The fast-moving coronavirus pandemic has forced millions of Americans to work from home, with no immediate end in sight. Dates for when employees will return to office buildings move later and later or remain uncertain for many companies.
Even as dozens of states have reopen months after the initial shutdowns, experts said that past stigma around working at home has largely been lifted and that they expected much more remote work to be incorporated into office life for the foreseeable future.
"The views around work from home have completely changed," said Stanford University economist Nicholas Bloom, co-director of the productivity, innovation and entrepreneurship program at the nonprofit National Bureau of Economic Research. "There is no stigma around working from home now."
1. Maintain Regular Hours
Set a schedule, and stick to it...most of the time. Having clear guidelines for when to work and when to call it a day helps many remote workers maintain work-life balance. That said, one of the benefits of remote work is flexibility, and sometimes you need to extend your day or start early to accommodate someone else's time zone. When you do, be sure to wrap up earlier than usual or sleep in a bit the next morning to make up for it.
2. Create a Morning Routine
Deciding you'll sit down at your desk and start work at a certain time is one thing. Creating a routine that guides you into the chair is another. What in your morning routine indicates you're about to start work? It might be making a cup of coffee. It might be returning home after a jog. It might be getting dressed (wearing pajama pants to work is a perk for some, but a bad strategy for others). A routine can be more powerful than a clock at helping you get started each day.
3. Set Ground Rules With the People in Your Space
Set ground rules with other people in your home or who share your space for when you work. If you have children who come home from school while you're still working, they need clear rules about what they can and cannot do during that time. Additionally, just because you're home and can let service people into the house or take care of pets doesn't mean other family members should assume you will always do it. If that's how you choose to divide up the domestic labor, that's fine, but if you simply take it all on by default because you're home, you may feel taken advantage of, and your productivity may suffer.
4. Schedule Breaks
Know your company's policy on break times and take them. If you're self-employed, give yourself adequate time during the day to walk away from the computer screen and phone. A lunch hour and two 15-minute breaks seems to be the standard for full-time US employees.
5. Take Breaks in Their Entirety
Don't short-change yourself during breaks, especially your lunch hour. You can use an app, such as TimeOut for Mac and Smart Break for Windows, to lock yourself out of your computer for 60 minutes. Or you can just launch a simple clock or timer on the screen when you take a break. If you return to your desk after only 40 minutes, walk away for another 20.
6. Leave Home
To the extent that it's allowed and safe where you are during the COVID-19 outbreak, get out of the house, provided you can maintain social distancing of course. The same advice applies to people who work in traditional office settings, too. Leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs to move. Plus, the fresh air and natural light will do you good.
7. Don't Hesitate to Ask for What You Need
If you're employed by a company or organization that supports your work-from-home setup, request the equipment you need as soon as you start working from home, or within a day or two when you realize you need something new. It's extremely important to set precedents early that you will ask for what you need to get your job done comfortably, including the right monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair, printer, software, and so forth. Organizations that are accustomed to remote employees often have a budget for home office equipment. Ask what it is and how often it's renewed. It also doesn't hurt to ask whether there's a loan agreement or who will pay for return shipping or disposal of outdated equipment.
8. Keep a Dedicated Office Space
In an ideal world, remote employees would have not only a dedicated office, but also two computers, one for work and one for personal use. It's more secure for the employer, and it lets you do all your NSFW activities in private. But not everyone has a separate office in their home, and keeping two machines isn't always realistic. Instead, dedicate a desk and some peripherals only for work use. For example, when your laptop is hooked up to the monitor and external keyboard, it's work time. When it's on your lap, that's personal time. You may want to go as far as partitioning your hard drive and creating a separate user account for work.
9. Maintain a Separate Phone Number
Set up a phone number that you only use for calls with colleagues and clients. It doesn't have to be a landline, second mobile phone, or even a SIM card. It can be a free VoIP service, such as Google Voice or a Skype number. Similar to some of the other tips, having a separate phone number helps you manage your work-life balance.
10. Get Face Time
If your employer is lax about getting you in a room with other employees, ask to have an annual or semi-annual trip in your contract. It could be for annual planning, training, or team building. Or, tack it onto some other business event, such as a yearly fiscal meeting, nearby conference, or office holiday party. Don't wait around for someone to invite you to the office or an event. Be proactive.
11. Look for Training Opportunities
When you're not in an office with your fellow employees, you might miss out on training and skills development courses that are taught in person. Your company might even forget to add you to its online training courses. It can be tempting to regard this as a dodged bullet, but you might be missing out on an opportunity to learn something useful. Speak up and make sure you're included.
Working remotely requires you to overcommunicate. Tell everyone who needs to know about your schedule and availability often. When you finish a project or important task, say so. Overcommunicating doesn't necessarily mean you have to write a five-paragraph essay to explain your every move, but it does mean repeating yourself. Joke about how you must have mentioned your upcoming vacation six times already, then mention it again.
13. Be Positive
I like succinct and clear messages, but I know that the less face time I have with people, the less they know how to interpret my tone in writing. When you work remotely full-time, you must be positive, to the point where it may feel like you're being overly positive. Otherwise, you risk sounding like a jerk. It's unfortunate, but true. So embrace the exclamation point! Find your favorite emoji :D. You're going to need them.
14. Take Advantage of Your Perks
Every week, I bake a loaf of bread. Why? Because I work from home and I can. Plus, I enjoy it. When I worked in an office full-time, I struggled to find the time to pop something into the oven that often. Working remotely comes with unique perks. Take advantage of them. You deserve it.
15. End Your Day With a Routine
Just as you should start your day with a routine, create a habit that signals the close of the workday. It might be a sign off on a business messaging app, an evening dog walk, or a 6 p.m. yoga class. Something as simple as shutting down your computer and turning on a favorite podcast will do. Whatever you choose, do it consistently to mark the end of working hours.
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