By Alex Ong & Aroha Kareroa
It is likely before this string of novel Coronavirus was even a possibility, you had never heard of the term 'social distancing'. However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has spread across the world, an increasing number of businesses around the world are advising employees to work from home in accordance with social distancing. This means, by telecommuting, they will avoid the daily interactions that might expose us to the threat of infection, which makes a lot of sense, but transplanting that nine-to-five into your home-sweet-home is not so straightforward.
Unlimited freedom with few immediate consequences, surrounded by tantalising distractions without management types to keep you in check: it's all too easy to let a lack of motivation and other bad habits take hold. The good news is there are some simple hacks you can apply to your new remote working situation to ensure you remain in tip-top professional condition. Use these 17 tips to unlock your potential and push aside distractions to improve your productivity while working from home.
1. Give Yourself A Dedicated Workspace
Everyone knows the saying"dress for the job you want...",well the same applies to your workspace at home. If you have a dedicated home office, you're one of the lucky ones. Many of us will have to take over an already functioning room. When selecting exactly which room that should be, ensure it's an area that's clean, has good natural light, and that you enjoy being in. Do not underestimate the influence of your working environment: somewhere cluttered, dark, and generally un-office-like will make your day feel like it will last forever.
2...But Your Bed Doesn’t Count!
The first rule of working from home is: get up and out of bed. Of course, it would be great if you could relax all day under a blanket while somehow also being super productive, but the two things are generally incompatible. It's also not great sleep hygiene to work from your bed, so for the benefit of both your waking hours and your shut-eye, it might be better to face the day from a vertical position.
3. Make Sure Your Family/Flatmates Respect It Is Work Time
While it is a shame to be proactively pushed into telecommuting, a positive is we can spend more time with our family or flatmates. However, they can cause distractions and can get in the way of you focusing and getting into working frame of mind. Make sure they understand boundaries, your working hours and those times when you need to just keep your head down. Generate a system that allows you to concentrate and be more effective.
4. Stick To Your Daily Routine
While your commute may have shrunk significantly to just a few short steps, you should still set your alarm clock for the usual time. Get out of bed, get showered, and dressed for your day - casual Friday clothes are fine. That being said, your pyjamas are not going to cut it. Whatever it is you usually do to get your game face on as you head into the office is a ritual that is unconsciously hitched to how you mentally prepare for the day, so preserve it as best you can while you work from home. Getting dressed as if you were going to work changes your mentality and separates work from relaxation.
5. Keep A Work Life Balance
Balance in life is key and just because you are working remotely does not mean your work should dominate everything else. When the day is done, clock off. Shut down your computer. Wash up your coffee mug. Put away your stationery and enjoy your free time. Oddly enough, this might well be the aspect of working from home that the majority of people find hardest; it's tough to switch off when you can fire off just one more email or file just one last report. If you don't protect your free time, you could find yourself resenting your job.
6. Stay In Contact With Your Work Team
Humans are social creatures, and as much as we rely on our colleagues for professional reasons, they're also people we spend a huge amount of time with. Try and set structured daily calls with your team so you can set out what everyone is doing and cover off any questions while maintaining some sort of normalcy while responsibly staying home to slow the spread of Coronavirus. You might not even realise just how important your work family is to your general wellbeing until you no longer have daily access to them, so make sure the channels of communication remain open, for both work correspondence and casual banter.
7. Manage Your Time & Allow Yourself Breaks
Being your own taskmaster is easier said than done. Even if you follow these guidelines to the letter, it is very likely that you will have days when you're just not feeling it and you just can't muster that motivation on your own. One way to navigate these stumbles is to have rigid time management rules to follow, which can steer you back onto the path to productivity. One of the most popular is the Pomodoro Technique, which breaks the day down into 30-minute chunks: 25 minutes of work followed by five-minute breaks. There are plenty of other methods out there so shop around, do some research and give a few a try to see which is right for you.
8. Resist The Urge To Stream Or Watch TV
Listen carefully, can you hear it? That's the sound of all your favourite shows calling. With your living room just metres away - you may well be working in your living room - the temptation to watch just one more episode of whatever series you are currently binging will be strong. But resist this urge - it's a slippery slope and one teeny tiny TV break can easily snowball into a whole day down the drain. The rule of thumb should be, if it wouldn't fly at the office, then it shouldn't become the status quo at home. It will all be there once the working day is done.
