As a marketer working as part of a global team, I’ve spent the past 5 years working with people both remotely and in person. I’ve become accustomed to running and participating in meetings that included folks from all over the world, with video and screen sharing being part of my daily life and shifting workdays to match the hours of international colleagues. Over the last 5 years, I’ve worked from home 20% of the time - so, when the COVID-19 pandemic was announced and we were moved to a work from home environment, I assumed the transition would be easy for me. While I have been able to make the transition work, there are a few things that I have learned in my first week at home that have helped me stay engaged and productive during this period.
1. Keep a morning routine
It is WAY too easy to come downstairs at 6am, hop on a device while eating a quick breakfast and begin your workday – only to find that you haven’t really started your day properly. I fell into this trap for the first few days. Now, I focus on getting ready for my day – breakfast, shower, shave, and a collared shirt. What works for you might be different, but I found it important to do something to differentiate a workday from a weekend, so that my brain is ready to go at the start of the day.
2. Stay hydrated, practice safe snacking
We are fortunate to have a well-stocked fridge and a 13-year-old who loves to bake! While it is easy to go for that second cup of coffee and a sugary snack, the extra calories really start to weigh you down. I’m now starting the day with ONE good cup of coffee and a standard breakfast, then switch to water for the remainder of the day. I’ve found that it really helps to keep me feeling better throughout the day.
3. Clean up your space
If you have fallen into the too much snacking camp – there are probably a few extra dishes piling up in your space. Why not begin your morning routine with a quick cleanup of your office space to ensure that it feels good to be in. You are going to spend more than a few hours here, so why not make it feel like a space you want to be in? Don’t have time to file a stack of papers? Add them to a “to be filed” folder and tuck them out of site for now.
4. Your family are your new office mates
Yes – it is really easy to schedule a couple of extra meetings during the day. Or have a virtual lunch with colleagues to keep in touch. While this can be OK to do – don’t forget your new office mates – your family. I’m now blocking off time in my calendar every day to emerge from my office to spend time eating lunch with my family. You wouldn’t ignore your office mates every day – so we definitely shouldn’t dismiss the opportunity to eat with the other members of our household!
5. Music is great, but not all day
Working from the office, music can be a great way of dealing with ambient noise and helping to focus on “deep work”. It also works as a signal to co-workers that you are occupied, and to keep banter for a later time. During the past week, however, the number of daily virtual meetings have gone up substantially, and I have found that I prefer to save my headphone time for meetings, and enjoy a little silence at other times in the day. Depending on how many people you have in the household, your mileage on this point may vary. Which brings me to my next point.
6. There are other people around
Your video call will be interrupted at some point. Some colleagues are working from home with small children. Others live in small spaces they share with family members. Be understanding when interruptions occur and use it as an opportunity to get to know more about your coworkers – and stop feeling bad about having family members show up on video. Now is truly a time when we start to see the blend between our personal and professional lives.
7. Not everyone likes video
Just because someone didn’t turn their video on, doesn’t mean they are being rude. Not everyone agrees with point #1 above – so they may not have started their day in a way that made them “video ready”. They may not be in an environment that allows them to turn on their video, or they may not have good bandwidth today. All of this is OK – it is OK to turn off the video if it’s not working for everyone in the call.
8. Go wireless, or change your chair
If you can, invest in a pair of Bluetooth headphones so that you can walk and stretch a bit during long calls. Being in the same chair all day also gets very tiring – so think about having a few different seating options available to change things up during the day.
9. Your workday needs to end
The physical act of leaving the office is an important part of the day – it marks the end of the official workday, when we go from being 100% at work to being done for the day. How will you mark the end of your day? Simply leave your office space? Change into jeans? Go for a walk? Create a routine that signals the end of your work day so that you don’t start extending your day to an unsupportable length.
10. Don’t be too hard on yourself - Your productivity may go down
It’s hard to admit it sometimes, but we are human. AND we are living through extraordinary times. It is natural to get distracted, feel anxious, feel sad and lose focus. It is OK for your productivity to go down throughout the day. What truly matters in the long run is:
- Having a plan
- Executing on a few key items every day
- Keeping connected with coworkers and family members
- Celebrating the progress you are able to make in a day
And as always, do your very best to eat well, exercise and get good sleep!
These are a few of the tips that helped me get better at working from home during the first week. I hope they also help you stay in good working shape.