Working from home can be challenging under the best of circumstances, but even more so in the midst of a global crisis. Here, experts share their best tips for working from home.
- Some major challenges of working from home are time management, communication and productivity.
- Working from home is a major adjustment for many people, but if you're flexible, firm and committed to working with your team, you can be successful.
- Setting boundaries and figuring out the best ways to communicate with your team are two of the most important aspects of working from home.
Working from home has suddenly become the new normal for millions of workers across the globe. As a small business owner, you might feel out of your depth in this new situation, as you are the one responsible for pivoting the way your team works, figuring out how to keep your team's productivity up, and being flexible with how and when you and your employees work, as many have kids or pets at home that demand attention.
Luckily, thousands of people work from home regularly, so they have already developed effective strategies for staying sane and productive while doing so. Here are some of the tips that entrepreneurs and remote employees shared with us for working from home.
1. Be patient.
First and foremost, remember that this is a big transition for both yourself and your team as everyone learns how to effectively work from home. Try to take things one day at a time, and allow yourself a learning curve to figure out what works and what doesn't. Your work hours may shift, and there will be more or different distractions around that you will have to adjust to.
2. Set boundaries.
If you previously commuted to an office, there was a clear and definable boundary between your home and your work, which made it easy to separate the two spaces. Now, work and home are one and the same, which can cause some mental gymnastics when you're trying to be productive in your living room.
"Setting boundaries can be a challenge," said Eric Nerhood, owner and president of Premier Property Buyers. "You need to make sure you have one place that you consider your workspace. It doesn't have to be an entire room, but make sure you're not confusing your office with your leisure space."
Physical boundaries are important, but so are social boundaries with other people in your home, as you're all social distancing together.
"Don't be surprised if your significant other, child or roommate assumes that because you are home, you're available to spend time with them," said Nerhood. "Lay down the ground rules as soon as possible so that there's no room for confusion about your availability."
When you have completed your work for the day, remove yourself from your work as much as you would if you were still leaving the office at the end of the day. Close your computer and leave it in another room as you go about your evening activities.
"Respect your time and your co-workers' time," said Helen Todd, co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared. "Don't jump up from the dinner table to respond to an email."
3. Maintain a routine.
You probably had your office routine down pat – walk in the door at 8:55, say hello to your employees and co-workers, check your emails, make your coffee at 9:45, take lunch at 12:15, and so on – and then found your morning routine scattered to the winds when you had to work from home.
One of the best ways to get back into a productive mindset is to create a new routine for yourself and stick to it.
"Stick to routines whenever possible," said Dan Bailey, president of WikiLawn. "If you get up at a set time because of a commute, keep that time. Shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. All these rituals can help put your brain in work mode."
You can set strict working hours for yourself (keeping in mind that you may finish your tasks earlier in the day than you might have in the office) to help you create a routine.
"Say that you're going to be at your desk by a certain time in the morning, and adhere to it," said Todd. "This will get you moving and not sucked into three episodes of Charmed on TNT while eating cereal."
4. Take breaks.
In an office, breaks are often organically built into the workday – an employee has a question, or you take a walk to grab lunch. But when you're working from home, you might find yourself hunched at your workspace for five hours without moving or speaking to anyone, which can be detrimental to both your productivity and mental health.
Try to schedule breaks throughout your day – setting alarms on your phone to remind you if necessary – to walk around, hop on a video chat, eat a snack or take a lunch break. Breaks help you stay focused and energized.
"Taking a break gives you an opportunity to refresh your brain," said Nerhood. "Go for a walk, work out, spend time with family, clear your mind. [Just] do something else and then get back to work. Being successful is not about putting in more time; it's about putting in productive time."
5. Find effective ways to communicate.
Shifting to all-virtual conversation is difficult no matter how tech savvy your team is. It is easier to lose meaning and nuance, and harder to feel human connection.
"Unlike office environments where you can just talk to people and see their body language, when going back and forth over text (i.e., Slack), you need to focus on concise, coherent and well-thought-out communication," said Toby Schulz, founder and CEO of Maid2Match. "A good baseline rule is to assume positive intent. This means no one ever reads a message thinking the other party is trying to be rude, short or inconsiderate."
Try to engage your team in casual conversation at certain points throughout the day or as you deem appropriate. Suggest that your team have a weekly check-in or town hall over video conferencing where everyone can come together and chat informally about how things are going, or to help keep productivity up.
"As an organization, our best tip has been a daily video conference call, where we ask two questions of everyone: 'What did you accomplish yesterday? What are you working on today?'" said Alan Ricks, manager of operations at Lumera Diamonds. "These simple questions allow us to confirm that everyone is staying on task and making progress. At the same time, a sense of shared purpose is fostered."
6. Be flexible and realistic.
These are abnormal times, and it would be ludicrous for anyone to expect business to carry on as if nothing had changed. Many people have had their lives turned upside down and are trying to juggle working, caring for children, and worrying about the health of friends and family and the future of the economy all at once.
"It's OK to be flexible," said Fabiana Meléndez, publicist at Zilker Media. "There are so many productivity myths and discussions around what productivity looks like, but during a global event of this magnitude, it is OK to take 10 minutes to read the newspaper or listen to a podcast."
Set your boundaries around your team members and work obligations as well as your responsibilities outside of work, including child care, pet care or meal prep. This will help you prioritize those tasks and carve out time for them without feeling guilty that you are not actively working.
You can also expect to have fewer hours where you are actively working, since you are out of an office environment and can flex your schedule to work best for you.
"Remote work allows you to work to the fact that not everyone shares the same peak hours of energy and focus," said Schulz. "If you can get that flexibility, have that conversation with your team."