9. Get Outside (Responsibly)
Most importantly, we all need to applying social distancing. However, social distancing is not self-isolation. Leaving your house every day gives your mind stimulation in a way that is vitally important to your wellbeing. In ways both big and small, the mental health of many people is likely to suffer as the impact of the pandemic unfolds in the coming months. There are responsible ways to get outside, walking out into the backyard, step out on the balcony or even walking to the mailbox.
10. Leave Your Smartphone Out Of Reach
It is all too easy for 5 minutes to become 20 minutes when you are scrolling on your smartphone. Many professions require you to be easily contactable, especially while you work from home, so it is necessary to have it with you but given how easy it is to procrastinate, they need to be out of reach to help you avoid temptation.
11. Keep An Orderly Workplace
Best to channel your inner clean freak and have a tidy desk. A well-kept work space can increase productivity up to 20% according to the World Economic Forum. Make sure you have enough natural light, separation from distractions and a system to keep it decluttered and organized.
12. Invest In Your Office
Since it is unknown how long this pandemic will last, we need to act as it will take months not weeks. That being the case, get what you need that will make your life easier and ultimately more productive. This could be a dedicated computer, an upgrade to high quality internet, a proper office chair, a filing system or even a printer if necessary. Basically, anything that's essential that won’t hold you back or slow you down.
13. Plan Your Day, Set Priorities & Keep Tasks Manageable
Once you are all set up to work, plan out your day setting everything you are going to complete that day. This is important as it will show you what you have to do, how long you are setting to complete it and let you judge whether it is manageable. It is so easy to make an extensive list of tasks, but you need to keep tasks manageable. Let’s be real, you cannot do that massive task as well as these 10 other smaller tasks. Set these tasks out by priority so you are maximising the impact of your time and layout a day of tasks that is actually achievable. Regularly achieving your daily tasks gives you a sense of accomplishment which in turn brings positive feelings that will support consistent productivity.
14. Draw Your Blinds & Open Your Windows
Let there be light! Open those blinds, let the rich natural light into the room and over your dedicated workspace. This will help you feel more awake and focused. If weather permits, open your windows to let some breeze come in. Being stuck inside for long periods can take its toll, so giving some sense of being outside can help the soul, which makes working from home a bit easier and ultimately more productive.
15. Use Task Management Tools
There are countless tools out there that can help you keep on top of all you need to do and the tasks that are on your plate. There are a few tools that allow for future planning too like Asana and Trello. Both of these are great ways to work within a team as well as you can get everyone into the same project and assign tasks appropriately. This keeps your team accountable and sets a tone of productivity while you are all working from home. For those working solo, Microsoft One Note from the Microsoft Office suite has a To-Do list set up you can use to manage your tasks.
16. Don’t Forget About Your Health
Since we are being cooped up at home it can be easy to let go of healthy habits. The commute to work is gone, no more walks to grab a coffee and no more after work activities. It’s important you and your team do not neglect your physical well-being. Since we are not out and about as much, try and eat healthy where you can (including snacks!), drink water regularly and try to exercise 30 minutes a day – even if it’s a walk around your block. Exercise releases endorphins and supports your mental health during this unsettling time. It also helps your immune system and reduces lethargy.
17. Leverage Cloud-based File Sharing
What a wonderful thing the internet is! While you are telecommuting leverage a cloud-based File Sharing system like a Dropbox, Google Drive or similar. Make sure it’s a secure system and that everyone in the team will be able to share and access files easily. Much easier than searching for multiple email attachments and avoids dealing with files that are out of date.
There you have it, the more effective and productive you are, the more time you spend with family, playing with the dog, video calls with your friends or binging TV shows. Make the most of your day and stay positive. There will be an end to this pandemic, now let’s invest in ourselves and make the most of our time working from home.
Has your office considered a virtual office set up to telework as a team? Working from home could become the new normal for your team during this time. Virtual office services are a smart and cost-effective solution for managing a business' administrative requirements. Let us worry about the details while your team get on with the business of expanding your company without expensive overhead costs.