Work from home during the pandemic
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic is forcing many employers to send workers home. Apple, Facebook, Alphabet and even Fortune are closing offices out of an abundance of caution to prevent the spread of the virus and protect their employees.
That’s creating a new swath of telecommuters, many of whom have never worked from home for an extensive period. That’s not as bad as you think—but it’s not the life of luxury you might be envisioning either.
Good news first: You’re likely going to get a lot more done. A 2019 Harvard University study found that people who are given the freedom to “work from anywhere” were 4.4% more productive than those who have more rigid workplace requirements.
The adjustment can be jarring at first, though. And the isolation—combined with close quarters to spouses or children—can be disruptive. Need help navigating the work/life balance issues and figuring out how best to get your job done? Here are some ways to make it easier.
1. Telecommuters need the right tools
Just like you wouldn’t go into an office without the right equipment, you’ll want to ensure that your home workspace is an environment that is well suited to get your job done.
Step one is to make sure you have a dedicated area. Working from your living room couch or kitchen table makes it both harder to concentrate and harder to detach when the day is over. A spare bedroom or a guest room with a desk—anywhere you can separate yourself from any day to day chaos in your house—is essential. (Even if you live alone, find an area you can cordon off as work space.)
If your telecommuting period is going to be an extended one, consider decorating that space with office knick-knacks. Just like a house isn’t a home until you hang a picture, a work space isn’t an office until you’ve got something personal on your desk. Also, figure out what sort of environment works best for you. For instance, do you need absolute silence or does music in the background help you concentrate?
From there, make sure you’ve got the right equipment to get the job done. Odds are your company supplied you a laptop. And if you deal in sensitive information, you probably have a company-supplied VPN (virtual private network, a tool that encrypts data and scans devices for malware) as well. If not, you’ll want to invest in one.
Other software and hardware that’s handy to have includes:
Zoom, Skype, and GoTo Meeting are all popular options.
A quality printer
The Brother HL-L2300D Monochrome Laser Printer is an affordable, high-capacity, black and white printer. It won’t scan or photocopy, but for your most basic needs, it’s hard to beat.
A high-speed router
The TP-Link Archer AX6000 is one of the fastest on the market, utilizing WiFi 6. If you’re looking for a less expensive option —and if you think you’ll be working all over the house—consider a mesh WiFi system, such as Eero.
The Astro A40 is designed for gaming but it’s incredibly comfortable and will make it easier to hear things – and be heard – on those conference calls. The Plantronics Voyager 4210 is a less expensive option.
Whether wireless—like Anker’s PowerWave Wireless Charger Stand—or wired, you’ll want something to ensure your phone battery doesn’t die during the day. It’s a key lifeline to the outside world.
Good coffee/coffee machine
You’ll need your caffeine fix no matter where you’re working. And going to Starbucks kind of goes against the rationale of working from home. Consider the Hamilton Beach 46310 Programmable Coffee Maker or, if you’d like to make one cup at a time, the Chulux Single Serve Coffee Maker.
2. Don’t become a work from home hermit…
Isolation is one of the biggest concerns for people who aren’t used to working from home. It’s a legitimate fear, but one that’s easily overcome.
Online tools like Slack not only help workflow, but can serve as social outlets as well (thought you’ll probably want to set up separate rooms for those or limit them to direct messages). It’s even better to actually talk to another human being, as well, so make some calls to check in with people. And teleconferences add another sensory element to your interactions.
3. But don’t be overly social
If you’ve got roommates or family in the house with you, they’re used to being able to talk with you whenever you’re there. But if you’re working from home, the rules need to change. Stress to them that your work hours are for work, so… no, you can’t take out the garbage or help with homework at that time.
Similarly, friends might be more apt to call you to chat, knowing your boss isn’t hovering close by. Make it clear that you’re happy to talk, but you’d prefer to do so after the work day is done, unless it’s an emergency. It might sound antisocial, but you’ll find that establishing a routine is critical to your mental well-being.
4. Yes, you have to wear pants when you work from home
Forget what everyone says. People who telecommute do wear pants, though casual Friday is kind of a weeklong event.
Just like you shower and dress before you go into the office, do so before you start your workday at home. It lets you mentally shift from early morning “home” mode to work mode—and you’ll be ready to tackle that day’s responsibilities as soon as you sit down in front of your PC.
5. Establish boundaries
You’ve set boundaries for friends and family, but you also need to set them for yourself.
It’s incredibly easy to watch the workday stretch into your personal life when you work from home. Downtime in the evening? That’s a few minutes to get a jump on tomorrow. Kids taking a bath? Maybe just a quick peek at email.
It’s a slippery slope—and one that can wreak havoc on your social life. Maintaining a proper work/life balance is more important than ever when you telecommute. It’s also one of the hardest things to do. Step one is to set firm start and stop times for your workday.
Take a lunch break daily, also. As tempting as it is to eat at your desk, transition to the couch or porch or some other part of the house for a change of scenery. Ultimately, that time away from your PC will make you more productive when you sit down in front of it again.
And it’s important to maintain active communication with your coworkers. Keep your calendar updated and let colleagues know when you’re away (and not ignoring them).
6. Fear the fridge
Beware what some call the “Freelance 15”. Being able to wander into your kitchen to grab a snack whenever you want is a lot more tempting when you work from home. At the office, you fight boredom by walking over and talking with a coworker. At home, you’re often alone, so that bag of chips can be especially tempting.
Believe it or not, that could make you less productive.
“Not only is this going to be bad for your health, it’s also a disaster for your energy level,” says Dr. Joan Ifland, a nutrition counselor and food addiction expert. ”Consuming foods that are high in sugar and carbohydrates during the day will cause an energy slump come afternoon—and when your bed and couch are closer than usual, it’s going to be hard to not only fight off a ‘quick nap,’ but also operate as your usual high-functioning workplace self.”
To combat the boredom, take frequent short walks around the house to get your blood flowing instead. If your schedule will allow it, take a short walk outside. Dogs are especially good at forcing you to get up and move when you’re considering a snack.
7. Avoid the coffee shop
It might be tempting to grab your laptop and head to the local coffee shop. That’s not always a good idea, though.
First, in a pandemic, it’s not a great idea to camp out in a public space where you’re surrounded by others who might be infected. That’s why you’re working from home in the first place. Also, productivity slips when you get too far from your self-designated work space. Materials you need might not be at your fingertips. Calls are harder to hear. And the Wi-Fi is often less reliable. So skip the Venti these coming weeks.