Our best practices for working from home

For most of us, life today bears very little resemblance to our normal, old life. Just about every facet of life has changed due to the coronavirus pandemic. The protocol may differ depending on where you live, what your job is. But the world, and life, haven’t stopped.

We’ve all adapted—very quickly and continuously—to a constantly changing environment. Perhaps the most visible change is that many of us are working from home (WFH). For some, this is the standard, but for many this is a new and challenging endeavor. The addition of spouses and kids makes the balance and equation infinitely more complex.

For me and many of my regional director colleagues, working from home is actually the norm. I have been working out my home on and off for the past 10 years. So I thought it may help if I share some of the key principles I have found help me maintain productivity and sanity.

Of course, everyone’s life is unique and you need to do what works for you. You’ve probably seen more than a few articles or news segments pop up in the last couple weeks about the things you must do when working from home. The articles I’ve read and the people I’ve talked to all point in a similar general direction, but for different reasons. I’ve included some key themes to help you remain professional, productive, but flexible.

Morning routine

Let’s start where the day starts. What has been your normal procedure in the morning to get things in order and out the door? Have you changed that schedule all of a sudden because your old 40-minute commute has now turned into a 40-second stroll down the hall to your new office? Don’t!

If you normally woke up at 6 a.m. for a workout and then made the kids’ lunches, then you should still be waking up at 6 a.m. for a workout and making the kids’ lunches now. Humans are creatures of habit—we draw comfort from consistency. Yes, your workplace location has changed, but your schedule can easily remain the same. Maintaining your standard morning routine will help set the schedule—and mood—for the rest of the day. An added bonus of getting the kids’ lunches made in the morning like you (and they) are accustomed to: You won’t need to take time out of your day during the midday crunch (no pun intended) to fix the meal then. So, stick to your morning routine as much as possible.

Uniform

What do you normally wear to work? What are you wearing now?

I typically wear a suit every day to see clients. For the time being, I’ve (gratefully) ditched the tie—but I’m still putting on my professional attire. I dress as though I’m still going to be seeing clients in person, because it helps keeps my mindset focused and sharp. I even put on my shoes. After all, I’ve never met with a client while I’m barefoot or in socks.

What do you normally wear to work? And in this new environment, what’s your uniform now? I suggest you change out of the pajama pants and stick to your usual dress routine to get into the productive and focused we’ve got work to do! mind-frame.

Set ground rules

Here are a few of my favorites:

  • You are working from home. You aren’t home and slightly working. So, set up your workspace to minimize interference. If you don’t have a dedicated office space, set up shop in the guest room or a different floor. Get it set up so you don’t continually have to make adjustments.
  • Set a schedule with your loved ones about when you can interact, so they don’t just pop in.
  • Schedule breaksand be sure to take them.
  • Eat when you would normally eat.
  • Get out of the house. Even a brief walk around the block will clear and reset your mind.
  • And most importantly, when the day is done, it’s done. Don’t stop working at 2 p.m. knowing that you have a couple more hours of work to do, under the assumption that I’ll do another 30 minutes here and there until this is all complete. Your family and friends will appreciate you offering them your full attention instead of constantly saying, Oh, I just have one more quick email to send.
  • Follow the rules you’ve set for yourself and everyone else will have that much more respect for them, too.

Overcommunicate

You might be very comfortable working from home, but this might be new to teammates and colleagues. Communicate early, often and transparently, as there will inevitably be hurdles along the way. What will matter most for your team is how you address and correct the issues in an ongoing fashion.

Remember to also make time for social lightheartedness with your coworkers. Just because you aren’t next to the coffee maker or driving between appointments doesn’t mean that you can’t or don’t want to catch up with them. This is usually when people would discuss successes and ask for help overcoming challenges. If you like the people you work with, there’s nothing stopping you from keeping those typical sidebar conversations going even now.

Be positive

Focus on what you can control—and don’t sweat the other stuff.

It’s important to be positive every day—especially in the current environment, which is deeply affecting everyone you interact with.

Be intentional with your regained commute time

Your 40-second commute has just given you back a significant portion of time each day. The question is: What are you doing with it? Be intentional with this new-found time:

  • Spring has sprung and the days are getting longer. Consider enjoying this extra time outside. It will be good for your mind, body, and soul.
  • Have you always wanted a little more time to work out? Well here you gono excuses.
  • I’d love to make a homemade dinner? Get after it!
  • More time to read what I want to read.
  • Challenge the kids to those board games that have been collecting dust. Go start a tournament.

As I write this on a Monday, I have been watching my neighbor come out every 90 minutes to attack a landscaping project, 15 to 30 minutes at a time. I think it’s the perfect example of doing something outside, physical, that encourages a break from work, and he is completing a task that won’t take up his weekend.

So, those are my top WFH effectiveness tips for you.

I reached out to my colleagues for their top tips, too, which I share here with you:

“Separate from family or others. Have your own dedicated workspace, even if it’s the bedroom. Eliminate as many distractions as possible. If you need to take turns with your spouse for child care, then do it on a schedule: You take two hours, they take two hours. Stick to that schedule. It will help everyone settle into a routine and give you and your partner the opportunity to get in two solid hours of work at a time.” 
Sean Ryan, Senior Regional Director

I’ve worked from a home office for over a decade. I believe if you structure your day properly, you can be more productive from a home office than your normal business office. You will suffer fewer distractions and accomplish more. The #1 rule for me has been having a disciplined schedule. Time-blocking activities on your calendar and having a daily routine will allow you to be extremely productive and efficient. I would also recommend working from a location in the home that allows you to be focused. Typically, trying to work from the kitchen, living room or other high-traffic areas won’t give you the privacy you need. A spare bedroom, office area, or basement that is separated from others in the home will create an environment where you can stay focused. Select a location where you have space for dual monitors, internet access, cell phone service and other amenities you have at your normal business office.”
Troy Espeseth, Divisional Director

“Opt for a bright workspace. For me, that’s my dining room table because there is lots of natural light.
Let go of stressing about having a messy house. I take a few minutes every day to de-clutter, but I do stare at my work and laptop more now that I am working from home.” Lynnette LewisHead of North America Portfolio Consulting Group

“Maximizing your focus is more important than maximizing your time. If you have a shorter window of time to get some things done, focus on the tasks that have the highest impact. Setting a timer can really help focus your mind.
Turn off notifications on your devices to limit distractions. That includes incoming emails. Airplane mode and disconnecting from the VPN are my go-to strategies for this. 
Guard your time and be consistent in your routines.”
Tom Flynn
Senior Regional Director

The bottom line

The world and everyone's lives have suddenly and unexpectedly changed in the recent weeks. For many, this has involved adapting to working from home every day. Try adopting some of the best practices shared in this post from veterans of the WFH scene to help you maintain your productivity—and your sanity. Create separation, have ground rules, establish a workspace, maintain a schedule. Maintain focus but acknowledge the need for flexibility. If you’re too rigid you might break. And now’s no time to break.

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