Workers throughout the country are finding themselves working from a new office: their homes.
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As coronavirus continues to spread throughout the country, companies are asking employees to work remotely to help control contagion.
At first, working from home might seem like a dream: no commute, no distracting co-workers and think of all those chores you’ll be able to sneak in!
But after the novelty wears off, things get real. It can be lonely. Your home suddenly feels a lot smaller. And there’s no real end to your work day.
“I think the biggest thing that is underestimated is the psychological impact of being alone,” said David Hassell co-founder and CEO of 15Five, a performance management software provider, where 40% of the workers are remote.
Here are some tips to stay well-balanced:
Take a break
Let’s be honest: You don’t work eight hours straight in the office. There are coffee breaks, lunch walks and chats with co-workers that give some respite from work.
Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you aren’t entitled to the same breathers.
“There is a tendency to work throughout the day to overcome some stigma that you aren’t working when not in the office,” said David Rabin, vice president of global commercial marketing at Lenovo.
Hitting the pause button throughout the work day can be a boon to productivity.
“It’s not going to take anything from your effectiveness,” said Julie Morgenstern, an organization and productivity consultant and author of “Organizing from the Inside Out.” “Stepping away for breaks are part of productivity; they actually make you smarter and give you perspective and answers.”
Get structured, but not too much
It will take a little time to get into your groove working from a different environment.
If you were the office worker who liked to bounce around from your desk to a conference room table to a private meeting room to get your work done, don’t feel like you have to limit yourself to one spot in your house, advised Rabin.
But be thoughtful about where you choose to work and make sure to match the environment to the type of work you are doing, suggested Morgenstern. For instance, find a quiet area to work for some deep thinking, while sitting outside on your patio might work to respond to emails and other housekeeping-type tasks.
And make sure to designate some places as work-free zones.
“You should preserve some spaces in your home that you never do work in,” she added. “It is very hard to relax at night when you start to associate those spaces with work.”
Repurpose your commute
A major perk of working from home is ditching the commute. But that doesn’t mean your work day can start earlier.
“Use your commute time in the morning for self-renewal or family time, not work,” recommended Morgenstern.
Set very clear boundaries
“Working from home doesn’t mean you are working more hours,” warned Morgenstern. Be clear with your manager and coworkers of your schedule and stick to it.
And when your work day ends, put away your work equipment and change into your evening or lounge clothes to help signal the shift to personal time.
You also have to be clear with the other members of your household who might be wanting your attention during the workday. This could be particularly challenging if schools close.
“Create some structure to the day and designate play and work time while organizing space into work and play areas, recommended Morgenstern. “You have to impose some order.”
Show your face
When possible, use video over the standard conference call to help create more interactions and avoid loneliness.
Three times a week all the employees at 15Five, whether they work from home or are in the office, get on a video call, for an all-hands meeting.
“We can see everyone’s faces since everyone is on their own laptop with their own camera – that is really important,” said Hassell.
Force social collisions
Working from home means no popping into your colleague’s office to chat or running into someone on your way to the bathroom and discussing weekend plans.
“When those drive-by connections are missing,” said Morgenstern, “If you are energized by being around other people, it can be despairing.”
But social interaction can still happen from home – you just have to be more proactive. Set up regular check-ins with your team or manager that allows you to not only provide progress updates, but also sort through any problems or brainstorm ideas.
Use FaceTime, Zoom and other video tools during meetings or just to chat with coworkers to help avoid loneliness.
At 15Five, there are two Slack channels that provide a discussion space for workers.
One is more formal where people discuss what they are working on and other business-related subjects while the other one, called “water-cooler,” is more casual, where people post more personal messages and funny images.