Whether you’re an experienced telecommuter, or this is the first time you’ve ever set up a virtual work station, the truth is: nobody has worked from home like this before.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been tapping into our favorite resources, gathering up some of the best tips we can find on how to survive – and thrive – during quarantine-forced telecommuting. We’ve found a lot of solid advice out there from very seasoned, highly successful professionals who have been doing this for years. These are people who know all the tricks for staying productive, engaged, and happy as full-time telecommuters.
But here’s what else we’ve found: some of the greatest advice doesn’t quite fit today’s situation. More than anything, most telecommuting tips urge us to stick to the routines we had pre-COVID-19. We’re not disagreeing with that aspiration. In fact, there’s real stability and strength to be derived from being able to hang onto as much of your familiar routines as you can.
However, the truth is, sticking to your standard routine might not be an option right now.
And that’s okay. If you have kids at home, you know what I’m talking about. If your work requires you to collaborate with co-workers who have kids at home, you’re quickly discovering what I’m talking about. (Heck, if you have pets at home who are adjusting to your new daily schedule, you’re probably dealing with some unforeseen disruptions.) Those are just a few of the external distractions. Then there are all those thoughts, news headlines, and understandable worries buzzing around inside your head at times.
Let’s get real about the daily routine.
If this is your first rodeo, you might be loving that your new commute is an easy shuffle from your kitchen to your make-shift desk. This may also tempt you to consider some of the other shortcuts and freedoms that are suddenly available to you, like skipping your personal grooming routines, or working in your jammies. Every successful telecommuter will tell you don’t give in to these temptations.
Ideally, you’ll hold onto as many of your normal, pre-coronavirus rituals as possible. Wake up at the same time you always did. Get ready each morning like you always have. Take that shower. Tame your hair. If you wore make-up to the office, wear your make-up at home. Eat breakfast, take lunch and other short breaks away from your computer screen, and shut it all down for good at the end of each work day. There is comfort, stability, and reassurance in the familiar rhythms of our work. So if you can, treat yourself to that familiarity.
Instead of trying too hard to mirror the ways you used to get your work done back at the office, we’d like to offer these 7 modified strategies, instead.
1. Structure your work day around the goals and priorities of your job (instead of your normal work schedule).
Never has daily goal setting been more important than it is right now. No matter how hard you try to maintain your old schedule and work flow, your work days are going to be more fluid, more disrupted, less regimented than before. Start each morning with a list of what needs to get done. Take a moment to reflect on how that to-do list supports you, your job, and your employer. Adjust accordingly. Check in with that list throughout the day and update it just before you step away from your screen each evening. This one, simple discipline is key to staying confident and connected in your job.
2. Set up your own, dedicated work space.
Sure, a separate room with its own walls and a door is nice. But it’s not necessary. What matters more is that you find a spot that you can claim as your own. Whether you commandeer your dining table or one small chair with a lap tray in your living room, the size of the space matters less than these 3 things: how well it’s lit (access to natural sunlight is a huge plus), how physically comfortable it is (follow the Goldilocks rule: too hard is torture; too soft or bed-like and you’ll feel more like napping than working), and whether it can serve as the appropriate barrier between you and others in your home. If you have young children or any other dependents co-quarantining with you, embrace the fact that their needs may frequently interrupt you and you’ll need to remain accessible to them. You might have to move around some furniture, and experiment with several spaces before you land on the one (or two or three) that work for you.
3. Manage your distractions; don’t fight them.
I'm talking about the headlines, or the health of your friends, family, and neighbors, or the short-term uncertainties. With so many worries, finishing that strategic plan or turning in that spreadsheet can feel like a white knuckle ride. When you’re struggling to concentrate, give yourself a break: Stand up. and stretch your body. Then get your head back in the game by starting with an easy, transitional task from your to-do list.
4. Use video meetings as a powerful connection point.
You may have used video meetings as a supplement to your normal hallway and conference room conversations in the past. Today, it’s your only face-to-face connection point. So choose a meeting spot – and a method – that helps you present yourself well. Do dress as you normally would for work, if more casually. (Do not try the "suit on the top, pj’s on the bottom" trick. You’ll be freaking out the entire time.) If you can, avoid using overhead lights. Instead, seat yourself next to a window, with the natural light positioned slightly behind your camera lens and one or two soft light sources (like table lamps) to the sides of the camera. Angle your camera lens so it’s at your own eye level or just slightly higher. And check out everything in the frame before joining the meeting. Do you look pulled together? Is everything behind you tidied up and clutter-free? If it isn’t, you can either clean it up or check out the free backgrounds available at zoom.us. They’re not just cool and easy to use, they make for some pretty fun conversation starters. Finally, keep your sense of humor. If your child or your cat or your grandma makes an unplanned appearance, remember this above all else: lucky you! You have nothing to apologize for and you’ve probably brightened everyone else’s day.
5. Be flexible. Adjust and adapt as needed.
There might be days when you fall behind. There might be times when you can’t sleep and catching up on your emails at 2 a.m. makes perfect sense. And yes, there may be mornings when you arrive at your desk in your robe and slippers. So what? If you see these little deviations from the norm as failures, you’re just setting yourself up for unnecessary stress. Pay attention to what works best for you and share what you discover with others.
6. Remember your incredible capacity for kindness toward yourself and your co-workers.
If none of the rest of these tips help you at all, this is the one that will. You’re trying something new, at a challenging time, and you’re doing the best you can. You are rising to this occasion. And so is everyone else. Yet, just when we could all use a few extra hugs, you – or some of your colleagues – may not have access to many. Take a moment (take several) to check in on how people are doing. Remind them of what you see in them and appreciate about them. And never stop rooting for each other.
7. Gather your lessons
As we all hunker down together at this unprecedented moment in history, it’s easy to be aware of our feelings. That’s important. But give yourself the time and the space to look beyond your emotional responses to all of this. Unleash your intellectual curiosity. Reflect on what you’re seeing, hearing, and experiencing. What are you learning about your own strengths, your capacity for problem solving, your empathy for others, your ability to weather tough storms? What are you learning about your community? The very fact that you are part of this time is a powerful story that will bear repeating. And one of the greatest gifts we can take from this will be the insights, wisdom, and stories we share afterward. Don’t squander them. Jot down your thoughts, at least once every day. Revisit them often. You’re mining a treasure – and I’m not just saying this for the good of your future grandchildren. I’m encouraging you to do it because it is one of the greatest – and most underrated – ways you can help yourself feel grounded and stay connected during difficult times.
Have we left anything out? We would love to hear from you. What are your tips for setting up a home office?