Working from home was once thought of as a dream come true. But for the many of us who are unfamiliar with working remotely, it can create some difficulties when it comes to managing our productivity and well-being. Often, the biggest challenges when working from home include:
- Establishing work hours to avoid burnout
- Communicating with team members
- Feeling engaged and connected
And while we are trying to quickly readjust and manage the challenges listed above, we now have to navigate some newer complexities that come with social distancing, such as:
- Working at home with your spouse, partner, or housemates
- Caring for or schooling children during work hours
- Focusing on work during times of uncertainty
No matter the struggle, all of these factors can take a toll on our emotional and mental health, and can lead to a decrease in productivity. Because when you have to think of new ways to entertain bored children or how to keep your mind in the work zone due to being concerned with other more serious matters, such as health, it’s hard to walk away from work feeling satisfied. And that’s okay. Giving ourselves some slack during this uncertain time is completely reasonable.
Re-adjusting how we approach this new environment can also help us regain focus and monitor our emotional state to help get us through this period of time. In hopes to provide some alleviation and guidance, we’ve reached out to some of our own remote workers to share the following tips.
7 tips to stay productive when navigating times of uncertainty
1. Set Designated Work Times
One of our favorite newsletters called Thrive Global by Arianna Huffington, speaks to the importance of setting designated work hours to maintain productivity.
“When you work from home,” Christy Cegelski, copywriter and email marketing strategist for Thrive Global states, “It can be difficult to keep personal and professional tasks from blending together. On one hand, it seems perfectly reasonable to throw a load of laundry in between conference calls, but setting boundaries is the only way to ensure work tasks take priority and are completed on time. It’s important to maintain a separation between work hours and home life.”
Setting designated work hours doesn’t always mean working a regular nine to five. For Andrew Walker, senior value consultant, he shares that “This is likely the area where I have felt the greatest impact during the COVID-19 pandemic. In Illinois, we have been in an economic shutdown since the end of March, which means my wife and 15-month old have now been home every day. I try to make sure my breaks lineup to give my wife regular breaks from the little one.”
Another fully-remote employee, Marja Moore, analytics director for Global Value Enablement, shares her own insight on how she plans her schedule, “This is more about setting designated non-work hours. I try to manage my time on devices – whether it be my laptop, phone, or tablet – and pick a couple of hours of everyday where I disconnect from technology. Whether I’m reading, playing fetch with the puppies, listening to music, or exercising, I think it is important to disconnect. As a remote worker, you have everything accessible (as it is every day), so there is nothing to stop you from checking in on work at 10 p.m. or starting at 4 a.m. because you are sleepless. Finding the time to give yourself a break from technology (and work) is healthy. Let yourself recharge and come back with intention and energy!”
Our advice: Find designated work hours that fit your unique schedule, then try to follow that schedule as closely as possible to help regulate some level of normalcy. Remember to be flexible and forgiving as some time other things can pop up. Being aware of these challenges, how they affect us personally, and how we can adapt our mindset can help us reduce stress and remain productive.
2. Create a Routine
For some people, being in a comfortable environment with less structure can be creatively stimulating. Lauren Nevanen, senior marketing research manager, for example, finds that while having a routine can be important, you can’t always depend on it. “Whether it’s the household chores you want to get done, the weather outside, or finding something to eat for lunch – every day will look different. Picking one or two of those things that make up your routine can help you embrace the new day but get comfortable with the fact that different situations come up. Accept those things, be present and grateful for them, and when you get back to your desk, give your undivided attention and focus.”
But for others, not having a normal routine makes it hard to feel motivated, thus leading to a potentially downward shift in production. For Cathy White, director of Solutions Consulting, sticking to her regular routine is important for setting the tone of her day. “I start early in the morning, but when 5 p.m. hits, I log out of Skype, and go relax for about 30 minutes (I call this my commute time) before starting dinner for the family. Any time after 5 p.m., I will look at emails, but since it is my time, I decide which emails need a response, and which ones can wait until the morning. The other thing I do is that I never go back to my computer in the evening or on weekends. If I can’t answer an email from my mobile, then it needs to wait.”
Our advice: Depending on who you are, and what works for your own schedule, our advice is to try to create a routine that was similar to before. Whether it’s getting ready in the morning by going for a jog or putting on a fresh outfit, some of the small things we do daily helps us boost our energy and prep our mindsets, so we feel motivated to start each new day.
3. Set Rules with Family or Roommates
Probably one of the more difficult challenges that social distancing creates for us now that we are all working from home, is the fact that our families and roommates are all home too. As much as we love them, we have to set boundaries to remain productive. Establishing rules early on, such as certain quiet hours and times to not disturb us, is important to ensure that everyone can remain productive. Ryan Oliver, senior manager for demand generation, for example, has a known rule with his wife and two young children to keep quiet and leave him alone when the “office” door is closed.
As for Marja, she has incorporated some of her own “water cooler” chats with her husband who also works from home, “We just squeeze in time to check-in when our calendars align.” As for others who are stuck at home working alongside their spouse, this video from Thrive Global is quite humorous about showing some of the added challenges.
