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When the COVID-19 virus hit in US in mid-March 2020, millions of people around the world were forced to work remotely.  It’s estimated that around 62% of employees are still working at home, according to a Gallup survey.

Whether we like it or not, home offices are the new normal.  The question you need to ask yourself is “are you able to be as productive and efficient when you working from home in comparison to the office?”

While many professionals like the concept of working from home, it’s common for people to feel disconnected from their colleagues and isolated.  This creates a feeling of isolation and it may be difficult to get work completed. Lack of communication is just one of the challenges.  Distraction and less accountability

Here are some tips to get the most out of your work day at home to keep you mentally, emotionally and physically sane and healthy during these challenging times and beyond.

1. Set Up a Regular Work Schedule

It’s easy to take up your normal “at home” routine before you had to work at home, which included waking up late and doing random tasks and chores that didn’t include company work.  Without the routine and structure of waking up, getting ready and leaving for the office, you fall into patterns that include work around the house instead of focused work for your job.

It’s important for you to create a regular schedule that is based around work hours like in the office.  Maintaining a set schedule during remote work reinforce clear boundaries when you are on and off the clock.

2.  Plan Your Work

In order to organize your day, you need to make a plan for the tasks that need to be completed.  This is best done at the end of each work day before you go off the clock.   Daily, specify the details for:

  • Priority items to be completed
  • Time it takes to complete items
  • Additional time spent on tasks if you have extra time
  • Meeting preparation or team member communications
  • Time for unexpected tasks that seem to pop-up into your day

When you create an outline for your day, you’ll find it easier to concentrate on achieving your goals as you’ll have a roadmap waiting for you each morning.  By knowing your to-do list ahead of time, it will ease overall work stress and allow you to be present with your family when transitioning to personal time.

3.  Over-Communicate

Because co-workers and managers work from different locations, it’s best to put more effort into keeping connected.  This means being more connected than simply checking email in the morning.  Let your team know your schedule, including personal breaks and times that you’ll be needed away from work, such as monitoring your kid’s on-line classes or working with them on homework.

Find out when you need to be present on a daily basis and let others know when you’ll need them to be available for you.  You may suggest a virtual app such as Slack that keeps you in the loop of team and management communications and project tasks.

4.  Have a Separate Home Office or Work Space

When working at home, using a couch, easy chair or recliner may reduce your productivity levels.  Let’s face it.  Spreading papers out on a bed is not the best way to keep you organized.

If you have an extra room that can be used for an office or area that is quiet and away from distraction, you will find that more tasks get accomplished.  Build a professional environment where creating and thinking is enhanced.  Even a desk in your bedroom away from a family-designated area can increase your focus and organization.

Since most meetings now use video-technology such as Zoom, co-workers and customers will be able to see a clean, professional environment.  This will help build their trust that you are organized and will get tasks done at home.

5. Limit distractions

There are many things that can distract us from our work in our home environments.  People, pets and family members are just a few of these items that can degrade our focus.  One of the biggest factors now is that many of our school-aged children are taking classes at home, which adds to the noise and levels of busyness in the house.

It’s also beneficial to bring awareness to your time-wasting behaviors.  Try these other tips to limit distractions.

  • Set expectations with family members regarding “do not disturb” hours
  • If your home office allows, close the door
  • Wear ear plugs or listen to soothing music with headphones to eliminate noise
  • Leave pets outside of your office space
  • Turn off your devices so that you can concentrate on one thing at a time
  • Take breaks so that your energy and focus is replenished

6. Use Your Phone

As mentioned earlier, working remotely will require you to over-communicate.

When you are physically apart from your team members, it’s more common for misunderstandings to happen.  Your team is made up of different personalities, skill levels, experiences and communication styles.  Some co-workers use texting and others like emails.

Sometimes the tone or instructions of both can get misconstrued.  When this happens, make a quick phone call and clear up confusion from your or their side.  Long, drawn out email chains can take up a lot of time for everyone involved and may not solve the issues of the misunderstanding.  But a quick call can do a lot to ensure good relations with your team members and keep you connected in a more direct—and pleasant way.

7. Schedule Self-Care Time

Make certain that you’ve scheduled in time for self-care.  This can include healthy snacks, exercise, meditation and fresh air.  These activities can help clear your mind, get your body moving and release stress.  It’s also a good idea to take time to chat with another human being for connection time.

If you sit in front of the computer when doing your work, like most of us, it’s best to take short breaks to avoid the physical stress on your body.  Working in the same position hour after hour can create unhealthy patterns in muscles and joints.  Take a few minutes each hour to stretch or walk in the front or backyard to ease your neck, back and wrist—the common areas that get overused from using your computer.

By planning self-care, you’ll create a reset throughout the day to find that you’ll bring more creativity and energy to your work.

While many people have regularly worked remotely for years, current global health regulations have forced the vast majority of people to work from home. Keeping a set schedule and working in a designated room or area can help to improve your productivity. Limiting distractions and picking up the phone to call team members can also cut down on wasted time. And, remember to take plenty of stress relieving breaks throughout the day to keep your focus sharp.

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