As the coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to pick up steam across the United States and abroad, companies ranging from Microsoft to Goldman Sachs are asking their workers to work remotely as a measure against the rapidly spreading disease. The idea is more plausible each day that some security-clearance employees who normally work in an office will be asked to maintain responsibilities from home.
The transition to becoming a remote employee can be a challenge to those who have not experienced this shift. The distractions from coworkers who like to update you on their recent vacation are substituted for the urge to do a load of laundry.
Since 2014, I’ve experienced the positives and negatives working from home in a wide range of schedules from being remote one day a week to only coming in the office when needed. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly that comes with working from home, but these opportunities have allowed me to learn about what strategies work, what tactics are ineffective, and the key tips needed to maintain and foster collaboration and efficiency amongst yourself and peers.
So, if you’re a beginner as a remote employee, here are some top approaches I’ve learned to help you stay productive in a new location:
1. Always follow your employer’s guidelines
You won’t be able to work on classified projects from home, obviously, but all individuals in national security positions have access to proprietary and sensitive information. In an age where digital information worries are at an all-time high, it’s important to follow the rules and guidelines set forth from your employers – whether it’s not taking specific meetings in front of others, to using a VPN on your computer. With sensitive information, it’s always important to err on the side of caution.
2. Designate a workstation
The beauty of being a remote employee is that technically anywhere – from a coffee shop to a vacation getaway – can be your workstation. However, this flexibility can be a crutch if you work most or all day at home as it can be hard to escape the work mindset and relax when you’re done for the day and do not have a “door” to leave behind. This is why it’s vital to separate your work and living spaces. Although having a dedicated office is ideal, not everyone has that luxury. But don’t fret. If you have a specific desk set up in a room that you only use when on the job, it will become second nature to adapt a mindset to separate work from personal time.
3. Have a morning routine
Whenever I do travel to an office space, I tend to feel prepared to start the day because I would accomplish my morning routine – wake up, work out, get clean, make breakfast, put on my favorite button-up shirt, and listen to an audiobook in my car. When you work from home, it is easy to ignore some of these routines in favor of logging into your work computer. But having morning routines before you jump into emails can psychologically get you in the right mindset. You may not need to dress up in your business attire (even though it can help trick your mind), but just adding structure to your mornings can help go a long way for your productivity.
4. Prioritize communication with team members
When you work in an office setting, it is much easier to build organic relationships and communicate priorities on the fly. In a remote setting, it is a greater challenge to build connections and share activities if you’re not intentional. Prioritizing one-on-ones with your supervisor and direct reports, utilizing video conferencing software, and setting up virtual happy hours are all tactics that can help you foster collaboration with your team. Building a workplace community is necessary for a healthy, productive team. Although it may take a little more energy to grow and maintain, the result will pay dividends.
5. Minimize personal distractions
When you work in the same location where you live, chances are you’ll experience new distractions, like feeling the urge to clean or fold clothes. While small tasks can be accomplished throughout the day (see below on my thoughts on taking small breaks), it’s best to minimize personal tasks as much as possible. One trick for this is to keep a notepad by your side and write down a list of items that you’d like to accomplish. This exercise will not only keep you organized, but it’ll also help remove the need to impulsively accomplish the task while on the clock.
6. Carve out small breaks throughout the day
When you work from home, you may feel compelled to be on your computer for your entire workday. While I am not advocating for you to randomly log off your device for 45 minutes at a time, it’s important to take small breaks away from your workstation. Studies have shown that taking breaks to pour a cup of coffee in the kitchen, grab a snack, or stretch your legs is important to give your mind and eyes a chance to rest and feel rejuvenated. Be intentional and take a small break when needed. Remember, doing so will only boost your productivity.
While working from home can be exciting, empowering, and even profitable when you factor in savings from commute costs, there are also challenges from the experience. This experience will force you to be intentional, self-disciplined, and focused, but it will also provide an opportunity to tap into uninterrupted deep work.
At the end of the day, working from home doesn’t necessarily make tasks easier; it’s just a different location to get things done.