The pandemic has definitely contributed to people opting to work from home for a variety of reasons. Chief among them is health and safety, as well as other practical and economical concerns.
Whether or not this WFH situation will become the new normal still remains to be seen. However, statistics show a marked upswing in those choosing to work from home even before COVID-19 struck. Perhaps worsening traffic conditions, rising fuel prices, and other issues are the culprits.
The bottom line seems to be that people are re-evaluating how and where they will be working for a living. So if you suddenly found yourself becoming a remote worker, it could take some getting used to. It might look temptingly easy as gleaned from Instagram images, stock photos, and other pictures of people with their feet up while working on their laptops. Nothing can be further from the truth – work is still work, after all.
But fret not, because this post aims to help you navigate the new (and sometimes bewildering) realm of remote work – or as the “new norm” likes to refer to it: working from home. It doesn’t have to be a frustrating adjustment period for you. Below are some important issues you will need to address on a regular basis to become a successful WFH employee.
1. Maintaining mental health
Do you remember the catch-phrase “self-care” when it was not yet part of the pandemic? It might have seemed overindulgent in hindsight, especially among those who associated it with spa treatments, facials, and gourmet food. This year, though, it seems particularly apt for those working from home.
For the most part, self-care during the pandemic means going back to the basics. Taking care of your mental, spiritual, as well as physical health are all equally important. Instead of treating yourself to indulgent food and services, why not do preventive actions like eating nutritious meals, meditating, and exercising regularly? Turn work “off” when you’re done for the day and don’t stress yourself over unfinished tasks or chores. You can make up for it the following day.
Stress and burnout are real even in the comfort of your own home – more so during this time of uncertainty and health risks. Take note of the things that trigger your stress (more on this later), and have a reliable support system in the form of family, friends, or hobbies to lift your mood. An ounce of prevention is still worth a pound of cure, after all.
2. Establishing a routine
One of the more apparent pros of having home-based work is the absence of commuting time (unless you count the couple of minutes – or less – that it would take you to walk from one room to another). Working offsite means adjusting to the absence of preparation that you normally go through when you have to report to a physical location. The good news is this gives you more than enough time to start work early so you can also finish work at an earlier than usual time.
Take note that the luxury of having a flexible schedule does not mean you can log in and out whenever you feel like it. This will disrupt any semblance of structure and coordination that are the main foundations of being organized, efficient, and within reach of your clients, employer, and workmates. Your location and circumstances may have changed, but your objectives for being a successful and productive worker should remain the same.
So adjust your schedule accordingly for optimal output and to meet all your deadlines and work goals. Get up early, get in comfy work gear (pajamas are a no-no), have breakfast, and structure your schedule as you normally would when going to the office. The emphasis should be on a routine that is doable, reliable, and something you can do on auto-pilot no matter what the day presents.
3. Investing in the proper tools
You can have the same equipment, tools, technology, and accessories you normally use in an office. Laptops or desktop computers are a given, plus other peripherals to enable proper communication and to make work less complicated. A good advantage of working from home is that you can carve out a personal workspace and fill it with tools that are tailor-fit for your needs and tastes.
Consider the following tools (and add or subtract to the list as needed) for your WFH space:
- reliable Internet connection
- software or apps for communicating and work-related matters
- a digital/analog calendar or planner
- filing cabinets or boxes
- a calculator
- an ergonomic desk and a comfy chair
- reference books and materials according to your line of work
- a durable headset/microphone for video calls
- a smartphone or tablet
- a power bank
- a surge protector and power strips to make charging electronics more efficient and accessible
- other tools to make work easier (foot pedal for transcribing, drawing tablet and pen for graphics, blue-light eyewear, etc.)
However, working from home has special distractions of its own. It’s good to also consider getting a blocker app or software to prevent you from wasting time on social media platforms, games, and other online distractions. Put up “do not disturb” signs at your office door and make sure everyone at home knows and respects your schedule. You can also invest in noise-canceling headphones if your home acoustics are a bit too noisy for your liking.
4. Connecting and communicating
Isolation and loneliness are two things people fear when they embark on a work from home journey. Thankfully, technology has made it possible for people to do face-to-face communication – albeit digitally. Connect with your workmates and loved ones on a regular basis by using all the available resources for communication that are available to you.
