The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically increased the number of remote workers. The good news (and yes, we all need some good news) is that thanks to the internet, web, cloud, mobile devices and unified communication tools, remote working is inestimably more viable and easier today than it was in the past. Indeed, even just a few decades ago, the notion of sending millions of people home to work would have been a non-starter. In fact, the mere suggestion would have been absurd. But today, asking folks to work from home is not just possible, but for many it’s preferred. After all, who doesn’t want to avoid a tedious commute, or enjoy an extra hour of sleep?
But the not-so-good news is that some people who are new to the remote working landscape are going to discover — and not to their immediate happiness — that working from home is more than just a change of scenery: it also requires a change of mindset.
If you’re a home office newbie, then don’t worry. You’ll nail this. To help you triumph, here are some keys to remote working S.U.C.C.E.S.S.:
Arguably the most critical factor in remote working success — and also the one that many new remote workers struggle with — is scheduling. Obviously, this means mapping and assigning tasks throughout the day/week/month (and possibly quarter). Less obviously, it means prioritizing those tasks and re-allocating them as necessary.
And so, if you routinely (and perhaps obsessively) schedule your time in the corporate world, then continue doing the same in the remote work world. And if you aren’t into scheduling, then it’s time for a major attitude shift — because you can’t rely on your environment for cues and clues about what to do, when, and with whom. Basically, your schedule is your new work BFF.
U: UNINTERRUPTED SPACE
Where should you deploy your home office? The most important thing isn’t comfort or convenience: it’s uninterrupted space. That is, you want to work in an area where you are unlikely — or better yet if possible, unable — to be invaded by family members throughout the day. This could mean heading down to the basement or commandeering a guest bedroom.
And if it’s not possible to designate a specific room for your home office — and for many people it’s not — then carve out a portion of a room and declare it your sacred work zone. You might even consider putting tape on the floor to mark the borders and help you and everyone else grasp the psychological difference between being in your home, and being in your home office. (Yes, the tape thing is a bit strange. But these are unusual times.)
Thinking of working in your pajamas? Think again. Research has shown that even if nobody knows what our outfit looks like, the clothes we wear affects our performance, productivity, alertness, thinking skills, confidence level, negotiating skills, and organizational ability. And this isn’t message isn’t just for left-brain number crunchers and analysts. Wearing formal attire (which doesn’t necessarily mean a power suit, but more likely “business casual”) has been shown to improve creativity, too.
The moral to this story? Resist the urge to work in your pajamas, or in your weekend “I’m just going to binge watch Netflix” leisurewear (you know, those sweat pants that have been in your life since before Y2K and that shirt that has zero elasticity), and instead dress as if you were heading into work — because, well, you are.
If you heed the advice to setup your home office in an uninterrupted space (as much as possible), then you’re on the road to remote working success. Now, you need to add another critical factor: concentration.
Simply put: develop the willpower (and it can take a while) to stay focused on your work-related tasks, instead of veering off to do the laundry, clean the kitchen, or do anything else that was not conceivable when you were in the corporate office, but is now available for you to do whenever you wish. You won’t save time or get more done by multitasking work and non-work tasks. You’ll just do both of them pretty badly.
Have you heard of the loneliness of the long distance runner? Well, there’s a thing called the loneliness of the remote worker, too. It usually takes a few days or weeks to this to kick in, but once it does it can be draining and disheartening. Even if you didn’t do a lot of chatting and socializing in the corporate workplace, the reality of being entirely by yourself with no colleagues around can be a culture shock.
Connecting with colleagues through various apps and tools is an effective way to deal with this challenge. You might even want to schedule brief check-ins — such as once every couple of hours — so that everyone can feel as though they’re in the same (virtual) space, and not on some disconnected island.
If you don’t have the technology tools to do your job, then don’t suffer in silence — because the problem won’t get better over time. It’ll just get worse, and you’ll just get more frustrated! Reach out to your supervisor or manager, explain your situation, and propose solutions. For example, if you’re overwhelmed by emails and spreadsheets, then a cloud-based portfolio and project management system like Planview AdaptiveWork One could be exactly what you and everyone else on your team needs.
Last but certainly not least: take care of yourself! Stay hydrated, eat nutritious foods, and remember to move your body every now and then. Experts recommend that office workers (including those at home) stand, move, and take breaks for at least two out of every eight hours at work. For tips on resting and refreshing your body and mind, check out this list of office stretches from the Mayo Clinic. You can also download a free desktop or browser timer app to (gently) alert you when it’s time to drink some water or have a stretch/walk. And while you’re at it, ditch that painful wooden kitchen chair, and buy yourself (or even better, get your company to buy you) a quality ergonomic office chair. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
The Bottom Line
Whether you’ve always dreamed of working from home, or you’d rather have a root canal or face a tax audit, the fact is that like millions of others around the world you’ll be spending a considerable amount of time in your home office. The tips above will help you manage this transition, and put you on the road to remote working S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Good luck!