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8 Tips to Be Productive When Working from Home

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woman working at her desk in her home office
April 9, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended nearly every aspect of life, including how we work. Millions of people are suddenly forced to work from home, many for the first time. 

So, how do you make the best of your remote quarantine? Now that you've cut your commute, how do you ensure you don't cut your productivity as well?

As part of our ongoing coronavirus response, we've discussed some of the technical requirements for being efficient while working from home (WFH), but there is definitely a cultural shift required. For guidance, we turned to experts and work-from-home veterans Ernest Anunciacion and Steve Soter.

Work-from-home productivity tips

1. Find your space

For many, the key to productivity is creating a clear distinction between home (a place of relaxation, privacy, and family) and work (a place of efficiency and collaboration). That distinction can still exist if you provide yourself with a dedicated work space within your home. 

"You have to be able to set boundaries where you can separate the personal from the professional," says Ernest, who has worked from home for more than six years. 

This is why most people are unable to work from bed or in front of the television, as enticing as that seems. You are not in the right context to be most effective.

2. Dress for home success

Some people WFH still sporting a suit and tie. Others wear more business casual attire. Very few wear pajamas while on the clock (or they don't for very long) because, like working from bed, there is a psychological block when you are not environmentally prepared for working. 

It doesn't really matter what you wear as long as you feel like you are dressing for work, separate from what you would wear to bed or on a weekend around the house. It's another way to claim a space for yourself to work. 

3. Create order in the chaos

Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you shouldn't have structure. The lack of a commute promises an alluring option to wake up mere minutes before you fire up your computer, but consider resisting that siren song.  

"I still get up, I do my best to exercise, I still get ready before I get to my desk because, for me, it anchors my day," says Steve, who adds that routines are crucial for letting your team know when you are available. 

"Questions are going to come up," says Steve. "'How are we going to view this report?' or 'How are we going to get this out the door?' Your availability and ability to direct traffic and answer questions is going to be critical."

4. New coworkers

A routine establishes ground rules both for your coworkers and your cohabiters. It is likely that your spouse, partner, or roommate is working from home, too, and if you have children, they're going to be around as well. (For example, Steve's five kids are helping him work from home these days.) Setting clear rules about your space and schedule are key to keeping you productive. 

School closures have put an extra burden on parents who need to balance productivity with constructive childcare. Common Sense Media has great recommendations for activities and entertainment to keep your children learning while you focus on work. 

5. Remote, but in the same boat

"What we see is that this environment, when you're working from home, can feel isolating, but it doesn't have to be," says Steve. "You might think about hosting some kind of virtual happy hour or social gathering, so that even though people are separated by distance, they are still unified as a collective team."

"It's instant messaging, it's email, it's virtual conference meetings, and even just picking up the phone," says Ernest, who advocates for keeping a personal connection while offices are closed. Without a water cooler, proverbial or otherwise, to gather around, technology can help us stay close. Suggest a quarantine book or movie list to a coworker, or share tips on how you've been managing the stress.

6. Speak up, from a distance

Don't be afraid to ask for the things you need. Your company's IT, HR, or facilities departments are working as hard as you are, and there's no reason not to ask for a piece of equipment, to fix a problem, or even to take part in a training opportunity just because you want to avoid being a burden. Your company needs efficient workers, not martyrs, so make sure you are set up the best you can be. 

7. Make a break for it

"Think about how much time you would spend walking down the hall and you would run into a coworker, and that time you would spend at the water cooler just exchanging notes or having conversation. Those are little mental breaks that you're taking," says Ernest. It's important to continue to get up from your desk and close the laptop lid a few times a day. "I have to force myself to peek through the window every once in a while before my eyes get too strained."

Make a phone call. Brew some tea or coffee. Take a walk around the block. These are all simple—and stress-relieving—ways to take breaks while you're working from home. 

8. Set great expectations (but be ready to settle for good)

Working this way is new to nearly everyone, and it's important not to be too hard on yourself. Of course, you want to be twice as efficient on your first day of working remote, but between the change in environment, upheaval in routine, and a suddenly overburdened internet connection, that might not be the most realistic goal. 

The most important tip is to discover what works for you. It's an open-ended task that seems scary at first. However, with some diligence, a few adjustments, and a lot patience, it should prove to be more than manageable over time. Let's hope that's an apt description of this pandemic as well. 

Everyone is adapting to the ongoing changes to our society and we're here to help. Check out our resources for navigating this new normal

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