Utilize video conferencing apps and software, messenger systems, texting, and other platforms to regularly report your work output. If you have weekly or regular company meetings, make sure to attend them fully prepared. During the pandemic, physicians and other health workers have also taken to practicing telehealth conferences and consultations. To minimize the risk of contracting the virus and other diseases, the existence of these modern-day alternatives to actual doctor’s appointments is both practical and welcome.
Do not take these communication tools for granted, because they are the next best thing to face-to-face interactions we can get in this day and age (and circumstances).
5. Separating work from home life
The main thing about working from home is that it isn’t a cozy, homey, downgraded version of what you did in an actual office. Sure, there may be similar peripherals, schedules, and tools. However, you should never forget that you are working from home and all its familiarities. Having these presents both benefits and disadvantages.
Gone are the days when the office slowly thins out as people get up from their desks to catch trains, buses, or drive themselves through traffic to get home. You suddenly have the convenience of never running after public vehicles, paying for parking, or jostling your way through crowds, queues, and other trappings of a daily commute. But this convenience has its drawbacks – an excess of time and freedom on your hands could prove to be a gateway to slacking off and other bad habits.
It’s time to literally get your house in order. Make a select part of your home a base of operations if you will. This means treating your home office as you would a regular one. That includes avoiding certain things you might be tempted to do at home, such as the following:
- Don’t eat “al desko” meals
Forget those sad little meals you eat beside your laptop or desktop because you feel like your work deadline is more urgent than spending time with your family, or focusing on proper nutrition. Instead, take your breakfast as soon as you wake up, and your lunch during your designated break – preferably with the people that matter to you, and over nutritious meals.
- Don’t work in bed
Having a bed or couch in your work area will most likely prove to be tempting for naps. Working in bed is even worse. You will only send signals to your mind and body to take a quick snooze – which could end up being an hour-long sleep (or worse!). For optimal work, sit yourself down on a comfy chair and work at an ergonomic desk setup.
- Don’t let the day’s tasks spill over to your home life
Turn your office lights out both literally and figuratively as soon as you clock out for the day. Put the work-related notifications on your gadgets to silent. Piling too many tasks on your plate will keep you working overtime, and consequently, sleeping less. This could lead to irritability and the inability to focus and concentrate in the days ahead. Be off duty and remain off duty when you log off work.
- Don’t neglect special family occasions for work (and vice versa)
It’s easier to celebrate company milestones and special occasions because you often do them within the four walls of your offices (well within paid company time). But when you’re working from home, you can’t just put your family members’ birthdays, anniversaries, and other important events on hold because you’re swamped with work. You don’t necessarily have to take a leave of absence for every special home occasion that comes up, but make sure you are fully present to enjoy them with your loved ones.
On the flip side, don’t let every personal milestone make you miss important work deadlines or affect the quality of your work. As previously mentioned, learn to separate work from home life without compromising the quality of time you spend on each.
- Don’t let people, pets, or other things at home distract you
That’s why a designated workspace is preferable to working in the open where every other family member, pet, or roommate can just barge in and do their thing. If you can’t have your own room with a door that closes and locks, invest in noise-canceling headphones and make sure to face a wall rather than an open room where lots of activities are going on.
- Forget multitasking
…it simply doesn’t work, even in a remote work setup. Instead, focus on high-value tasks first, then move on to smaller, more doable tasks. And refrain from engaging in household chores like babysitting while working, or trying to juggle several deadlines that include your kids’ school work. Focus on work when you’re at work, and preferably on one task at a time.
6. Setting realistic goals and expectations
While it’s ideal to want to meet all your deadlines plus run a household, plus do all your chores – you would have to acknowledge that some days, this is simply impossible. Staying at home and not having to commute to an office sounds idyllic, but it’s good to manage expectations and be realistic about the outcome in the long run.
Bear in mind that your new work routine will have to accommodate the goings-on at home. This could include kids’ waking up early to go to school (albeit virtually), lending a hand to prepare breakfast or clean up after, and making sure that the day starts on a generally positive note. If you need to start work right away, communicate this need to the rest of your household and plan a schedule that works best for all involved. Maybe you can do the chores after work instead, or alternate with other housemates so everyone gets their days off to accomplish more work-related stuff.
