Well, it happened to me today.
My CEO sent a message to our entire company. We are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future because of the Coronavirus.
And, I’ve heard of a lot of companies who are following suit.
Oracle, Twitter, Apple, Google. All of the heavy hitters aren’t just encouraging their employees to work from home. They’re mandating it.
Before You Get Too Excited
Most of us are probably thrilled at the possibility of being able to roll out of bed and plop down at the couch in our PJs while still getting paid.
Here’s the thing, though, working from home can take a toll on you if you’re not careful.
How do I know? Because I did it as a freelancer for 4 years.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of great benefits to it. There’s no commute which saves you time and money. You can get stuff done around the house while you’re taking a break.
And, my personal fav: taking a nap during lunch-time.
But, it can also come at a cost.
For instance, the longer you work from home, the more you have a hard time distinguishing between work time and relax time.
Miscommunication happens much more easily between coworkers. Distractions can be tough to turn off, AND, of course, you can start to feel pretty isolated.
But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Thankfully, there are some things I’ve learned from my time working at home that have really helped me to stay healthy and productive and kept me from going crazy.
1. Ramp Up the Communication
The clearest form of communication is the kind that you can do while standing in front of someone else actually talking to them. Why? Because to quote a popular country song, “you say it best, when you say nothing at all.”
Non-verbal communication plays a big part in actually making sure what you’re trying to say is being received the way it’s supposed to.
So, when you’re working from home you have to make sure you are putting double the effort into how you’re communicating with your co-workers.
The best thing to do is to OVER communicate. Don’t just send a message in slack. Follow it up with a phone call.
It’s also a good idea to remove all forms of sarcasm from your conversation.
Don’t get me wrong, sarcasm is like a 2nd language for me. But, it doesn’t come across over text messages.
How do I know?
Because I’ve tried being sarcastic through text messages SO MANY TIMES. And, people either think I’m crazy or the biggest jerk they’ve ever met.
Another good rule of thumb is to play the “what did you hear me say” game.
After every conversation take a second and make sure that what someone heard you say is what you were actually trying to communicate.
You’ve got to be careful with this one because you don’t want to seem like you’re patronizing the person you’re talking to. But, you can’t just ask, “Does that make sense?”
You’ve got to dig a little bit and make sure that what you’re saying is actually landing the way you want it to.
Ramping up communication has the added benefit of helping you not feel so isolated from your co-workers as well.
2. Prepare for Innocent Misunderstandings
Now, that you’re not working face to face with people it’s inevitable that miscommunication is going to ramp up a bit as well.
So, rather than react to it, let’s prepare for it.
First thing to do is always assume that someone misunderstood you unintentionally.
Of course, this sounds totally reasonable when we are in a sterile environment looking at this from a 30,000-foot view.
But, when you’ve got deadlines happening and you finishing what you need to finish depends on someone else…misunderstandings can be like tripwires on a battlefield.
So, prepare for it now!
You’re going to be furious when something you thought you communicated so clearly is completely twisted around or disregarded altogether.
The best thing you can do is show people as much grace as you possibly can…and then a little bit more.
Think about it this way. When we are misunderstood WE ASSUME the other person is going to know we had no intention of hurting their feelings.
So, why not assume for others what we want others to assume for us?
Give people the benefit of the doubt and when you’re unsure follow-up again and again and until it’s settled. In other words, see point 1.
3. Have a Start and Stop Routine
If you’re not careful when working remotely you start feeling like you can’t ever relax in your home.
The lines start to blur between downtime and work time. So, you have a tough time turning off work mode and you feel like you can’t escape.
But, there are some things you can do to trick yourself psychologically and make sure there are clear lines between work and play.
The first thing to do is to make sure you’re getting up and getting dressed as if you were going into the office.
Humans are creatures of habit. That’s why the best athletes have pre-game routines they do every single time they play.
It helps them prepare physically but it also helps them prepare mentally and emotionally.
Charles Duhigg in his book “Smarter, Faster, Better” talks about how the best C level executives have a mental routine they go through every morning. Thinking about the day ahead of them down to each individual moment.
So, make sure you’re not throwing out your routine when you’re working from home.
Better yet, start a better one!
Use the extra minutes you gain from not having to drive to work as an opportunity to put some healthy things in place before you even get started.
Stretch a little bit. Pray for a minute. Do some things that will help to tell your mind it’s time for work.
Then when the day is done have a wind-down routine.
A few things you could do is journal your workday which has been shown to make you happier in general. Or, you could write out your schedule or todo list for tomorrow.
Then take a few minutes and decompress. Force yourself to turn all of your notifications off. Pray and stretch again.
Just do something to signal to your mind, “I’m clocking out.”
4. Take Breaks Outside
Listen, I’m not a “let’s get one with nature guy.”
