Coronavirus (COVID-19) is on everyone’s newsfeed, dominating discussions and impacting every aspect of normal life. As the virus spreads, more and more people are practicing social isolation, whether recommended or mandated. Most people I know have already transitioned to working from home, and I know many more companies are implementing those plans starting now. As someone who has worked from home for most of my career, I thought it would be helpful to share some tips for how to work from home without feeling terribly isolated or losing productivity. Since working from home now includes kids and parents, I tried to provide some tips and resources which may help those working alone and those working with kids at home.
Connect with Others
When you first start to work from home, the isolation from your team and your co-workers is often the hardest part. Those vital conversations in cubes, hallways, break rooms and meeting rooms cannot happen. This means you need to make the effort to reach out via phone calls or video calls. This will allow you the connection and engagement you need to move projects forward and to make sure you don’t feel disconnected.
Set up virtual conference calls where you can share your screens and talk via video. Tools like Zoom or Google Hangouts or Go to Meeting make virtual conferencing easy and accessible. For fun, Facebook Live or Instagram Live may be a way to engage with your friends virtually. A Facetime call with family and friends will connect you virtually. For kids at home, grandparents, aunts and uncles can video call to virtually do homework together. This will give parents a break, and will allow grandparents to give back safely. It may mean kids writing letters to older friends and family who are more isolated at home. You may need to schedule calls with your kids' friends so they can do silly things together or just talk about the massive changes they are suddenly facing.
Keep a Schedule
When you are home, it is often easy to slip into a habit of doing other things. I am often asked how I remain productive at home. I hear things like, “I would be tempted to do my chores or watch TV.” By following more closely to your office hours and not allowing yourself to divert to things which you normally do at home, you can stay focused on your work. If kids are home with you, keeping a schedule for them will give the days structure and allow everyone to be more productive. It may mean that one parent works a few hours and the other parent watches the kids during that time, and then you switch roles. It may mean the kids are learning at the same time you are working. On the other side of the spectrum, working from home also means you need to make sure you are not working to excess. When I first started working from home, I started at 6am and I was still working at 11pm because the work was seemingly endless. This was not healthy, so setting a specific start time and end time was very important.
Set Up a Productive Workspace
Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a dedicated office space, but it is still important to develop a space for work. This may mean setting up your kitchen table as a workspace or
setting up a tray or card table as a desk. Can you take your monitor, keyboard and mouse home from your office? Duplicating your normal workspace will help with your productivity. I would advise against working from your couch or bed, no matter how tempting it may be. You will find that the illusion of comfort may lead to back or neck pain. It may also cause you to take an unplanned nap. With kids at home, you may need to define separate areas for learning and office work. A small play table the kids used for coloring may be their new school desk. At your kitchen table, you may need to take poster board or cardboard and create study carrels or privacy screens (like they have for voting) to keep your kids from bothering each other.
It is often surprising how much movement you have in an office. You walk to the printer, to the bathroom, to a meeting, up and down stairs. When you move home, your movement is much more limited. You are no longer walking in between meetings or offices, and the walk to the closest bathroom or the coffee pot is often quite short. This means you need to plan breaks to get in your steps. If you have a fitness tracker like an Apple Watch, Fitbit or Garmin, try to maintain your steps throughout the day. If you don’t, set a reminder to stand up and walk around at least once per hour. Take regular walk breaks throughout the day. Even a quick walk around the block is very energizing.
If you have kids at home, schedule a recess with them. Give them plenty of time for free play and activity. If you have outdoor space and the weather is good, go outside and do some outdoor activities.
Since you are home, nobody will look at your strangely if you add in some stretches or do a workout in the middle of the day. There are many free workout videos on YouTube, Netflix, and Amazon. Take advantage of the disruption in your routine to try something new, you may enjoy it.
Engage Your Mind
Removing yourself from an environment where you have tons of outside stimuli may be a huge shock to your system. You may find yourself less motivated and less creative. This may be the best time for you to add some new stimulation for your mind. Podcasts, YouTube. More and more people are developing virtual summits and webinars to utilize their knowledge and talents during this time of social isolation.
For your kids, many educational programs are now offering free access for kids to learn at home like Learn with Socrates, and Kahoot. Universities are also offering a variety of free classes. You may want to take a virtual field trip to places like Yellowstone National Park or The San Diego Zoo.
Be kind to yourself and to others. Get plenty of rest, wash your hands, relax. Watch shows you love. Seinfeld, The Office, The Big Bang Theory, and Friends are on a continually loop on many channels, so it is easy to binge every night. You can also take time to binge on a new comedy.
Most importantly, be kind to others. Take time to connect with those who may be at high risk, go grocery shopping for those who may be at risk for getting sick. Check in on your neighbors, call your friends, pick up groceries for those who cannot leave their homes. This time will pass, but it can pass as a positive memory if we all band and help each other. It is always the shared memories of adversity which bring us together. Let this be a time of connection with others, not a time of division.