While the number of Americans who work from home has tripled during the past 15 years, over these past few weeks, millions more now telecommute. The coronavirus has drastically changed life around the globe as people isolate themselves in order to slow the pandemic. Remote work is one of those changes as Google, Amazon, Facebook, JPMorgan, and even the federal government have requested that non-essential employees stay home.
Remote work has always been a trade-off. It’s important to recognize the pros and cons.
- More flexibility. It’s easier to walk your dog and pick up your child in between home-based conference calls.
- No commute. With the average commute in the U.S. at 27 minutes one-way, that’s almost an hour added to your day!
- Some people who work from home are lonely without the comradery of office life.
- Loss of creativity. In person collaboration is often where great ideas arise.
How to Successfully Work from Home
At first, your company’s mandate that you work from home may seem like a lucky break. Pajamas all day long! Freedom from that over-chatty colleague! In fact, remote work demands a deliberate action plan to avoid complacency, boredom, and distraction. In order to successfully work from home, begin each day with these five questions:
- What are my goals for the day?
- How many hours will I work? What are those hours?
- When/how often should I check in with my manager?
- What are my possible distractions and how will I handle them?
- When can I take breaks?
Accountability is key, so write down your answers daily as you become accustomed to your new at-home role.
- Get dressed. “Don’t underestimate the power of putting on clothes suitable for public viewing. It makes you feel human [and] confident and helps draw the line between being at work and being at home,” says career coach Heather Yurovsky.
- Designate your work hours and hold yourself accountable to them. You may have more flexibility at home, but if you hold yourself to a schedule you will support your daily productivity goals. “The biggest difference between working from home and working in the office is that you are in charge of your environment and have to treat yourself like an employee,” Yurovsky says.
- Communicate often with your team. Just because you are home alone, online collaboration with colleagues leads to creativity and solution-finding. Platforms such as Zoom, Skype, Slack, Outlook, Google Hangouts, and TalkDesk will help you collaborate with your team.
- Communicate often with your staff. For managers, have frequent check-ins so employees feel involved. Joe Hirsh, a leadership and communication expert, recommends that managers “carve out meeting time to hear from each employee about something funny or frustrating happening at home, in an effort to humanize the virtual workplace.”
- Turn off your notifications. Social media and the constant news cycle are your telecommute enemies.
- Take breaks. There’s a difference between a break to get some air and lost time and energy due to distracting housework. Breaks are healthy; laundry is a distraction.
A Home Office to Support Your Goals
The space you designate as your office should feel as separate from your home life as possible. Even if you live in a small apartment, set up a card table in a corner or allocate one half of the dining room your “office” to help you maintain focus.
Your ability to control your environment is one of the advantages of remote work. Here are some home office optimization strategies:
- Natural light can keep your mind alert.
- A comfortable chair will dissuade you from leaving your desk to pursue non-work tasks.
- Control your noise level – work in silence if that’s what you prefer or rock out to energizing jams.
- Studies show color choice can impact productivity. White, grey, and beige promote sluggishness. Blue, green, and yellow are linked to higher productivity.
- Declutter often. When the piles start to pile up, be brutal – recycle and let go.
Remote Work is a Luxury
This pandemic has brought difficult social realities to light. Workers who telecommute tend to be wealthier and better educated. But much of the U.S. labor force – especially those who work in healthcare, retail, delivery, restaurants, and childcare– do not have the ability to work from home, and either lose their jobs or risk their health to keep them.
Women especially are affected by this reality: according to Yana Rodgers, an economist at Rutgers University, service sectors like education “involve direct contact with people, which cannot be done at home.”
If you or your staff have the luxury to work from home, consider how to support those who cannot.
Ready to explore how we can help you maximize your work from home strategies? I’m offering a free, live webinar on Thursday, 3/26, at Noon ET on how to Make Working Virtually Work For You! Register here.
Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, her views have been included in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.