In light of the recently declared Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, companies are doing all they can to ensure prevention and preparedness, while also managing the demands of the business. Employees who are able to do so are being asked to work from home if they are feeling ill or if the organization feels they could be at risk of exposure through their commute and physical presence in the workplace. This has caused company leaders to focus on enabling technology for remote access and putting measures in place to ensure telecommuting has a minimal impact on productivity.
Working from home is not for everyone; however, if you are highly self-motivated and would like to avoid the stresses of the daily commute and the distractions of the office, then you may find it a rewarding experience that will actually improve your productivity in the long run.
There are many benefits to both employees and the organization in allowing people to telecommute. Key among these today being the prevention of the spread of illnesses. Productivity has also shown to increase in some cases. When working from home, you can schedule tasks around your most productive periods of time (i.e. mornings versus afternoons) to maximize efficiency. Gone as well are the constant interruptions of passing employees, office politics, and the “water cooler effect”.
But this model only works if there are mechanisms in place to ensure employees and managers can effectively manage performance. More importantly, employees who telecommute should be able to organize themselves in order to ensure maximum productivity.
Below are TEN simple tips to staying PRODUCTIVE while working from home or telecommuting:
1. Prepare for what you’ll need:
If you’re going to work from home, make sure you have the resources. Your home internet should have enough bandwidth, you should have a laptop/computer ready to go, and you will need access to the files and programs you need to complete your work. If you are missing a key piece of equipment or access to a system, arrange for this in advance with your company. Backup important documents and files to the cloud so you can easily access, or store them on your laptop or an external zip or hard drive. There is nothing worse than missing a key template or file when you are in the groove of accomplishing a task. Years ago, this was much for challenging. Employees would have to use VPN or RDP to access programs and files. With more businesses moving to the cloud, access to everything from email to portals and networks is smooth and shouldn’t cause any downtime.
2. Develop your workspace:
Find a place in your home with good lighting that you can dedicate to being your work area. If you don’t have a spare room available for a permanent setup, seek a spot away from the heavy traffic areas in the house and free from distraction. Let others in the house know that you are working and are not to be disturbed unnecessarily. Arrange your work necessities to be within reach and keep this area clean and uncluttered. Make a point of “going to” work at the beginning of your day and “leaving” work at the end of it, even if it’s simply the symbolic gesture of turning off and closing your work laptop. Maintaining the boundaries between your working and non-working state are important to ensure that your working hours don’t bleed into your home life and vice versa.
3. Get dressed:
While it may be tempting to shuffle straight from bed to your computer, it’s not productive. Just like when you have to leave your house to go to work, you need to develop a routine that will put you in the proper mindset for your working day. This includes getting dressed for the day. A three-piece suit is not necessary if you spend the day at home, but changing out of your pyjamas will help you to switch your attitude from “at home” to “at work,” and will help you to avoid embarrassment when you answer the door to the FedEx carrier at three in the afternoon while still wearing your fluffy bunny slippers.
4. Stay connected:
Absence may make the heart grow fonder, but it also means that you may have to remind your manager and co-workers on occasion that you still exist so that you aren’t forgotten when it comes to meetings or assigning responsibilities. Touch base with your colleagues regularly – at least daily if you plan to work from home for an extended period. Use the phone, log in to your organization’s chat system and keep them up and available, and ensure you can be reached and are responsive at all times during core hours or as expected. It is up to you to make sure your manager and colleagues know you are working and part of the team. Some employees are even more responsive when working from home, in order to avoid any perceptions that they are misusing the opportunity. With today’s modern apps like Microsoft Teams and Slack, remote communication easier than ever. Not only can you be alerted if someone is trying to connect, but you can schedule calls and join meetings with ease.
5. Stay off the web:
Without the threat of a manager peering over your shoulder, or the limitations of office firewalls, it’s tempting to take more time out of your day to peek at what people are doing on your social feeds or shop for your new table lamps. Unless it’s a part of your job, stay away from social media and even texting while you are trying to work. It is too easy to get sucked into surfing the internet (just as you might when you are not at work), and the next thing you know you have a meeting in five minutes and you’re not prepared.
If you’re using a work laptop, reserve its resources for work-related applications only. Close any distracting tabs on your web browser that you don’t need to finish your tasks. If a non-work-related website is inappropriate for when you’re at the office, then it’s inappropriate for when you’re working from home. When you don’t need the internet to finish what you’re doing, feel free to disconnect completely.
6. Schedule your day:
Working from home can be distracting for some. You become aware of the pile of dirty laundry in the hamper and the fact that the dishwasher needs to be unloaded and all of these things can deter you from completing your work. It is very important to schedule your time when you are at home. Set goals for yourself to complete over the course of the day, and arrange it so that the ones requiring the most of your energy and attention occur when you are at your most alert and focused.
Similarly, schedule your breaks for times you know you will be less attentive. Leave your computer and toss another load in the washer, or water your plants. Accomplish a quick household task of some sort. Return to your desk refreshed and ready to re-focus on the task at hand.
7. Keep moving:
When telecommuting you miss out on the back and forth of popping into colleagues’ offices for a quick chat or running down to the file room to pick up some papers. You also forgo the exercise involved in getting to and from the office, even if it’s just a few moments outside while you wait for the bus. In order to stay healthy and alert during your workday, make sure that you fit some physical activity into your schedule.
During one of your breaks, instead of popping down to the coffee shop at the end of the street, take the dog on a quick stroll around the block. This will save you a few bucks and make you and your canine coworker happy colleagues. Stand up from your computer every 60-90 minutes and do some quick stretches. Maybe some lunges or jumping jacks. You work from home – nobody’s going to judge you if you want to take a quick disco break. Short bursts of even mild physical activity will help you to stay focused throughout your day.
8. Prepare the night before:
Just as if you were heading into the office, prepare your clothes and meals in advance. It can be tempting to cook a meal or clean your closet during the time when you are expected to work. Know your company’s expectations for working hours and schedules, and prepare in advance to help ensure you adhere to them.
9. Be aware:
When working from your own computer at home, it is far too easy to let your work sphere merge with your personal matters. If you have a pet or child, watch any background noise that might interrupt meetings or calls. If your partner or roommate is around, be sure to set clear boundaries to limit distractions or again, background noise. If you are using your personal computer, watch how to store/access files as you wouldn’t want to inadvertently send a personal document or file by accident. Overall, be aware that your work is taking place in the middle of your own personal space and you should do what you can to limit the overlap.
10. Be professional:
At the end of the day, your employer is trusting you to remain productive and active during your telecommute. Use your professional judgement and instincts to guide and conduct your day and habits. Be sure to communicate exceptions with your manager immediately.
Overall, in uncertain times, working from home is a great option. In regular times, working from home has great advantages and is a privilege for those who are able. If employees understand what is expected of them, are connected to their teams, and employ professional standards in their conduct, working from home should not interrupt business in any way.
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Boyd 1996. “Six Organizational Benefits of Telecommuting.” https://research-advisors.com/articles/ttorgbens.html