If you’re working remotely in the midst of the COVID-19 emergency, chances are telecommuting isn’t new territory for you. According to a 2019 study, 54% of U.S. employees work remotely at least once per month.
As we all know, however, these are not typical times. With entire companies now telecommuting to tamp the spread of coronavirus, more people than ever are logging in from home. This helps keep the world running, but it can also put a wrench in your team’s operations and encroach on your (necessary) personal time.
To keep both your productivity and your health at good levels, here are some tips for effective remote work.
Consider Your Workspace
Set yourself up for success in a place where you can focus on the tasks at hand. If possible, create a designated spot for work at home. Make sure that you feel motivated by your environment and ready to tackle whatever comes your way.
Simulate Your In-Office Availability as Much as Possible
Keeping business running as usual is the goal when telecommuting, both for your external customers and for your fellow team members. The best way to achieve this is to be just as available as if you were in the office.
Check your emails regularly, answer phone calls as if you’re still physically present, and maximize the use of Skype and other remote communication tools. Supervisors should establish hours during which all team members are logged in at the same time. Team leaders can monitor productivity, help the team work toward goals and communicate team processes and procedures as needed.
Schedule regular virtual/video meetings or conference calls to stay connected. Discuss work in process, upcoming projects and daily tasks.
Also remember to keep your workflow moving. If you need assistance from your team on a project and no one is available, stop and schedule a time to discuss your questions. Then work on something else until you can get the help you need.
If you have young children, it can be tough to stay focused on your work when they are present. So keep them enrolled in their daycare facility if it remains open. That said, you might have no choice but to have them with you as you telecommute.
If this is your situation, plan some activities and quiet time for them to keep them occupied as best as you can. Working around their nap schedule can also help. Another possible solution is having a “mother’s helper” watch the kids in your home for part of the day while you’re working. While the authorities are recommending we avoid unnecessary personal contact, this can be done with minimal risk.
Finally, let your team know if you or a family member is sick and you have to take time off of work entirely. It’s important to take care of yourself.
Communication is key. Since you’re no longer a few desks down from your coworkers and supervisors, check in regularly with your team. If your company uses virtual in/out boards or Skype, remember to update your status on a daily basis. Note your working hours and, if you’re logging out, specify when you expect to return. You should also consider sharing your calendar with your teammates.
Working from home can mean distractions at various times of day, so you may need to adjust your schedule to work earlier in the morning or later in the evening. Make sure others know about these changes so discussions and priorities can be scheduled. (It’s also helpful to add these changes to your calendar.)
Keep in mind that this is probably uncharted territory for you and your team. Everyone is navigating their own personal challenges to make telecommuting work. So be patient and open minded with each other as you all figure out what works best.
Determine Your Working Style
Do you like being surrounded by white noise? Or do you need to invest in some noise-canceling headphones? Your home environment might have regular commotion, especially if you have kids or pets. Some people are able to work past those distractions, while others need relative quiet. (Tip: If you need to buy those headphones, place an order for in-store pickup to minimize your germ exposure.)
If you can be flexible with your hours, there are other aspects to consider. For example, are you more productive in the morning or in the evening? Are you motivated by taking small breaks throughout the day or a longer midday respite? This is the beauty of remote work—getting to work during your best hours, whatever they may be. Again, just make sure it doesn’t interfere with the operations of your organization or your team.
Take Time for Self-Care
When the line between work and home starts to blur, you might find yourself stuck to your computer screen for a longer period of time. While that can sometimes be necessary, give yourself time for you.
Although our fitness routines may be limited right now, commit to making sure that you’re creating blocks in your schedule to take walks, work out or do some yoga. (A lot of gyms are streaming exercise classes right now, and YouTube has a multitude of workout videos!) And remember to eat healthy, nutritious meals so that you can be focused and productive while working.
Know When the Day is Done
With such a connected world, this is one of the most challenging aspects for remote work beginners. Though you might receive emails and chat notifications at any hour, it’s important to develop a habit of setting a time when you officially log off for the night. There will always be time when extra hours are needed; just be careful about setting the standard that you’re available 24/7.
Whether your work-at-home situation is temporary or permanent, the objective is the same: continuity. By taking the steps above, you can keep your work going while still maintaining your personal space.
Once you adjust to telecommuting, you might find some added benefits. For example, the increased flexibility sometimes makes it easier to take care of kids or important home needs without leaving the office during standard business hours. And in this time of social distancing, working from home helps you avoid going out to lunch because your kitchen is right there. That’s good not only for your health, but your wallet as well.
So take care of business—and take care of you. With a little planning and patience, your team can continue its important work and weather the COVID-19 storm stronger than ever.
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