evening time to do your work based on preference, but remember to give the same consideration to others about expectations. (Pro-tip – if this is you, working in the evenings, consider scheduling your emails to go out during or just before work hours begin).
Lastly, one common complaint in the new virtual office dynamic is the increased number of video meetings to replace in-person meetings, so keep in mind how this affects the workflow when discussing hours, breaks and meetings with your team. For example, scheduling back-to-back video meetings can, unfortunately, create the same challenges at home as in the office - they tend to invariably lead to late start times or having to drop off a call that is not finished to start another one, and not having time to sneak in a snack or coffee break, or simply not having just 5 minutes to decompress. Discuss with your team how you can work in breaks between meetings if you find you are ending up in non-stop meeting marathons.
4. Work in physical activity, ideally away from your screen.
It’s important to build in physical break times for yourself much like you would a coffee, lunch or walking break if you were at the office. If you aren’t able to formally schedule them into your new work-from-home dynamic, at least make them a must-do activity to work into your day when there’s an opportunity.
This is especially crucial in order to maintain some physical activity now that getting in your steps will naturally be much harder during the workday and to give you a mental boost away from work.
Former “office” activities such as going to meetings, walking across floors, stopping to say hello to co-workers, coffee breaks, gym breaks, driving to see clients, teaching in a classroom – all provided “unintentional” and much needed physical movement breaks which may now be non-existent.
Try substituting these activities “of the past” with new ones like walking to a coffee shop to pick-up take-out, walking the dog, a walk with your kids, partner or alone to get in some steps or simply stepping out into your yard. If you can’t get outside, try to schedule a mini-physical break incorporating a quick 10-minute workout at home and try to stick to it daily.
You’ll be surprised by the difference a few minutes can make on a daily basis, both physically and mentally.
And don’t forget that just stepping away from your screen is also vital for your visual and mental health. Screen fatigue is real, and many people don’t realize how intense this screen time becomes at home. If the best you can do is to simply have a couple of short screen-free breaks on days you can’t physically step away, you are still doing your health a favour.
5. Limit your distractions by resisting this one!
This tip is an important one because almost all of us have likely given in to this distraction when working from home – and it’s not the obvious one of checking your phone or social media. It’s the temptation to pull yourself away from work in order to get your home chores done at the same time.
The desire to have your place clean and well-organized is likely to be especially strong since you’re in your space all day, every day. The problem is that this type of distraction during work time can become a time-sucking habit that can disrupt your workflow and productivity very easily if you aren’t careful.
Tasks like laundry, dishes, tidying up, folding, cleaning, dusting can all seem like simple, easy “multi-task” chores, but the problem is the list can become endless, taking up valuable mental and physical presence away from work and often once you start, you tend to want to keep going. Sure, some of us are expert multi-taskers but the cleaning task is one that never seems to be finished and one that you will face daily and you will invariably end up pouring more time into it than you realize!
I limit myself to only doing short, quick tasks like a load of laundry or watering plants during the workday – these don’t interrupt my “creative flow” and literally take a few minutes each. When work time starts, I stay focused until I need a short mental or physical break.
If you are the type of person that needs a clean, tidy home environment to be able to concentrate and work effectively, get in the habit of making sure it’s done in the evenings or before you start your workday.
And if you really can’t resist this distraction during the day, at least do double-duty and incorporate it as one of your physical-mental breaks away from your screen, limit the tasks and ensure you still create space for “real” breaks.