In fact, I hate camping.
I think camping is everything humanity has been trying to get away from for centuries and has done so fairly successfully for the past 100 years or so.
So, camping to me feels like I’m betraying everything my great grandfathers worked hard for me to not have to experience.
BUT…there IS something super beneficial to being out in nature that I can’t ignore.
And, that’s not just a gut feeling. That’s been proven.
Being in nature has this weird ability to help us refocus and think clearly.
Cal Newport talks about it in his book “Deep Work”. He explains that people were able to be more productive after taking a 15-minute walk outside.
They compared the effectiveness of a 15-minute break inside vs. outside and outside won every time.
Another great thing taking a break outside does for you when you’re working from home is it gives you a break from “the four walls” of your house.
It can be easy to get a little stir crazy if you’re looking at the exact same family photo you took 7 years ago that reminds you you need to set up another photoshoot for you and your family because your youngest daughter isn’t a baby anymore.
So, when you need to rest your brain from what you’re doing. Don’t just jump on Instagram and scroll. Go outside and walk around for a bit.
And, leave your phone at home.
5. Stay Productive
One of the easiest ways to get burned out is to feel like you aren’t giving your best to your work.
I know society tends to praise the jobs where we can slack off while going unnoticed and still get paid well.
But, the reality is that we need to feel like we are making a valuable contribution to our workplace if we’re going to stay happy.
In fact, Gallup found that one of the key components of a happy worker is their ability to “do what they do best,” at work.
And, yes that has a lot to do with mixing your highest skillset with the work you’re doing BUT it also has to do with how productive you are while you’re working.
And, if you find yourself getting distracted and not performing as well when you’re working from home your productivity will take a hit and that’s going to take its toll.
There are a few things I’ve found that really help me to stay focused when I’m working remotely.
First the easy list:
Don’t turn on your television. If your kids are home with you, find a separate room to work in. Or at the very least, make sure they know when it’s okay to interrupt you and when it’s not.
I’ve had to learn that one over time because our house is pretty small for the 6 of us. You almost have to train your kiddos to understand when you’re in “office hours” and when you’re in “family hours.”
A big one I’ve learned is don’t just turn off notifications and set your phone aside. Put your phone in another room.
There have been studies that show you actually decrease your ability to stay focused by simply having your phone in the same room as you EVEN IF IT’S TURNED OFF!
So, whatever room you’re in, put your phone in another.
If you need to check it regularly for your work, have certain times of the day that you assign to specifically check on your phone. AND, when you check it, answer every single message that you need to.
Don’t just save it for later. Answer it right then and there. OR else you store a certain amount of mental capacity for that email you’re trying to remember to respond to.
Finally, track your time.
I use an app called Toggl to track what I’m doing.
It helps me to understand where I’m putting my time. Then I can look back and see if something was a time hog and determine whether or not I actually want to spend that much amount of time on that particular task OR if I need to figure out something else to get that work done like delegating the work or being okay with lesser quality.
Bottom line is you have to be even more intentional when you’re working from home if you hope to stay productive.
It can be really easy to get sucked into distractions which won’t just hurt your company, it’ll hurt you as well.
Tips To Work From Home Successfully During the Coronavirus Scare
Working from home has become a huge trend over the last few years. A study done last year by Zapier found that 74% of all knowledge workers would quit their job if they got offered another position that allowed them to work from home.
But, with the Coronavirus outbreak companies are pretty much being forced to close their office doors and have employees work from home to try and keep people safe and healthy.
A year ago I actually chose to work for a company that has an office because I like being around people. I’m a people person.
I enjoy getting to know my colleagues. I love being able to chat with people when I need to stop working on web design and take a break.
I’m pretty sure my deskmate, Jed, thinks of me as his best friend. Especially when I randomly close his laptop in the middle of him working on something important and make Facebook posts for him when he walks away from his computer and doesn’t lock his screen. (Hi, Jed. If you’re reading this. Love you)
So, I wasn’t necessarily thrilled when my boss told me we were probably going to take the next few weeks to work from home because of the Coronavirus.
But, thankfully, I’ve picked up a few things as a freelance web designer that I think can really help those of you who are for the first time finding yourself with an office next to your television.
It’s so important to make sure you work even more intentionally on your communication with your teammates. You have to have a schedule and routine that you implement to keep your home from feeling like an office 24/7.
You also have to go outside every once in a while and take a break from looking at your fireplace. And, last but certainly not least you have to double down on staying efficient and productive by doing things like tracking your time and removing things that easily distract you.
Honestly, working from home is a lot of fun. There are so many benefits from it and I know if you work on these things you will also find yourself enjoying this season of living the laptop life from your couch, pants optional.
What about you? What do you do to make sure working from home doesn’t start to take a toll on your mental health?
Leave a comment and let’s talk about it.