In this unprecedented time of the COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing, we are all learning to adapt to new circumstances in both our personal and business lives. When you’re used to an office setting, working from home can be a huge adjustment! At ALINE, we’ve been working remotely from the very beginning, so we’re used to collaborating with our team on flexible schedules, communicating with clients using various forms of technology, and working efficiently from nontraditional workspaces.
We know firsthand that working from home has its challenges, so we reached out to our team of remote work experts for some advice. We hope these tips will help you stay as productive (and sane!) as possible during this time.
If you don’t already have a home office, set up a designated workspace: preferably not your couch, and ideally in a room with a door that closes. Try to make this space into a work-friendly environment. If possible, build some boundaries around this space and do not allow other activities while you’re there. This will help you keep your things organized and let your mind shift into “work mode” when you’re in that space rather than be distracted by the other things you could be doing at home instead. That said, it's also helpful to be flexible. You might need to relocate to the playroom or backyard temporarily to let your kids run around while you send a couple of emails. So, set up a designated workspace, but be prepared to shift as needed.
If possible, maintain your regular workday schedule and routine.
If you are used to being at the office by 8:30 a.m. every morning, try to continue this routine at home. Now that you don’t have a commute, you can probably enjoy a little extra sleep in the morning, but try not to snooze your alarm clock too much; be sitting at your computer and ready for your workday at the usual time. This also means you should avoid working extra-long hours just because you can. If you normally leave your office at 5:00 p.m., try to shut down the computer at the same time. Don’t forget to schedule time for breaks too! This could include a workout video, getting a snack, starting a load of laundry, walking the dog, or anything to help you stay energized and motivated.
Try to create a schedule that works for both you and your family.
If you have kids at home, it might be difficult—or just impractical—to maintain your regular work hours. It helps a lot of parents to schedule and require naps (or at least quiet time) for kids under age six. Be prepared to jump straight into work as soon as nap/rest hour begins so you can take advantage of that precious quiet time.
When possible, try not to "squeeze in" work. It's tempting to check email quickly or try to do ten minutes of work while the pasta is boiling, but this kind of jumping around will lead to more stress than productivity. It's better to declare your work time, arrange for kids/pets/house to be taken care of, and focus on work with minimal distractions. This might sound near impossible for parents of small children, but try it if you can! It can be helpful to plan activities for your kids the night before to help keep them occupied when you need time to focus on work. Collect the supplies, toys, etc. ahead of time and designate your child’s activity space to help minimize your stress the next morning.
For parents balancing work and family all in one place now, it will be especially important to prioritize and schedule specific blocks of time to tackle important tasks. If you’re used to working full-time in an office, you may not be able to accomplish the same amount of work as you will at home with kids who also need your attention. Communicate with your team and clients to decide what is most important to get done that day or week. Some types of work might require different levels of attention, so try to block out a specific time of the day to work on tasks that require more focus. This might be the quiet time while kids are napping or first thing in the morning before the rest of the house is awake. You might need to be flexible with your work hours, but take time to schedule and plan ahead for the most important tasks.
Set expectations with both your family at home and with your coworkers and clients about when you will be working and when you will be available for phone calls/video meetings. If your kids (or spouse) know when you need to work, they will be better prepared to respect your need to focus on something that’s not them. You will still have interruptions, but the more you communicate with your kids ahead of time, the better results you will get. This applies to your coworkers and clients too. If they know you will only be available from 1-4 p.m., they won’t be surprised when you don’t respond to an email for a couple of hours or miss a phone call in the morning. Realistically, you may not be able to schedule every bit of work at the most convenient time for you, and you might have to take a meeting while your kids/pet/spouse are chattering in the background. Just give your client/coworker a heads up that there might be some minor interruptions or background noise during the conference call. Most people will be very understanding, especially since they will probably be managing the same distractions!
It’s important to have a plan so you can get work done, but it’s equally important to be forgiving of yourself (and of your colleagues) if that plan has to change. Even people who have worked remotely for years have not done it under these unique circumstances. Give yourself, your clients, your family, and your coworkers grace. We're all learning how to do this anew!
Remember to check in on yourself as well. You might need to work sometimes early in the morning or late at night to keep up with important tasks, but you also need to make sure you aren’t exhausting yourself trying to make up for every minute missed in the office. Prioritize time with your family too, and spend time focusing on your mental health. We are living and working in unusual circumstances, and we shouldn’t expect ourselves (or our coworkers) to function completely as usual in a different work environment or with unexpected distractions and challenges.
As we mentioned, the ALINE team is very accustomed to working from home, so we’re happy to help you navigate these new waters. Feel free to call us anytime for more tips or advice – we just can’t promise it’ll be silent in the background.