I live in the heart of Silicon Valley where tech giants like Google, Apple and LinkedIn have ordered their employees to work remotely. The upside is the clogged-up freeways are now, well, free. The challenge, though—not just in the Bay Area, but for millions of other workers across the country—is that the new normal has become “wash your hands, stay home, and get to work.” If your job allows that, you’re lucky, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now.
I feel lucky every day, to be honest, because telecommuting is not a new normal for me; it’s just normal. I work remotely for Firespring along with several others around the country, though the majority of Firespringers work at the headquarters in Lincoln, Nebraska. If you’re now facing the reality of working from home, I’m sure you’ll do great—but in the interest of helping each other navigate this weirdness, I asked my fellow telecommuters to pass along some helpful tips. If we had hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we’d share that too. But for now, we’ll have to settle for some of our collective wisdom.
Get up and get dressed. I say this with all the love in my heart: Working remotely doesn’t mean no pants. First, you’re going to feel more like you’re “going to work” when you keep your regular morning routine (which, I assume, includes clothes). Second, if you have meetings scheduled, you’ll likely be teleconferencing, and even if you’re determined to keep your laptop camera off, that little bugger has a habit of turning itself on (trust me, they’re sneaky). Best practice: Get ready for work as if you were leaving your house. You’ll feel more professional, and you’ll avoid awkward or embarrassing tele-moments.
If possible, create a designated workspace. Now, I’ll be honest: My most productive workspace is my bed. I get the most done when I’m propped up with pillows, in my PJs, between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and midnight—but I’m a writer and weird like that. My coworker, Nina, is a full-time telecommuter and would advise this: “Create a workspace that is NOT your kitchen table, if possible.” This helps you both physically and mentally separate work from personal life, and while it might all feel blended together right now (especially if you’re not used to this), designating one spot as your “workplace” can help narrow your focus. Plus, you won’t have to clear your table of papers, laptops and chargers when it’s dinner time.
Plan out your day. I love how my coworker, Adam, described one of the biggest pitfalls of working remotely. “I would get stuck in my own world on a problem for too long, and I would look up and realize I had been working on something not that important for two hours because I didn’t have any natural distractions to pull me out.” Bruh, same. It’s really hard to replicate a workplace environment in your home, so unless you have back-to-back-to-back-to-back meetings, you may need to add some structure to your day. “One hour for answering emails; 30-minute meeting; two hours to write that report; 20 minutes to get some fresh air,” and so on. It might seem silly, but I promise it can help keep you from sinking into a black hole of what-the-heck-have-I-accomplished?
Use all the tech, but don’t forget your phone. Email, collaboration tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Zoom teleconferencing, project management tools like Basecamp, Trello and Smartsheet—all that and a bunch more allow you to message and interact with your coworkers, and I’m sure your company has put tools and systems in place if they’re asking you to telecommute. But when I really need to talk to someone and STAT, I simply pick up the phone. I don’t need to click on a link or worry about a stable wifi connection or wonder if the other person will read the right tone in the message I frantically typed. So, yeah—remember you can use your phone . . . as a phone.
Move. Your. Body. Remember the movie “WALL-E,” where humans became blobs who lived in front of a screen? Fight, my fellow telecommuters! Not only against this pervasive virus, but also against a world where we forget we have legs. Sitting is the new smoking, according to many health professionals, so do your lungs a favor and work ‘em out. Adam, for example, eats his lunch while he works (because why not?) and his “lunch hour” is workout time. And if you think that somehow decreases productivity, the American Council on Exercise would beg to differ: When you exercise, you increase blood flow to the brain, which can help sharpen your awareness and make you more ready to tackle your next big project. A protein called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) boosts your cognitive abilities—and BDNF is triggered by exercise.
Set boundaries with anyone else who’s home. Easier said than done, especially if your kids are out of school. But while we’re all hunkered down in our home offices (or couches or bedrooms or shower stalls, if that’s where you can find privacy), it’s important for our family members to know that we still have jobs. And that staying productive in these unusual circumstances is important to minimize the economic fallout of COVID-19. It’s easy for kids to think you have time off like they do right now, so it might be helpful to explain when it’s okay to interrupt vs. when Mom or Dad are off limits and “at work.”
One last tip: At the end of your typical work hours, walk away. Give yourself time to decompress, interact with your family, take your dog for a walk, cook a meal with your partner—just step away from your computer and strike a balance between the professional and personal. When your work and home lives become intertwined, it’s easy to go one of two ways: get distracted by laundry, unopened mail and those dusty shelves you’ve been meaning to get to, or plunge headlong into work tasks and forget to come up for air. If the latter sounds more like you, remember that working from home does not mean working 24/7. If it’s the former? Try that shower stall.
If you’re feeling a little unsettled right now, whether you’re working from home or not, that’s normal. With news that changes by the minute and conflicting reports about a new virus that’s upending all our lives, everything seems surreal right now. At Firespring, we remain committed to doing what we can to spread love, do good and make a positive impact. Please contact us to see how we can help your business or organization during this trying time.