While the COVID-19 pandemic has had numerous detrimental effects on people and the economy, there have been some positive results as well. One of these is that many people have been afforded the chance to work from home. This has turned out to be a boon for businesses as well as employees.
The Brookings Institute reports that, “Up to half of American workers are currently working from home, more than double the fraction who worked from home (at least occasionally) in 2017-18.” Furthermore, Forbes reported a Gartner survey about this phenomenon, known as ‘telecommuting,’ that indicated as much as 20% of the workforce of those surveyed will continue telecommuting long-term.
But even for those growing accustomed to working from home, a steady routine is vital to keep you on track. Here are some vital factors to maintaining a steady, productive routine as you work from home.
Plan Your Day in Advance (and Work Your Plan)
Working without a plan is a good way to spend the day being busy without accomplishing anything. The night before (or as the last task of your workday), make a list of all your assignments, meetings, and tasks for the next day. Begin by prioritizing tasks with set times, such as meetings or phone calls. Then, organize your tasks by priority around those set appointments.
Keep an up-to-date calendar where you record project or task deadlines to give you the broad picture of your work. You can also use digital technology to help you stay focused. Set reminder alerts for deadlines, calls, and other important things.
Also, set times to answer email and do any necessary communication through social media platforms. These are notorious time-wasters, so scheduling a set amount of time to accomplish these chores is important to keep you on-task.
Maintain a Steady Sleep Schedule
Working from home brings the temptation to binge-watch Netflix programming and sleep late the next day — or get up early anyway and drag through the day’s work like a zombie. Science has demonstrated that maintaining the same sleep schedule helps us get the amount of rest we need, which means greater productivity and even better sleep.
When you were required to be in the office by a certain time, that demanded setting your clock and getting up at a set time each morning. Maintain that same routine, or a close variation, to match the needs of your telecommuting routine. A little discipline and advance planning goes a long way to ensuring you get the rest you need for a productive day’s work.
Dress for (At-Home) Success
There are several popular pieces of advice that apply to how we dress for work. Dressing for success can range from maintaining a professional look at all times to dressing for the job we want, and not the job we have. Of course, dressing for working from home all too often can take the form of comfy sweats or even pajamas!
There is actually research that proves how we dress impacts our work. Deliberately dressing for work creates a sense of being more authoritative, more purposeful, and helps to create boundaries. Of course, one of the benefits of telecommuting is avoiding professional wardrobe demands. But you can still dress for work and be comfortable.
Schedule and Take Necessary Breaks
Just as you would follow the set break routines while in the office, schedule and take breaks when telecommuting. At least every two hours, you should get up and walk around for several minutes. Use the restroom, refresh a healthy beverage to keep nearby, and get a breath of fresh air. Get away from the computer and your other work tools.
Rest your eyes from constant staring at screens all day. Every 15 minutes or so, focus your eyes on something other than your screen. Allow your eyes to refocus on another object and just rest a few seconds. This can prevent unnecessary eye strain and headaches.
Take time to eat, even just a healthy snack or two, throughout the day. Staying refueled physically is important to maintaining your focus mentally. Taking occasional breaks to walk, eat, meditate, and rest alleviates stress and re-energizes you both physically and mentally.
Set and Protect Boundaries
Working from home can be great, and setting some boundaries can keep it from becoming monotonous or tedious. As much as possible, carve out a separate space where you do your work. The optimal location and setup is free of distractions and yet handy to everything you will need to complete your assigned tasks.
Ideally, have a desk, comfortable chair, and all your necessities in a different room, or at least a blocked-off corner of a room, that is well-lit and used for no other purpose. Avoid using your normal relaxing spaces and furniture for work. Reserve those spaces for off-work times with family, just as you reserve your work space for nothing but work.
Set normal times for work and stick to them, just as if you were working from the office. Let family members and others know your work schedule to minimize interruptions. Just as important, when work hours are over, leave your work space, change into comfortable clothing, and relax somewhere else.
It is important for your mental health and overall productivity to stay personally connected with coworkers. If you cannot meet in person occasionally, video conference or talk by phone often. Sharing ideas in this way stimulates creativity and productivity, and it prevents a sense of isolation that can lead to discouragement and even depression.
Cloud-based online collaboration tools are plentiful, and they are great ways to stay connected with coworkers and ongoing projects. Some great suggestions include:
Though we are privileged to have technology that helps us stay connected, the value of working in an actual workplace contributes to diversifying our day, and helps us interact with others in social settings in addition to work conversations. During this time, it can be augmented by collaborating with coworkers using available tools and structuring your day for success.
What are some other lessons you have learned that help promote telecommuting success? Share them with us and our readers!
Do you have questions about business Internet and networking in new, challenging situations? MHO can help! Give us a call at (877) WANT-MHO.