Little more than a year ago, many people would have said that the opportunity to work from home sounded like a dream. One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, and working from home is a reality for many people. And while it may have seemed like a great novelty at first, many aspects of working at home have begun to grate on remote employees.
If we are honest with ourselves, working at home does have its challenges. Some people find it more difficult to get motivated; others find it difficult to shut their “work brain” off when they live where they work and work where they live. Some miss the human interaction of the workplace; others have so much human interaction going on that they struggle to get any work done.
Whatever your work-from-home challenges, you are not alone. To help, we’ve curated some of the best tips for maintaining your productivity—and sanity—while working from home.
One of the biggest dangers of working from home is the lack of structure. Working from home can offer flexibility, but the flip side of that can be that you find yourself working when you should be relaxing, or vice versa.
Since you no longer have the ritual of walking into and out of your workplace to define your day, create your own routines. Get dressed in your “work clothes,” even if they are not as formal as you would wear to the office. Set alerts on your phone to signal the beginning and end of your workday, and consider eating lunch at the same time every day (ideally, not at your desk). Develop other cues that reinforce the difference between work and relaxation time for you, such as beginning your work day with a simple, regular task like creating or reviewing a “to-do” list.
Flexibility is good—but remember that when you’re working on your own, you’re more likely to be productive if your time is structured.
Flexibility is good—but remember that when you’re working on your own, you’re more likely to be productive if your time is structured. In fact, you will probably need to create more structure for yourself while working at home than you needed in your office.
For those who live alone and were used to getting much of their human contact at work, working at home may feel lonely. But for workers with spouses and/or kids who are also home all the time, it may feel impossible to focus. Sometimes you can laugh it off, like the newscaster whose toddler son crawled on screen and demanded to be picked up while his mom was on camera. Other times, it feels frustrating or even mortifying.
To the extent possible, create boundaries around your work day and your work space. Boundaries signal to you that it’s the time or place to work, but they also serve as cues to others who might be accustomed to having access to you when you are home.
It is ideal to have a home office, but that’s not always possible. But to the extent you can, try to carve out dedicated work space. Even better if there is a door you can shut. We know a fan of the musical Hamilton who signals to her family that she’s not to be interrupted by hanging a sign on the door that says “The Room Where It Happens.” It feels less harsh to her than “Do Not Disturb,” but it gets the message across. Another helpful item that serves to both block out distractions and serve as a visual “do not disturb” cue to others: noise-canceling headphones.
Setting boundaries around your space is helpful and so is setting boundaries around your time. It’s difficult to work productively when you’re constantly distracted. Not only do the interruptions take your attention away from work, but it can take time to refocus after the interruption.
If you and your spouse are trying to juggle working from home and caring for your kids, consider trading off time when you will be the “go to” parent. One parent can have the morning to work uninterrupted, while the other gets the afternoon. That can allow you to schedule work that requires the most focus while you are least likely to be interrupted.
When you are in an office setting, you are interacting with your coworkers face to face. We take a lot of that communication for granted. When you are working from home, a lot of the ease that comes with in-person communication goes out the window.
For one thing, you may not have the opportunity for quick, informal conversation with instantaneous feedback. And you lose the visual cues that someone is busy, stressed, angry, or joking. Some of the “watercooler chat” that goes on at work may not feel productive, but it promotes productivity by creating bonds and goodwill between coworkers. To the extent you can duplicate that on a virtual level, it is worth doing so.
Fortunately, technology offers plenty of options for communicating; you just have to know how to use them to your best advantage. Part of that will, of course, depend on the size of your team and the type of work you do. The ability to screen-share may be a decent substitute for walking over to someone’s desk to look at what they are working on. Ask coworkers directly how they prefer to be communicated with if you have a choice—instant message, email, phone, text, or something else. Particularly if the flexibility of the work-at-home setting means you are working at different times, you may have to try harder to make sure your communication is effective and efficient.
Last but not least, recognize that you are working under conditions that are far from perfect. Even if you have a dedicated home office, established routines, and excellent channels of communication, these are still going to be stressful times. Do your best, remember to take regular breaks, and forgive yourself for not being able to always work the way you think you should.
Someday, the COVID-19 pandemic will be behind us, but it may have changed the way we work forever. Embrace the benefits, and keep looking for ways to address the challenges. If you have questions about this article, feel free to contact our law firm (we’re working remotely at least some of the time, too).