May 6, 2020
To reduce the spread of COVID-19, first schools and malls shut down across the country and then businesses started asking employees to Work From Home (WFH) where possible. If you are an office worker, in tech, in tele-calling or customer service or if your entire work is on a computer, then sooner or later, your employer will move you to a WFH status. For those used to working remotely, this is not new. But if you are dealing with the situation for the first time, here’s how to master it.
1. Work area
Your first task is to create a workspace in your house that is conducive for WFH. Ideally you will work in a room by yourself behind a closed door. No roommates, no fridge and no bed to tempt you away. Invest in the right furniture to make it comfortable. A proper desk and ergonomic work chair are better than a backache triggered by working on the sofa with your laptop. Keep your desk clean and tidy. Make sure you have a wall or background that suits a Skype or video call with colleagues
2. Get organised
Get your laptop, diary, pen, cell phone and chargers in place. If you are in noisy house, invest in a noise cancellation headphone. Use a mouse for better efficiency. Figure out who will take care of the children and keep them from disturbing you with schools closed. If your spouse is on WFH too, share time slots and children related chores. Organise routines and rules for other disturbances like the maid and doorbell.
3. Master technology
Learn to use the best technology available for a WFH. You can use Google Hangouts for a team video call and Slack or similar tools for messaging. Project management tools like Asana help you achieve team outcomes while a list app or a Trello can help organise your day. Speak to your IT department for any help you need, including setting up a VPN if required.
4. Plan workflow
Plan your work before you start the day. Have a task list or target sheet in front of you. Prioritise your projects and schedule time slots including extra time in between to cater for contingencies like unforeseen work calls and new tasks received from your manager. When you begin a task, continue it till the end. Do not switch between tasks or get pulled away by your need to respond to a new email. Multi-tasking or frequent switching is a productivity killer.
5. Communication first
The key to success at WFH lies in prioritising communication. Your team and manager need to know that you are available and taking WFH seriously. Thus, prefer to call your colleagues on video or chat with them for routine queries instead of sending an email. Ask for regular performance evaluations from your manager and get adequate face time with him. If you are alone at home, you run the risk of social isolation. Participate in remote non-work related video hangouts with your team. As a manager share more information than usual with your team, provide them with the technology they need, organise social interactions and discuss how they are coping with the situation.
6. Block people
The biggest challenge in a WFH routine is the presence of other people at home or from your life. Block out distractions from people by agreeing on ground rules with them. Pretend you are not at home while following rigid work hours. Do not get involved in conversations, personal calls or housework. Use headphones, a hoodie or even tinted glasses to create boundaries.
7. Calendar control
Remember you are earning a salary in your WFH situation. Stay committed to your timings and deliverables. Avoid home chores or personal appointments during working hours except during scheduled breaks. Don’t abuse WFH by being unavailable or else you will compromise your professional respect and may lose your job when your company cuts costs to deal with Corona-triggered challenges.
8. Reschedule distractions
What were harmless social media distractions at office become deadly productivity killers in a WFH where there is no team to pull you back to work. Remove social media extensions and switch off all notifications both in your laptop browser as well as on your cell phone. Switch off your mobile data and use it only for calls. Keep your coffee flask and snacks available on your desk so that you don’t get up too often.
9. Cracking productivity
Don’t expect to be super-productive on Day One. Expect targets to take a hit while you settle down. To crack the productivity code, schedule the toughest tasks for the morning and calls in the afternoon. Work in bitesized chunks of 25 minutes—also known as the Pomodoro technique. Thereafter stand up and walk around for 5 minutes, preferably in sunlight and fresh air. Use a music list or a background sound on your speaker if it helps you focus. When you are productive and happy, you can enjoy and appreciate the perks of WFH better.
Balance your life
1. Physical boundaries
Establish rules and boundaries to protect your personal life from work that may creep into it. Do not carry work away from your desk and do not interrupt family time or social time to complete pending work. Increase your social interactions with friends to stave off loneliness and to compensate for lack of human contact.
2. Repetitive routines
Create a morning routine just like your work day. Freshen up, change into work clothes, take a 5-minute walk like a work commute and grab your cup of coffee before you sit down. Similarly, follow an end of day routine including shutting and bagging your laptop. These routines help you switch between your professional and personal lives.
3. Break reminders
Regular breaks are important for mental balance. At the workplace, a break comes in the form of a colleague stopping by or a trip to the coffee machine. In WFH, set up your alarm for regular breaks for meals, coffee, minor chores or simply to get up from your seat and stand for a bit.
4. No phone zone
Since all your work is going to be conducted through technology, the biggest intrusion on your personal life will be the after office hours email, call or message on your cell phone. To avoid, have a no cell phone rule in your bedroom and dining room and consider switching off your data connection during family hours.
5. Play the role
Don’t stay in your “office gear” once your work is done. Set aside your headphones, vacate your workspace, get into home clothes and be fully involved in your regular family chores and activities. If you are meeting friends or exercising or going out for a walk, change into an appropriate get-up, switch on the right music and let your hair down.