If you have suddenly switched from an office setting to working at home, everything will be alright. This pandemic is temporary and we will return to our workplaces to socialize with coworkers and conduct meetings like before. While you may miss the office environment and the social aspects may be tough for a while, your reward is that your previous commute time is now your own time and it’s a gift that you can decide how to use: sleep in, read a book, work out, play a game with the kids, have a family cooking party, or catch up on a another project.

Meanwhile, here are some tips to help you successfully work from home. These tips are offered by communicators who have worked remotely from 1 to 10 years in a wide range of roles that include writers, educators, managers, directors, and consultants.

Get ready

    • Contact your workplace IT Department or Help Desk to determine if you need any special access (VPN, RDP, phone).
    • Allow time to get technology working. This could be setting up a VPN before it’s needed, testing webinar software in advance, or something as simple as understanding the file size limits for email attachments.
    • Monitors are inexpensive and worth the investment. Don’t try to do it all on a laptop screen. Use an HDMI cable to connect a 2nd monitor (or TV) to your laptop.
    • Invest in an ergonomic chair.
    • If you have family members at home, set ground rules about electronic usage, telephone lines, noise, space, etc.
 

Work visibility

    • Advertise how colleagues can contact you. For example, update your instant messaging platform when you step away from the computer to have lunch. Maintain contact with your team. Let them know you’re there and working. Make your presence known.
    • Always be available to your team during core business hours.
    • Stay connected with coworkers, friends, and families virtually. Use video calls for a more personal interaction. Use tools like Slack, Google Hangouts, Mozilla Hubs for co-worker interaction.
    • Proactively communicate with your coworkers. No news is not good news when working virtually. If you are a team leader, be explicit about expectations and follow up with people.
    • Be on time for meetings, be present, and be engaged. Without visual cues, you will be required to listen harder than ever before.
    • Get calls in before you get absorbed in work and miss the window to catch people during office hours.
    • Cluster meetings so that you have blocks of unstructured time to get real work done. Break up the day with workouts and cleaning, not meetings. Use breaks to think and feed your productivity.
    • Use short sprints (15-20 minutes to start). Set a timer and try to focus on one small task. Pace yourself but keep your eye on the task.
   

Workspace

    • Set aside a private, dedicated area in your home for work. It does not have to be a whole room, as long as it is not shared with other activities.
    • A dedicated space helps dedicate your time. It clarifies when working and when not working.
    • Being in your workspace is a strong signal to others in your household that you are working and should not be interrupted unless it is an emergency.
    • Clearing work things away from a temporary workspace increases the odds that the one piece of paper you really need when you are talking to your boss will get lost.
    • A dedicated space separates “work” from “life.” If work is always present, it’s easy to lose family and personal time.
    • Use your desk only for work-related purposes. Associate your desk with work so work doesn’t creep into home matters.
    • Put your personal laptop in a completely different location and only work on your work laptop during the day. Don’t use your personal laptop until the end of the day.
    • Organize your home workspace with even more care than in the office. It impacts the peace you feel in your own home.
    • “Go home” at the end of the day as you would from an onsite job.
 

Get up, dress up, show up

    • Set your alarm and “go to work” at the same time you did at the office.
    • Dress in work clothes and prepare for the day as if going to the office.
    • Don’t work in your pajamas. Working in PJs can have a psychological effect and being in PJs all day for multiple days can make you feel unproductive.
    • Establish a set daily routine that includes the time you start your laptop through to when you close your laptop for the day.
    • Follow an ordinary routine, keep regular hours. You’re working; the job isn’t something to fit in between cooking and laundry.
   

Self-care

    • Take care of yourself. Enjoy a really good cup of coffee. Go for a walk. Take a real lunch break. Get outside for a nature break. Clear your head and feel refreshed. Walk the dog around the block, wash the dishes, do laundry.
    • Schedule personal appointments on your calendar for breaks and lunch to block meetings from preventing you from standing up, moving, and eating.
    • Get up from your desk periodically and walk around, stretch your back, stretch your hands. It’s very easy to get stiff. Because there are no coworkers to distract us, we tend to sit at our home desks longer without moving.
    • Avoid eating at your desk or around your computer. It will cut down on needless eating. When you really want food, get up to go to the kitchen, as that gives you a break.
    • Have regular touchpoints with your family so it is less likely thst they will interrupt you during calls.
    • Set your business hours for family, friends, and others. Let people know when you are and aren’t available.
    • Pretend you’re not at home. Ignore dirty dishes, laundry, and other household distractions when you’re working.
    • Make space for your dog or cat. They may not understand why you are home all day and not playing with them! Make a nice spot next to your desk. Take breaks to play.

Working from home can be a challenge. Wake up and you’re at work, you work all day, and when work is done you’re still at work because you never left. While it sounds great at first, it can be a difficult mental adjustment.

Working from home is a learned skill. Don’t be shocked if it takes some time to get good at it.

Share your ideas

Have suggestions to share for working from home? Take our survey!
 

Contributed by Mollye Barrett

 

photo of Mollye BarrettMollye Barrett is a veteran content management strategist and technical communication consultant who develops strategies for optimizing content, improving the authoring environment and planning for business continuity. Mollye presents vendor-neutral content management options that focus on business case, document and workflow analysis, single-source writing and translation. An STC Fellow, Mollye has presented at many conferences including STC Summits, LavaCon, TRI-XML, FrameMaker Chautauquas, DITA/TechComm, and DITA Netherlands.
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