During the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees found themselves unexpectedly working from home. Remote work isn’t new; some 4.3 million Americans were working remotely from their companies at least half the time before the pandemic hit. However, the number of workers shifting to a very different mode of working very quickly is new. Currently, 88% of those still working are working from home. If you are one of those people who made the transition from an office environment to a home-based work environment, you probably noticed very real obstacles. Here are some tips from someone who has worked from home for many years:
- Set boundaries. When you work from home, sometimes it seems no one else thinks you really have a job. Although very difficult when sharing your workspace with small children when child care isn’t available, older children and adults need to recognize work time as work time, whether you are away at your office or sitting at the dining room table. Have signals that let them know when you can be interrupted and when you cannot. My husband knows when the office door is closed, I am in a meeting, on the phone, or working on something that requires close focus and if the house is not on fire, don’t interrupt. However, if the door is open, then interruption is fine. By the same token, you have to decide when it’s work time and when it isn’t. It is very easy for work to invade every waking moment if you don’t put boundaries on your time.
- Get comfortable with technology. Everyone is talking about Zoom, and it is one of the easier technologies to learn. There are many work platforms out there to facilitate remote work through remote meetings, conference calls, project management, instant messaging, social interaction, and a host of others. Your company probably made some selections for everyone to use. Learn them. Play with them until you can use the tools comfortably. Take the initiative to find a tutorial or just play with the different applications.
- Make time for you. Schedule time for exercise, take breaks, hydrate, eat well. Part of the reason I work from home is the flexibility. I work hard and I put in a lot of hours, but if I want to take an hour to work in the garden or play with the grandkids, I take it. I make it a point to get up and walk around for 10 – 15 minutes every hour. I can put in a load of laundry, water the plants, or start dinner and then go back to work. The mental break is necessary, and so is the physical movement. Many people feel guilty about taking breaks. Don’t. In an office environment, the average worker is productively working just under three hours a day. You can find at least that much time to focus on tasks at home and get everything done you would have done in the office.
- Use video. Yes, everyone is whining about their shaggy look with barber shops and hair salons closed. But video helps form a connection and relationships are just as important to working with people remotely as they are in the office. Besides, being able to see a person when you are talking to them helps ensure fewer communications mistakes. You don’t want to look like someone who hasn’t taken a bath or washed your hair in a month, but we don’t seem to have a problem interacting in person. If it is important to you to look polished, then make that a part of your routine.
- Set up your workspace. Not everyone has a private office, and even those of us who do, don’t always stay in it when working. But you do need to have an area that is for work where you have the tools you need, can focus, have a good internet connection, you can keep work materials secure, and is comfortable.
- Remote meetings. We’ve all had a lot of these lately. If you’re running a remote meeting, be inclusive. Get everyone involved. It is easy to be left out and feel unheard in this type of meeting, so reach out to all attendees. If you’re attending a meeting, it is very easy to do other things while the meeting is in progress, which means you aren’t really listening. Focus.
- Make your boss comfortable. Part of the reason companies haven’t moved to remote work faster is managers are not comfortable with not being able to observe people working. How do they know you are doing work if they cannot see you? Make them comfortable that you are getting the job done. If your boss doesn’t check in regularly, initiate contact. You should know their preferred method—phone, text, email. Provide regular updates on your assigned tasks. If your company is using something like Microsoft Teams, this may be fairly simple. But email works.
- Connect. It is easy to feel isolated, especially for those who enjoy the social aspects of work. Even though restrictions are easing up, most of us are still staying home most or all of the time. Reach out. Talk to people. Figure out how to use technology to continue to do the things you like to do and “be with” those you like to interact with. My granddaughter takes her piano and violin lessons remotely. My adult children have game nights with their friends using online game platforms.
- Disconnect. Interacting remotely is good, but it can still be exhausting because it is not our norm. Recognize when you have had enough and disconnect. Work hard, then stop. Get off the computer. Silence the phone.
Working remotely can be rewarding. Using these tips can help ensure a good work/life balance while continuing to be a productive member of your company. Penny Miller, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, CEBS is the President of My HR Department in Wichita Falls, Texas