Many people who have never even thought about working remotely—and don’t have any experience doing so—are taking their first dive into remote work right now. This has been a jarring transition for so many, especially since it was so unplanned and employers are figuring things out as they go, as well—which means systems aren’t really in place and everything feels up in the air. This just adds stress on top of our constant daily worries right now: keeping up with the news, keeping in touch with our loved ones, being worried for the nation’s health, and not getting nearly enough fresh air or exercise.
However, there are some tactics you can employ to make working from home easier, healthier, and more effective for you. I’ve been working remotely for years, so I’ve had some time to fine-tune it a bit—while everything that works for me won’t necessarily work for you, I think a lot of this is really solid, universal advice gleaned from years of experience working from my dining table, couch, and kitchen. Here’s my best advice for making this transition period a little easier:
1. If you possibly can, create a solid schedule—and make your work-from-home schedule better than your traditional work schedule
Whether you’re an extrovert who misses socializing with colleagues, you’re an introvert who misses work/home separation, or you’re just any human who’s sick of not seeing the outside as much, you have to create tangible perks for your new life of relative hermitude. One of the more easily attainable—and free!—benefits you can gift to yourself: a work schedule that makes your life better.
Personally, I love cooking dinner, so I tend to get work started early and then call it quits a little earlier in the day so I can spend time hanging out in the kitchen. My girlfriend, on the other hand, likes a super long break in the middle of the day to take a walk and a nap, so she’ll get started earlier and stay working later. One friend whose work rarely involves meetings has gone basically nocturnal, which he’s thrilled about, even though it sounds awful to me.
Of course, working parents have a whole other set of challenges, and for many, that now includes home-schooling. One of my most organized colleagues who has been working remotely for over five years now and normally has a very strict routine for her kids is in a tailspin, and she is basically working anytime they don’t need her. Parents, I’m sorry. I know the idea of getting to DIY up a schedule that you love sounds like a wild dream right now.
But for anyone who can, don’t stick to a typical schedule if you don’t have to! Creating a schedule that makes you happier will make your work better and will make this whole situation healthier.
2. Get. Out. Of. Bed.
Don’t get me wrong, working from bed can be great. Before the quarantine, I’d do it maybe once a week for the first part of the day. It feels luxurious! But now, it’s important to get the eff out of bed. Nothing else is normal, you’re not seeing anyone in your life, everything is canceled... give yourself some normalcy. It’s important to get up and get to work.
3. Make your calendar your new god
I find that if I have a to-do list on my Google Calendar, it gets done. I put a range of tasks on there, with an asterisk for the most important and a minus for what can get pushed to the next day, and then I start picking them off. I’ll often set this up the night before. Of course, sometimes something urgent arises and the whole thing gets blown apart, but having time blocked off on the calendar for certain tasks helps me stay on track.
3. Be vocal about anything you need to do your job
If your home laptop is old and slow and conferencing apps aren’t working well on it, let the relevant people know. They can’t help you if you’re trying to avoid being the squeaky wheel. If you need some software to perform your job effectively but don’t want to ask for it because of budget cuts, don’t stay silent—there may be a solution (and there are tons of companies offering great free services during this crisis).
4. Resort to bribery
It works for parents on their kids, and it works on us as motivators. I learned this tactic from a life coach (I know, but she's cool, I swear): If I'm feeling super distracted and having a hard time focusing, but I absolutely have to get my work done, I'll find a bribe that works: get the task done, and I get a treat. The treats range from a hot bath to ice cream, whatever will actually get me to do what needs to be done.
5. Ask for feedback
This is maybe the biggest change that I’ve made as a dedicated remote worker. Rather than waiting to be told how things are going, I proactively reach out to clients and colleagues and specifically ask for feedback about how a project is going. If I’m on a new task or working with a new client, I also tend to break projects down into smaller steps, submitting work in smaller portions so I can pivot faster and make adjustments based on their feedback right away. Even if you’ve been at your job for a long time and feel confident in all your responsibilities, it’s a good idea to give this a try while adjusting to the new normal.
6. Utilize chat
Whether you use Slack, Gchaime clock
t, or a text chain, When you’re not in the same room and can’t read each other’s body language, it’s important to err on the side over overcommunication. In my experience, chat is the best way to avoid arguments, misunderstandings, and missed deadlines.
7. Schedule in stretch breaks
Literally put these on your Google calendar.