Thrive Global advice:
- Communicate before your workday about potentially conflicting schedules, phone calls, and when it’s a good time to do chores
- Find a separate, quiet place to work – even it it's the bathroom
- Communicate how each individual handles work stress, including positive ways to help comfort and lend support
- Spend at least 10 minutes apart to wind down and recharge before coming back together at the end of each day
4. Communicate Reasonable Expectations
Once you start to find your own work rhythm, you’ll be able to gauge how many projects you can take on and increase or decrease the amount when appropriate. But it’s important to stay connected through conversation. Frank Lucier, VP of client development, offers a good perspective: “Work clearly takes time during the week and so does life, especially right now. Reiterating that it’s okay to take time during working hours to take care of one’s children, pets, family, friends or oneself is important. This is a message that needs to be repeated so that it’s not lost in the shuffle and that employees are feeling comfortable and supported during this time because they are.”
Whether you have a set number of hours during the day, or an on-call policy, let your coworkers know how and when you plan on communicating with them. It’s here where keeping coworkers in the loop helps them feel valuable, included, and invested into their well-being. Misty Duran, senior program manager and team lead for Americas Marketing, shares just how she does this with her team: “I have worked from home for many years and wasn’t overly concerned when I learned my children would now be home with me. It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was going to be anything but business as usual. I immediately connected with my team and expressed that I would need a lot of flexibility and grace. Our new normal would now include team meetings with my 17-month old in attendance and in between meetings I would need to dedicate my time to helping my older two with schoolwork. My colleagues were overwhelming with support. I also found more peace of mind and support from my peers by being open and vulnerable, clearly expressing my needs and expectations. I learned that even when life feels messy, it’s up to you to build a structure that leaves room for flexibility.”
Our advice: Communicating early and often is key here. Do regular check-ins with your team on project workloads and mental health. When it comes to coping, scheduling time to chat with colleagues can really help individuals become more aware of their feelings, responsible for how they can adjust, and in the long run, stay happy and productive.
5. Schedule Regular Check-Ins
While this one is similar to above, the end goal is a little different. Even with clear expectations and good communication, the best plans can go awry. Still, scheduling time for regular check-ins allows for natural conversation when it comes to identifying project roadblocks or even drops in motivation. We all know how tough it is, so the sooner and more frequent we can support each other, the quicker both sides can get back on track.
Frank recommends checking in with direct reports on video as much as possible: “While this may seem obvious, there are many days with full schedules and time has to be made to check in. I have switched a lot of calls, even casual calls, to video because the sense of connection is dramatically different.” And during critical times like so, it’s so important. “Even doing a call that is less than five minutes can help me understand how my direct reports are coping,” Frank states.
Andrew also weighs in with another piece of advice: “For those new to working from home, you may have in the past been more dependent on stopping by coworkers desks to check in, so there should definitely be more attention given to setup virtual chats and continue checking in with coworkers during this time.”
Our advice: Don’t hesitate to reach out. Scheduling virtual lunches, happy hours, or just time to casually chat through a video call can help bring comfort and connection to all of us during this time.
6. Take Regular Breaks
The more you hone-in, the more you ignore the opportunities for context and miss out on the ability to recharge and be creative. Even if you aren’t in a highly creative position, taking breaks can help you better approach how to solve problems and navigate tough conversations – which is even harder to do when we’re working remote.
Getting up and moving can also help boost other sources of energy. Clay Thompson, senior communications manager for Global Product & Solutions Marketing, claims: “When working from home, it’s easier to sit on the couch or in your home office all day without ever having to walk very far to the break room or bathroom, so I have invested in a standing desk for myself. You don’t need a fancy electric one – there are affordable alternatives that sit on a tabletop. You can even use your kitchen counter if you’re desperate. The goal is to avoid sitting all day long.”
Getting up for a half hour of light activity — like walking, when a person would usually be sitting — corresponds to an estimated 17% lower risk of early death, according to Time. Marja and Katherine Taylor, senior events marketing manager, both enjoy taking breaks to go outside and play with their dogs.
“My new routine is more dog-focused, but it helps immensely. I take our puppy outside for playtime two to three times a day, depending on my schedule and weather. It helps to clear my mind, experience some joyfulness, and spend time with my family,” Marja states.
Our advice: Remember to take a step back and recharge by getting outside, moving your body, or scheduling playtime with your family and/or pets. All of these are great ways to stimulate other senses that may have fallen asleep during the workday.
7. Know When It’s Time to Switch Off
For some of us out there who are quarantining alone, this one might be one of the hardest. But in the long run, establishing boundaries for ourselves when it comes to our work hours can help us avoid burnout and keep us focused on what really matters – our own well-being.
Katherine sums it up perfectly when she says: “The main thing I have found to be helpful is sticking to set hours. I don’t start work too soon and I don’t end work too late because both of these can quickly get out of hand and make for very long days.”
Frank, on the other hand, offers us a different approach when it comes to wrapping up the entire work week. And it’s been extremely enjoyable. Frank comments: “Personally, I’m a huge fan of video calls at the end of the week that have nothing to do with work other than the fact that everyone on the call is from the same team. The team claims what we have been doing on Fridays has started to become the best part about their week and it has even brought out a whole new level of camaraderie. It also goes a long way to show that we are all in this together without even having to mention that fact.”
We’re all in this together – stay connected, stay safe
With more personal check-ins, team video calls, and a comprehensive productivity plan, we can ensure that we are all staying safe and healthy, while making a valuable contribution (even if we are wearing our pajamas). And while we aren’t always in control of every minute, establishing some of the tips above can really help us create boundaries and routines that keep us focused on what really matters: our physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
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