In the past few weeks, I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “How do you do this all the time?!” I’ve worked remotely for companies across the US for more than five years, due to my husband’s job taking us to Germany and, most recently, North Carolina. But working remote during COVID is different.
By now, most people know that when you work from home, it’s helpful to get showered and dressed as if you’re going to the office and set up a dedicated workspace (as best you can).
I’ve already shared tips that I find help me work more productively from home, and many of these still apply.
However, working with kids and/or a spouse at home all the time makes working from home far more of a challenge than it is when your spouse can go off to work and your kids can go to school or daycare. For those in small apartments with a working spouse, it can be hard to carve out two separate spaces. And, let’s not forget arguably the biggest challenge: this is a mental circus! Stress and anxiety are at all-time highs, making it hard to concentrate on work even with a dedicated workspace and minimal familial distractions.
While to some extent there’s no way around the messiness of working from home with no option of leaving, there are a few ways to make the challenge slightly, well, less challenging.
Communicate, communicate, communicate
Communication is important in any situation. But most of us tend to under communicate, leaving open the possibility for mixed messages, confusion, assumptions, and other pitfalls.
When working from home, communication is even more important, particularly the medium you choose.
As we slow down in other areas of our lives, now is a great time to slow down in our work lives, too. And by that I don’t mean slowing what we’re doing, but how we’re doing it.
Even in an office, there’s a tendency to shoot off a Slack or other instant message with the expectation of an immediate response. But those small interruptions add up. What, if anything, needs an immediate response?
Slowing to consider how we’re communicating gives our brains more time to actually consider or need. Can I find what I need via a Google search instead of bugging my project manager? If I take 15 minutes to send an email, will that help us avoid a 30-minute meeting? (And, with five people in that meeting, is really a 2.5-hour meeting?)
Writing emails is also a good exercise for organizing your thoughts. If you can’t write a succinct email, how are you supposed to have succinct meetings?
Asking for input, ideas, or feedback via email versus in a meeting also gives people time to consider the question versus blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. And it gives more introverted teammates an opportunity to share that they may not take during a meeting.
Work when it works for you
As long as your employer isn’t adamant about you being online certain hours, work when your mentally checked in and most productive. Of course, it’s more of a challenge now than ever to get in the right mental space to do any work in the first place.
But if the show has to go on, do it at the time that works best. When I worked for US companies from Germany, I had to take meetings at odd hours (hello, 10 PM kickoff!). I finally put boundaries on my schedule, ending meetings by 9 PM. But I’d also start work between 8 and 9 AM, break for lunch and a walk around 1 PM, and then pop back on the computer at 3 PM when my East Coast clients were online. I’d work until around 6 PM before breaking for dinner and limiting my evening hours to meetings only–no other work or emails.
While we’re not necessarily in new time zones, we’re battling with a new sense of time and how to manage it. Give yourself more flexibility to find a new schedule for the new normal (and remember: that schedule may change day to day). That may also mean working in shorter spurts (which, as a bonus, may actually help your productivity).
Focus on the deliverable
When you and/or your team is working from home, it’s easy to wonder how people are spending their time. But, if the desired output is the same, does it matter?
Instead of wondering whether they’re locked to their computer 9-5 (or putting pressure on yourself to stay glued to the computer from 9-5), place importance on the output.
While this is a mindset I’d encourage regardless of whether or not you’re working from home, it’s extra critical right now to emphasize the outcome versus the work to get to that outcome. Besides, if you want to know how your employees are spending every minute of their day, it’s perhaps a sign that you’re sliding into micromanagement territory (and you don’t need me to tell you that’s no good, but take it from a psychologist).
It may sound obvious, but with everyone stretched to their mental limits it bears repeating: be kind to your family, be kind with your team, and, most of all, be kind to yourself.
What that means may look different to everyone. Remote work is already putting a strain on your mental health, so that may mean blocking news sites and social media. Or maybe it means working from the porch (if you have one) to get fresh air. Or setting up virtual happy hours and coffee breaks (it’s critical to avoid the isolation that comes with working from home that’s exasperated by the fact that you can’t go anywhere once you’re done working from home).
And remember: just as this isn’t what the world “normally” looks like, this isn’t what working from home is “normally” like.
I can safely say, as someone who will continue to work from home long after COVID is a “remember when…” conversation, I’ll be thrilled when I can leave my home office at the end of the day for cocktails somewhere other than the space immediately adjacent to my home office.
Cheers to that day!