As for working from home, the flexibility it offers should be used to your advantage. If you find yourself being more productive when the sun goes down, go ahead and talk to your bosses and colleagues about taking on a night shift or changing your routine. Explain about productivity issues and other factors that could contribute to your rescheduling your work hours.
And if you end up missing some chores or deadlines at work, don’t beat yourself up over it. Start fresh the next day and make up for the lost time. To avoid repeating the same mistake, set up a scheduler to help you track your tasks the same way you would in a real office setup.
7. Regularly updating your to-do list
You can’t just dive headfirst into the workday without having a list of what needs to be accomplished. Your output will be chaotic at best. Make several to-do lists that include household matters and work-related deadlines and milestones. This way, you can track your progress, tick off your accomplishments, and take note of what needs to be improved and resolved. After that, you can update your list as needed to accommodate changes and improvements, as well as which activities require prioritization and more focus.
You can do this digitally or with real-life materials like whiteboards and planners. There is a certain satisfaction in crossing off something from your to-do list and knowing that you’ve been a productive worker and member of your household at the same time.
8. Knowing your stress triggers
To keep sane and become a productive WFH person (as well as a member of a household), you have to keep track of your stress triggers and try your best to avoid them. Establishing a routine will help you pin-point the causes of stress and frustration. This way, you can work on resolving them in a practical, non-confrontational, and effective manner.
Ask yourself some questions about these stress triggers and their possible causes:
- Is it recurring, and if so, what time of the day does it usually happen?
- Do you have an emotional reaction to something that could be solved rationally and calmly?
- Do you often find yourself resisting change or are you welcoming (or at least tolerant) of it?
- Are you willing to have dialogues with the person(s) about the issue that is causing your stress?
- Do you often misinterpret the tone of certain emails, chat messages, and other online platform-based modes of communication?
These and other pertinent questions are vital in determining the things that set off your stress response, and consequently, how you can proactively resolve them without making the issue bigger and more complicated.
9. Learning when and how to say no
A big part of becoming a successful home-based worker is knowing how to set reasonable boundaries. This means not being a constant yes-man (or woman) to others – be they family members or workmates. If you have too much on your plate already, there is no logical reason to keep piling on other things on top of it. You are likely going to miss deadlines and the quality of your output will suffer.
So learn to say no – whether it’s to a child demanding playtime during work hours, or to a colleague who is asking you to take over a task that isn’t yours, or friends and family members who want to chat you up while you’re working. Remember, nothing good will come from being a constant people-pleaser when climbing the corporate ladder…or earning a family member or loved one’s undying affection by never saying no to them.
10. Avoiding gossip
Yes, gossip happens even in a remote work setup. It can occur at any time and any place where there are three or more people sharing the same space or circumstances. It’s a seemingly idle activity that nevertheless has dire consequences if it gets out of hand.
If somebody from work tries to engage you in gossip about other people at work, refuse to accommodate them and tell them you are busy. Even company-related speculation should be avoided altogether out of respect for your workmates and superiors. Be professional at all times. Simply wait for announcements or memos (either from the company or certain colleagues) before reacting, and even then, refrain from discussing your thoughts and opinions with other workmates within office hours. There is a place and time for open discussions and feedback with workmates and your bosses.
11. Giving yourself a break
Contrary to popular belief, taking breaks can actually help you become more productive. The secret is in not overdoing it. Instead of plowing through an eight-hour work shift, take short breaks for lunch, snacks, and to generally recharge. Just make sure your boss, client, or workmates are aware that you are away from your desk or are taking your meal so you won’t miss out on messages and updates.
Now that you’re home (and most probably sheltering-in-place), you will most likely be spending vacation leaves and other holidays within the four walls of your abode. Learn to relax and do fun things with your loved ones such as picnics, barbecues, swim parties, board game nights, and other bonding activities that do not require road trips and airplane flights.
And since you’re at home, you could get distracted with thoughts of work when it’s supposed to be your time to relax and unwind. Take your breaks seriously. Resist the temptation to check office email and other work-related matters when you’re spending quality time with your family or downtime by yourself.