It’s safe to say that no one was prepared for 2020 to take the turn that it has. So many people have lost work due to the global coronavirus pandemic. Most of us who are lucky enough to still have work are working from home.
I’ve been working from home since 2011, so that part hasn’t been different for me. But I’ve seen this change cause real stress for many friends and clients. I wanted to share some tips on how to adjust and work effectively from home during this unprecedented time in our history.
First things first: let’s evaluate your situation. Are you a single parent working from home and managing your child’s distance learning? Are you in a household with two working parents that have to manage distance learning (and/or daycare for younger kids)? Are you a single person who lives in a 500 square-foot apartment that doesn’t necessarily scream “great working from home space”? Or are you in an ideal spot where you have a separate room in your home to turn into an office? Regardless of your situation, there is a way to make your home conducive to remote working.
Create Your Working Space
Start by identifying where your working space will be. It may end up being in your basement, in your kitchen, at your dining room table, in your living room or den, or on a folding table in your bedroom. Location isn’t important.
What is important is figuring out how you can create a space that allows you to work effectively but can also be shut down at the end of the day. When you walk into your family room on Saturday, you shouldn’t stare at your work too.
The key is compartmentalizing and creating a working space that you can also separate yourself from. This may mean purchasing dividers (or hanging a sheet) to hide the desk or—at a bare minimum—putting your paperwork away and making sure the space appears “shut down” each day.
Your work area should not be used or accessible 24/7; you have to create some distance for yourself. If you’re temporarily turning your dining room into both a schoolroom for your kids and a workspace, then commit to making sure it’s cleared at the end of every day, and if it’s possible, use that space to reconnect and enjoy a family meal. Work-life balance will be harder to find right now, but it’s important to put real effort towards that.
Tools of the Trade
It can be really hard to adjust to working in a new space that lacks the creature comforts of your office. So close those gaps where you can. If you had double monitors at work, go to the office and bring them home. If you didn’t have them before, maybe buy yourself another monitor. If you’re sitting on a folding chair, then go get your office chair too.
If you’re working on your laptop, you should absolutely get an external keyboard and mouse. Laptops were made for travel, not for full-time computing. I do not recommend that you work only on your laptop full-time. Eventually, it will lead to aches and pains from working all day in a position your body isn’t built for.
I have a long list of favorite tools that I highly recommend for increasing your productivity and comfort in a home office setting. But really it’s about finding what is essential to make your day easier and make work less of a chore. We might be in this situation for quite a while, so use this time to get situated and make your at-home workspace hospitable.
Take Some Pressure Off
It’s important that, even in these tough times, we do our best to maintain normalcy. Putting in a full, eight-hour workday while working from home is completely doable. Just think: You’re not going to be interrupted by coworkers looking to chit-chat, so chances are you’re already being more efficient because of that!
But (and this is a big one), we’re working in a pandemic. The heaviness of the daily news is weighing us all down. Our “normal” is completely abnormal.
You cannot assume that, even in an eight-hour workday, you’re going to be as productive as you were at the office. And that’s okay!
If your whole world has been turned upside down and you can get done 80% of what you used to get done at work, pat yourself on the back. Seriously. Do it. Because that 80% is perfectly good enough. That’s especially true if you’re having a hard day or a hard week.
On those days that you’re having a better time or feeling more productive, you can get more work done and take advantage of that surge. It will all balance out. Give yourself a big helping of grace.
A Special Note for Parents
Everyone is struggling with this “adjusted normal,” as I’m calling it. But it’s been particularly hard on working parents. Balancing childcare or distance learning with the demands of remote work can be incredibly challenging.
My suggestion to friends and clients with older children has been to write out a daily schedule, whether on a whiteboard or a piece of paper—just make sure it’s somewhere everyone can see it. It should block out time for schoolwork, reading, lunch break, any set meetings mom or dad have (where your kids shouldn’t interrupt you), times when it’s okay for the kids to come to you with questions or requests, and the time the school/work day ends. Setting those expectations up-front will help keep everyone on the same page.
For parents of younger children, it can be harder, but I suggest focusing on finding at least 15-minute chunks of time you can focus on work. Find ways to keep your child occupied with solo play for that amount of time, and then take a break and engage with them. You can even set up a safe, gated play space for them near your virtual office space.
Regardless of the age of your child(ren), if you have a partner, you should make sure the load is being shared equally. One of you may naturally have a more flexible schedule, but that doesn’t mean the bulk of childcare or schooling should fall on that person. Kids are looking to their parents for guidance on how to handle this, so it’s important to present a united front.
You Can Do Hard Things
My mantra has long been, “I can do hard things.” And I know I can. But sometimes certain “hard things” are easier than others.
This? This is really hard. And I think it’s important that we recognize and honor those feelings.
We can’t set the expectation that working from home is exactly like working at the office. Especially not right now. We will fail. That is just setting the bar unrealistically high.
You can’t do it all, and we are not living in normal times. This is not normal. But for now, it is the adjusted normal.
Absolutely take advantage of when you’re feeling productive, but don’t expect that to be something that happens every day.
Ultimately, successfully working from home during a pandemic is about finding balance. It’s about making a space that is conducive to working, while also paying attention to how you’re feeling. We’ll get through this. We can do hard things.
Until next time—stay home and sell some stuff!