Suddenly working from home? How to stay productive and sane

For some people working from home is a regular practice but for most of us it’s a new way of working and presents new challenges – especially if you are with family who are now at home too. 

People are all at once discovering the benefits and frustrations of remote work. But you can take cues from great workplaces. You’ll get more done and feel better when your technology, space and the ways you need to work come together. Working from home should be no different.

Here are some practical tips about how to improve the work from home experience.

Establish and stick to boundaries

It’s tempting to be “on” constantly when you work from home. Others find being home distracting and challenging to stay focused and productive. Identifying boundaries can help you maintain a healthy and productive balance. Decide on your schedule each day and try to stick to it. 

Be transparent

If you are not at your computer, be sure to communicate that with your colleagues. Make your calendar visible to your team, update your status in any team/collaboration software you use or even leverage your out-of-office auto reply. Let your team know when you’re going to be away and when you’ll be back, especially when you work in different time zones.

Build belonging

Think about ways to keep relationships intact while working from home and practicing social distancing. Consider creating a group chat for social interactions – during stressful times, everybody loves a good meme. Schedule coffee with a colleague over video to catch up. Remote workers need more of these checkpoints than those who are in the office.

Create consistent connections

It can be easy to slip into a siloed work experience when everyone is working on their own, especially during more socially isolating times. Institute a quick daily virtual team connect to keep work moving forward.

Provide a variety of tools 

The tools available to distributed teams aren’t perfect. No one technology does it all. Pick some consistent tools for instant messaging, video conferencing, sharing documents, file transfers, etc. to keep your team connected virtually while social distancing. 

Turn your camera on

Video should be the default setting for any remote collaboration. Seeing facial reactions and body language lets you “read the room,” plus people are less likely to interrupt or speak over one another. To do it well, keep the computer at eye level — put it on a stand or further back so it isn’t looking up your nose. Look into the camera and use natural light, but avoid putting your back to a window or you’ll look like a silhouette.

Hear and be heard

“Avoid rooms with lots of hard surfaces that echo – like a kitchen,” said Galloway-Gaul. “Choose rooms with rugs or other softer materials, like the living room.” Headphones provide a better experience than computer audio. Finally, if you’re late to an online meeting or not speaking, mute your audio to avoid disrupting the conversation.

Find focus

Not everyone has a home office, so think about establishing a territory that clearly signals “I’m at work.” Discuss protocol with other members of your household to signal when you’re “on at work,” even if you’re reading on the sofa. If you tend to be distracted by other household demands, find a way to create visual boundaries so you don’t see the dirty dishes. And, if acoustics are an issue and you can’t shut the door, headphones may be your new best friend.

Be aware your posture 

A risk of working from home is becoming more sedentary. Look for ways to vary your posture and the spots where you work throughout the day.  Sit, stand, perch, go for a walk — activating the body, activates the brain and can keep you from going stir crazy.  

Particularly important: Most people slumped over their laptop and look down onto their screens when they have converted the dining room chair and table to an office. We strongly suggest raising the laptop, even if on a couple of books, which allows the screen to be at the same level of your face. This is much better for your body, dramatically reducing strain on the back and neck.

Isla Galloway-Gaul is the Managing Director of Inspiration Office.

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