March 12, 2020
At this point, odds are good that the coronavirus is affecting your work life, and you may be asked to work from home, if you aren’t already. Whether you’re thrilled not to have to put on pants or scared about the virus’ impact on your industry, the professional landscape is rapidly changing.
I’ve spent the last 8 years running a business from my home office and have supported clients and colleagues in doing the same. Here are 5 key strategies to help ease the transition to remote work and preserve your sanity.
1.Tune in to how you work best, and ask for help.
Strengths-based leadership coach Marta Hanson invites her clients to consider the prompts, “You get the best of me when…” and “You get the worst of me when…”
What do you know about how you work best? How can you incorporate that into your new home-based work life?
My colleague Steffani Bangel describes her biggest concern as “fear of blobbiness” and “becoming a human lump, not taking any steps for days and days.” For Bangel, working from home (or even just a day at the office with her door shut) can cause her to stay in the work for hours without using her body productively.
One of the ways she takes care of herself is by building small bursts of activity into her day like taking a walk at lunch or parking a block farther away from her meeting to get some additional steps. To add in a burst next week, we committed to walking in the park together.
Many folks I talked with worried about social isolation. Avoiding this may require being proactive and relying more on virtual technology. To break up my own schedule, I remedy this by scheduling walks, phone dates or video sessions with colleagues and friends throughout the day.
Even without the coronavirus, I have days without physically interacting with anyone who doesn’t live with me. It took some getting used to, but now I’m great at scheduling that time and not going too stir crazy.
As you identify what’s most important to you, seek out support. Consider who you can share your concerns and strategies with, whether it’s supervisors, colleagues, housemates or friends. They can both hold you accountable and offer much needed connection.
2. Create a dedicated workspace and build a routine.
Especially in such uncertain times, you’re likely craving some normalcy. You can build it for yourself.
After 15 years of remote work, Nicole Sturgill recommends you set up a dedicated workspace. While she now has a home office, she says, “Even when we were in a 600 square foot apartment in New York, I had a separate desk in the dining room just for work. That was my space and no one else used it.”
Veronica Brooks-Uy has been working from home for several years, and her perspective is similar. She explains, “The dedicated space helps me have a literal, physical division of work and home.” She compares it to the way experts suggest our bedrooms remain limited to sleep and relaxation so that our minds and bodies associate it with only these activities. However, she’s not strict about it. When she needs to shift perspective or take a break, she moves to other spots throughout the house for a reset.
It’s particularly valuable to have a dedicated space if you’ll be using video conferencing. It’s nice to have a space where you know the lighting, wifi, and battery charge will be strong (and that you don’t accidentally have underwear on the floor in the background).
Once you have your home office or dedicated work space set up, it can be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day. You may want to resist that urge. Sturgill suggests you “get up and get ready like you are leaving the house.” While she may wear more comfy clothes, the process of taking a shower and preparing for the day as if she’s leaving helps her get into the work mindset.
3. Share your context.
Even prior to the coronavirus outbreak, my husband and I both primarily worked from home. We also care for our adventurous and (usually) charming 1-year-old who isn’t enrolled in daycare.
Today, my partner and I miscommunicated about our schedules, and I had to take a client call while on baby duty. At the start of the call, I acknowledged the mixup to my client and apologized for the extra noises and occasional distraction. The client was extremely understanding. Blissfully, the kid was pretty calm, other than the time he poked me in the armpit and started cackling.
In the context of the coronavirus, clients and colleagues will need to give one another more grace than usual. With daycares for pets, children and senior closing, many will find themselves navigating caregiving responsibilities during the workday.
Be ready to adapt as things come up. Something as simple as a grocery delivery can cause a disruption and is a new context to navigate in the midst of working from home.
Acknowledge what’s going on for you and ask if there’s relevant context for others before you start a collaboration or begin a virtual meeting. This new landscape can be a powerful opportunity to show one another compassion and recognize the full humanity of our colleagues.
4. Identify your time management needs.
Many people I talk with worry about the distractions of home life interfering with their work. There’s a balance here.
“Don’t worry too much about the distractions like laundry or emptying the dishwasher,” Sturgill says, “If you were in an office, people would be stopping by your desk. You’d run out for coffee or lunch, etc. You won’t be doing that at home, so if you take 15 minutes to take care of a chore, so what? The time is the same.” Especially true when the whole country is in the same boat.
Alternatively, if you know you struggle to be productive without accountability, strive to build in some support mechanisms to ensure you don’t get distracted. Time management apps like Tomato Timer can help you work in bursts and take regular breaks.
Another tool is to consider how you’ve managed time when your schedule was more nebulous in the past. Perhaps during college you enjoyed study dates. Is there a friend who’s also working remotely with whom you can have a virtual study date? This can be a great time to reconnect with friends who don’t live nearby.
5. Be flexible and strive to have compassion
When we were pregnant at the same time, my friend Jessica Price used to tell me, “We can do hard things.” I found pregnancy exceedingly challenging, but I was always comforted by Jess’ voice in my head—by that connection to someone I love who understood what I was going through and believed in me.
The coronavirus has created a totally new landscape, and everyone is adjusting on the fly. We don’t know how long this will last or what the future holds. It can be scary. We’re all under a significant amount of stress wondering what this is going to do to our routines, to our finances, to our loved ones.
It’s likely that everyone you love is going through some version of this. What a powerful time for connection. What a powerful time to offer ourselves, our colleagues, and our friends greater compassion.
We can do hard things.
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