Novel coronavirus outbreak and subsequent quarantine measures taken by many countries forced companies and organizations to turn their people to work from their homes. And if for those companies (and people) who have an experience of remote work this doesn’t become an issue, for those who never supported work from home this sudden transition may be painful and problematic.
In general, remote work has been showing constant growth over the last years supported by active popularization in media. But there still were a lot of arguments against it that kept many companies from allowing remote work for their employees. And this coronavirus disaster, whatever cynical it may sound, may help the idea of remote work to make another breakthrough. This will happen, only if remote work proves its effectiveness and if those industries that turned their people to work from home don’t show a major economic decline.
I personally work in the IT industry where the share of remote workers is the highest. Many people in IT have vast experience of working home, at least on a temporary basis. That is true for me as well. So, as a person who has been leading remote teams for 5 years and has experience of work from home, I decided to put together a list of simple tips that will help you switch to work from home and stay as productive as you`re at work.
How to work from home and stay productive during quarantine:
1. Organize your workspace
Organizing your working space at home implies a number of activities. The first and foremost task is to isolate your working corner. If you live alone or if you`re lucky enough to be able to allocate the whole room for your personal cabinet, that’s not a big deal for you. However, if you have a big family, separating your working space at your home becomes a real challenge. Your main purpose is to find a place in your apartment which is quiet enough, is isolated from the common areas and has enough space to arrange all the necessary equipment. This is the ideal formula and most probably you will be forced to make some trade-offs and look for some tricks on how to address deficiencies of your working space.
If your home working space is not well isolated from the common areas in your house, you may think about some way to separate it as best as you can with the help of some tools of your trade. For example, you may use some folding screen or room divider. You may buy one on Amazon or construct something from your home stuff.
Also, take care of the minimal comfort and good health conditions of your working space. By that, I mean having at least a desk and a chair. I don’t recommend working from a bed or from a sofa. First of all, it is unhealthy, second, it discourages you from working spirit.
2. Mimic your working environment
It is important to make sure that you have all the necessary hardware, software, and equipment that allows you to work from home and stay as productive as you are at work. If you have a portable laptop at work and your company allows you to take it home, think about this option. It may be beneficial because you have all the necessary software and tools installed on it. If there is no possibility to take your work hardware home or you just don’t want to do this for some reason, try to mimic your working environment as well as you can. Try to use similar tools and before your first working day at home install all the necessary software. Pay special attention to information security. Many companies have Virtual Private Networks, so ask your company admin how to setup it and connect to the Internet from your home only through your company’s internal network.
For those who have regular meetings, I suggest using a noise-canceling headset with a built-in microphone. Also, I personally prefer to use a laptop with an additional monitor plugged into it. Exactly the same as I have at my office. If you don’t have financial difficulties at the moment, I would recommend you to upgrade your hardware. The new purchase will bring you some positive emotions which are very rare in this time of virus disaster.
3. Take care of the reserve Internet channel
Most of the work is impossible without the Internet today. And when you work from home, the Internet becomes not only your main working means but also your main communication channel. At the same time, when at home, you most likely don’t have any of the back-ups opportunities that your office provides you with. If you live in a block of flats, as I do, you are unlikely to have any backup power source or an alternative Internet provider. So, when you start working from home for an extended period of time, you should think about these things. Unfortunately, blackouts happen and Internet Service Providers are not immune from outages. And it will be very uncomfortable if you drop in the midst of a very important meeting or couldn’t perform your job due to some long-term outage.
The simplest and easiest solution is to have your mobile phone operator as a reserve Internet provider. If you have your mobile Internet up and running, you can always send a message about your unavailability to your colleagues from your phone in case of emergency. And if you have a high-speed 4G – 5G Internet from your mobile operator, you may turn your phone into a Wi-Fi access point and keep working as usual until your main Internet channel is fixed. Maybe it makes sense even to change your mobile Internet plan for a better one, at least temporarily. Also, I recommend keeping the batteries of your supportive devices charged and have a power bank for the case of blackouts.
4. Stick to your regular schedule
If your regular working day took place at an office before, you most probably had some kind of a schedule. A 9-to-5 working day is still the most popular schedule for office workers. But now when you’re transitioning to work from home, there is a risk for your schedule to change. As you spend all day home, the boundary between your working time and personal time becomes blurry. And it is very easy to continue working later than you usually do at the office. Also, you may have a lot of distractions from your family members that may affect your regular schedule.
What I would recommend you to do is to stick to your habitual working schedule. You may use some alarm alerts that notify you about the beginning and the end of your working day. If you used to have some breaks during your working days at the office (to have a snack or casual chat with someone) keep having them at home with the same regularity. This will discipline you and make your working day more productive. Also, in this way, you will avoid a painful regime change later, when you’re back to work at the office after the outbreak.
5. Let your family know when you’re busy
During the quarantine, all your family members most likely are at home for the whole day, just like you. And some of them may be not so busy as you, having a great temptation to bother you during your working day. This is especially true with kids. In order to avoid this, John O`Duinn in his book “Distributed Teams” recommends agreeing with your family on a system of signs that easily lets your family members know that you’re in a work mode and they should not disturb you at the moment. If you`re lucky to have a personal room in your house, you may just close the door and hang a sign “Do not disturb”. If your workspace is located in some common area, used by all the householders, you may use sticky notes to inform others that you`re super busy at the moment.
6. Increase your virtual communication in order to combat social isolation
The first thing that is harmed when moving from co-located office work to remote work from home is communication. You become physically isolated from your colleagues and if you don’t have previous experience of remote work, it may have a negative impact on both your performance and your socialization. Misunderstandings and miscommunications between the colleagues may appear, the overall team performance may decrease. Even though it is a responsibility of your organization’s management to set up the proper virtual communication channels, you may help them by actively participating in these new communication channels, providing feedback and suggesting your ideas.
BTW, here is the shortlist of simple and free online collaboration tools that I can recommend:
Another important part is socializing. We spend a huge part of our lives at work and informal communication that we have at work comprises a big part of our social life. When we transition to remote work, we lose this opportunity of socializing and this may have negative consequences for our mental well-being, which is very undesirable in time when panic and tense atmosphere prevail during the virus outbreak. The only thing you can do in order to keep your informal communication and active social life during the guarantee is to be more active in virtual communication. Use your informal “water-cooler” chat in Slack or other messengers to keep communication with your colleagues, supporting them and chatting about some positive things, for example, how you look forward to seeing them again soon. You may definitely not limit your communication to only your office contacts. Coronavirus outbreak is not the best time for hangouts, but nobody stops you from having a video call or even a virtual party with your old friends.
7. Keep information diet
During the virus outbreak, the informational field is overwhelmed with frightening news and rumors. The news is mostly negative, panic dominates and it is really difficult to distinguish truth from lies. All this negative that spills on you from hundreds of sources definitely does not contribute to your performance and productivity.
In order to mitigate this impact on your spirit and your productivity, I’d recommend deliberately limiting the time spent on reading news sites and social media. Block or filter out from your newsfeed those sites that spread false information and rumors. You may dedicate half an hour to reading news from trustworthy sources in the morning before your working day starts, and the same amount of time in the evening, after the working day is over. This allows you to stay updated on important news about coronavirus in the world and your area, but, at the same time, to stay focused on your work.
These are the rules and recommendations that I personally stick to during this terrible virus outbreak. I hope that this nightmare will come to an end very soon and we will be able to return to our normal lives. In the meantime, please, share what tips do you use in order to stay productive when working at home during the quarantine.