The ongoing spread of the coronavirus has spurred companies across the globe to think strategically about their preparedness for facing the outbreak. Does your company have an emergency plan in place for employees to work from home? If so, how ready is your team to collaborate virtually? We’d like to share a series of articles from Harvard Business Review that might be useful for leading your business through the Coronavirus crisis.
What the Experts Say
The days when working from home conjured an image of a slacker in pajamas are rapidly disappearing. Technological advances and employers looking to lower costs have resulted in more people working outside an office than ever before. By one estimate, telecommuting increased in the U.S. by 80% between 2005 and 2012. “The obvious benefits for workers include flexibility, autonomy, and the comfort of working in your own space,” says Ned Hallowell, author of the forthcoming Driven to Distraction at Work. And done well, working from home can mean a marked increase in output. A Stanford University study last year found that the productivity of employees who worked from home was 13% higher than their office-bound colleagues. People often feel they make more progress when working from home, says Steven Kramer, a psychologist and author of The Progress Principle, and “of all the things that can boost people’s work life, the single most important is simply making progress on meaningful work.” Here’s how to work from home effectively.
Maintain a regular schedule
“Without supervision, even the most conscientious of us can slack off,” says Hallowell. Setting a schedule not only provides structure to the day, it also helps you stay motivated. Start the day as you would if you worked in an office: Get up early, get dressed, and try to avoid online distractions once you sit down to work. Whether you just started working at home or you’ve been doing it for months or years, take a few weeks to determine the best rhythm for your day. Then set realistic expectations for what you can accomplish on a daily basis. “Make a schedule and stick to it,” says Kramer. Make sure you give yourself permission to have downtime. If you have to work extra hours on a project, give yourself some extra free time later on to compensate.
Set clear boundaries
When you work at home, it’s easy to let your work life blur into your home life. “Unless you are careful to maintain boundaries, you may start to feel you’re always at work and lose a place to come home to,” Hallowell says. That’s why it’s important to keep the two distinct.
One way to do that is to set aside a separate space in your home for work. You also want to make sure your friends and loved ones understand that even though you are at home, you are off limits during your scheduled work hours. “If the doorbell rings, unless I’m really expecting something, I’ll ignore it,” says Kramer. That not only helps you stay focused, but makes it easier to get out of work mode at the end of the day. “Schedule your time with your family, and with yourself,” says Kramer. “Put those on your daily calendar as seriously as you would your work.” And don’t worry about stopping for the day if you’re on a roll with a project. Pausing in the middle of something will make it easier to jump into the task the next day — a tip that is valid for everyone, but especially those working from home. “Ernest Hemingway would try to leave in the middle of a paragraph at the end of the day,” says Kramer, “so when he sat down again, getting started wasn’t hard because he knew where it was going.”
Take regular breaks
It may be tempting to work flat out, especially if you’re trying to prove that you’re productive at home. But it’s vital to “take regular ‘brain breaks,’” says Hallowell. How often is best? Researchers at a social media company recently tracked the habits of their most productive employees. They discovered that the best workers typically worked intently for around 52 minutes and then took a 17-minute break. And these restorative breaks needn’t take any particular form. “It can be as simple as staring out the window or reading the newspaper,” says Hallowell, anything to give your brain an opportunity to briefly recuperate. “The brain is like any other muscle. It needs to rest,” says Kramer. “Go for a walk, get some exercise, stretch. Then get back to work.”
Prolonged isolation can lead to weakened productivity and motivation. So if you don’t have a job that requires face-time with others on a daily basis, you need to put in the extra effort to stay connected. Make a point of scheduling regular coffees and meetings with colleagues, clients, and work peers. Get involved with professional organizations. And use online networking sites like LinkedIn to maintain connections with far-flung contacts. Since visibility can be an important factor in who gets promoted (or scapegoated) back at the office, check in as often as you can with colleagues and superiors. “Tell people what you’re doing,” says Kramer. Share some of the tasks you’ve accomplished that day. “It’s critically important not just for your career, but for your psychological well-being,” he says.
Celebrate your wins
When you’re working on your own at home, staying motivated can be difficult, especially when distractions — Facebook, that pile of laundry, the closet that needs organizing — abound. One smart way to maintain momentum is to spend a moment or two acknowledging what you have been able to accomplish that day, rather than fixating on what you still need to do. “Take some time at the end of the day to attend to the things that you got done instead of the things you didn’t get done,” says Kramer. You might also keep a journal in which you reflect on that day’s events and note what you were able to check off your to-do list. The daily reminder of what you were able to finish will help create a virtuous cycle going forward.
- Make a schedule and stick to it
- Focus on what you’ve accomplished at the end of each day to keep yourself motivated
- Create a dedicated workspace and let your family know that you are unavailable during work hours
- Try to work all day without regular breaks — your productivity and motivation will suffer
- Isolate yourself — go the extra mile to meet up with colleagues and peers to talk shop
- Neglect to check in regularly with colleagues and bosses — it’s important to make yourself ‘visible’ even if you aren’t in the office
By Carolyn O’Hara