9 ways to stay productive and sane while working from home

 In COVID-19, Human Resources, Organizational Leadership, Technology

The COVID-19 pandemic has many of us taking an unexpected hiatus from the office for a TBD period of time. While many in healthcare and senior care aren’t afforded the luxury of working remotely at all, those who don’t absolutely have to go to in can still make a meaningful difference from home, while also protecting vulnerable patients and colleagues on the front line.

Making remote work successful, however, requires the right tools as well as the right attitude of your team (and leadership). Because while there are numerous technological factors at play, the biggest challenge is human in nature. It’s thus important to acknowledge some of the most common issues – isolation, distractions and interruptions, overworking and lack of boundaries chief among them – all compounded by the fear, uncertainty and limitations of a global pandemic.

It probably goes without saying, but this is different than a typical work from home scenario. You don’t have the option of going to a coffee shop. You can’t send the kids to school or daycare. And you, or others on your team, may be touched personally by someone suffering from the virus. Plus, while some may have worked a day or two remotely, we are looking at weeks or months.

Here are some tips for helping your team effectively work together and respond to the crisis while working from afar.

1. Take care of yourself first

You can’t help others if you don’t care for yourself. For remote working under any circumstance it’s important, but especially so now. Take breaks. Eat well. Get up and out of the house. Work out. There’s no more office banter or group lunches to provide those moments of much-needed respite, so you have to make them yourself.

Staying up on the latest news is of course important, but try not to let your only diversion during the workday be the rabbit hole of today’s headlines. And if you must, balance your perspective with the good news out there.

2. Keep a routine

Fine tune your home working routine, which doesn’t have to be identical to what you did at the office. Do you work better early mornings or later in the day? When are the best times to take breaks to keep your energy and focus up throughout your working hours? The great thing about working from home is you can tailor the day to what works best for you, as long as it works for your team too. For instance, if your team is working well past business hours and you’re a night owl, you could explore adjusting your workday to better support them.

Whatever you do, though, be sure to get dressed and ready for the day to tell your brain it’s time to wake up and focus. The structure may help you keep sane and put cabin fever at bay. Trust me. I once worked remote regularly for a previous job and let this one slide to deleterious effect. Pajamas all day quickly lost its appeal when all parts of my day, and life, blurred together. How we look affects how we feel. I personally have never felt great about my life choices when wearing pajamas at 5 p.m.

3. Set boundaries

The line between work and home will blur, and setting your “office hours” and, if possible, allocating a dedicated space of your home to working, will help maintain much needed boundaries. Also, setting an understanding with your family about work hours will hopefully help minimize interruptions.

It’s just as important to stop for the day: 22% of remote employees report unplugging after work is their biggest challenge (Buffer), and 23% say they work longer hours than they would on-site (CoSo Cloud). Schedule a stop time and then log off for the day. The rest will be there tomorrow.

4. Use communication tools that are as “in person” as possible

Email alone will not get you through this. Look at tools that offer a breadth of communication options, especially instant messaging and video chat. The Transcend team has been using Microsoft Teams to stay in touch, which offers video conferencing, instant messaging and group chats, and we’ve been delighted how much of a difference it makes.

Before you go to purchase a new service, make sure you’re using what you’ve got. Do you have Office 365, Google Suite or other current web services for the office? Investigate the breadth of capabilities you’re already paying for.

This is another area to try to see the opportunities. Perhaps video conferencing also could help your team of care providers, those typically on-the-road and in-office, maintain better lines of communication during and after the crisis. Not to mention, you could use this as an opportunity to explore extending video conferencing into your patient care. With the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services relaxing its once-stringent standards on telehealth for home-based care, many healthcare providers have begun using FaceTime, Zoom and other video tools to assist with virtual family visits and combat isolation.

5. Agree on communication and collaboration expectations

When should you use email, chat, video conference, phone or text messaging? Plus, where do you save files? How do you notify others? There’s no hard and fast rule, but make sure your team is on the same page to avoid confusion. Also, make a point of managing expectations for availability. Just like at the office, no one will be at others’ beck and call every second. Don’t expect it of others or yourself.

6. Socialize with your team

Collaborating remotely for extended periods means more than staying up-to-date on projects and deadlines. How will your culture survive and thrive? And how can you support each other through the tough days to follow? Try to find ways to replicate the office socializing that keeps spirits high and teams close in the office. In the “before times,” 19% of remote employees reported loneliness as their biggest challenge (Buffer). If that socialization helps everyone keep their sanity during pandemic-free times, just think how critical it is now to keep that line of levity and camaraderie going.

Create recurring opportunities to connect to each other outside the context of work. Our CEO periodically starts the day with a prompt encouraging people to discuss. “What are you grateful for?” “How are you taking care of yourself?” Meanwhile, our video chats have been the same balance of productive, thoughtful, caring and quirky as always.

You could try setting aside a few minutes during regular meetings to talk life, or schedule a weekly meeting. Our team has been hosting virtual “beer Fridays,” where talk about work is off limits.

7. Get your tech up to snuff

Remote work will likely put your home tech set up through the ringer much more than your typical use. There’s plenty of articles on the technical details, but some of the areas to consider are:

  • Connectivity: Ensure your internet connection and WiFi network can support video calls without issue.
  • Storage: Your flexibility in cloud storage options will vary greatly by your IT support, budget and security/confidentiality requirements, but in my mind, a nightmare scenario is collaborating on all your files by bouncing them back and forth via email. That’s a recipe for miscommunication and errors. If you can’t access the entirety of your files remotely, consider at least housing current top-priority work on a file sharing service that suits your organization’s requirements.
  • The oft-overlooked, ergonomics: Does your screen, keyboard, mouse and seating support healthy posture and efficient working for a full workday?
  • Anything else? What else do you need to work your best? Perhaps some noise-cancelling headphones to drown out the noisy “coworkers” in the other room?

8. Be patient, with others and yourself, and know this is an ongoing evolution

Your team might be completely new to this remote working thing, or at least at the scale and duration required now. And everyone’s situation is different. Some are fighting to keep a bustling family from bursting through the door (if they have a door), while others might be wrestling with loneliness. You’re dealing with many personal and technological variables. People’s home situation, available technology and preferences will influence how comfortably they can adapt and what communication forms they prefer. Be patient with each other, know that you are all trying your best to make it work well, and talk frequently and candidly about how to improve collaboration.

9. See the silver linings

It’s hard to talk “benefits” during a pandemic that’s taking lives, but it’s important for the health of you and your team to try to find the good. Exploring new ways to stay close has reminded our team about the strength of our culture and commitment to each other, our clients and our cause. I bet yours will find the same. Learning how effectively you can work remotely may lead to a more flexible view on how you can be productive in your post-COVID reality.

Also, embrace the uniqueness of working from home. While it’s important to maintain work/life boundaries, it’s also okay to step away and savor the time with family this allots. Have lunch or go for a midday walk together. There are many lessons we’ll learn from this crisis, but one of them should be a reminder of how precious those moments are.

 

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