This year, millions of people around the world have transitioned from working from an office to working from home. These include virtual assistants, medical transcriptionists, translators, travel agents, Fair Go casino visitors, people who do data entry, social media managers, freelance writers, call center reps and even, thanks to video conferencing tools, tutors, teachers, therapists and others.
Most observers believe that, even after the COVID-19 pandemic starts to wane, the new normal of work-from-home will continue. Whether you’ve started a new remote-based job or your employer is requiring you to work from a home office, check out some of the tips that long-time work-from-home employees have found to be helpful
Keep regular hours. Create a schedule that works for you and stick to it. In the same way that you know, more or less, when you can take coffee breaks in your office, when you get off for lunch and when you need to stretch, try to keep to that schedule while you’re working at home. Most importantly, in the same way that you turn off your computer and walk away from work when you’re in the office, be sure that you do the same when you’re working from home. Having the computer nearby can tempt you to jump in and do “one more thing” at odd hours but you need to keep yourself on track.
Alternately, if you are involved in child care during the workday, you may need to go back and forth. If so, be honest with your employer and stick to your promise to complete your tasks after the kids go to sleep.
Your schedule should include elements of a routine. If you’re used to starting out the day with a cup of coffee, by all means, do so. It will help you prepare yourself mentally for the day ahead.
Take advantage of the flexibility that a work-from-home job gives you. If’ you’re able to work into the evening from home, perhaps you want to take a jog or lay down for a nap earlier in the day. You can fill in the hours later and enjoy your day much more.
You need to communicate clearly with the people around you. Your spouse, your parents, your kids…..whoever shares your space and is in the area where you will be working needs to be made aware that while you’re working, you are not at liberty to mediate fights, cook meals, run errands or do any other types of tasks that you wouldn’t be doing if you were in an office. No one should assume that, because you are physically present in the home during work hours, that you’ll be available to take care of anything but your work responsibilities during work hours.
You might want to use an automatic time-tracking app like RescueTime, Jibble, Harvest, TimeBro or Toggl to help you manage your schedule. These apps aren’t only for the employer – you can also use them to review your day and see which time of day you’re most productive so you can reserve your hours of high focus for your most important tasks.
In order to keep your work and home lives separate, you need to have a dedicated work space where you can settle yourself during work hours. Part of the reason for such a space is psychological, both for yourself and for the people around you – you can make it clear that when you’re at your work station, you’re at work and you shouldn’t be interrupted.
Try to find a space where you can separate your work life from your home life. Even if it means carving out a corner in your living room or finding a space at the kitchen table which is “your” home office. Not only do you need to go “to work” at the beginning of the day but you need to “leave work” at the end of the day.
In the same way that organizing your time will help you focus on work, organizing your space will serve the same goal.
Your workspace should be comfortable and convenient. Good natural light will help you focus and you should have a comfortable chair with good internet connection and a large screen. Keep any papers and other desk implements in a drawer or a box that you can put away at night.
Breaks are part of your daily “schedule” but just as it’s important to schedule them, it’s important to actually take them. When you’re at home, it’s easy to become immersed in your work but if you don’t give yourself adequate time away from the phone and screen, you’ll burn out quickly. You can even lock yourself out of your computer to insure that you don’t shortchange yourself during break time.
If at all possible (weather-permitting), try to go outside at least once a day. This is just as true for office workers as it is for home workers but when you’re working from home, chances are that going outside is more do-able. Get some fresh air and, if you can schedule around it, maximize your outside time – weed the garden, walk the dog, go to the corner store for some milk or gum, etc.
Just as you need to maintain open lines of communication with the people who are in the house with you, you must maintain open lines of communication with your employer. You need to be clear about what’s happening, if you are splitting up your hours (if you can) due to home/family obligations, etc.
Make sure that your employer supplies you with everything that you need to get your job done properly – computer, monitor, printer, mouse, keyboard, software, etc. Some employers are accustomed to having employees work from home and they have the infrastructure in place to make sure that their workers have the right equipment. For others, however, this is all new and it’s as much a learning process for them as it is for you.
Don’t use your home phone number or your personal cell phone for work. If you do, you’ll find yourself fielding calls at all times of the day and night, weekends, holidays, etc. Set up a line that is reserved for clients, colleagues and other work-related contacts. If you, or your employer, doesn’t want to mess with a second mobile phone line or landline you can try a VoIP service such as Skype or Google Voice. Having a separate phone will help you keep balance between your work-life and your home-life.
Your relationship with colleagues can go beyond video-conferencing sessions. It’s important to maintain contact and maintain relationships with your co-workers through chat channels. This is important to ensure that you continue to maintain your role as a vital member of the team.
It’s also a good idea to set up video calls with your boss and your colleagues to check-in. Once a week is a good time frame – not too much and not too little.