Strategies for working remotely
The Coronavirus seems to have the potential of fundamentally changing how some people will work in the future and #WorkingRemotely seems to be a popular topic today. So, after working 15 years from home I thought I’d put out a list of tips based off my experience working remotely full time and trying to manage a large family at the same time.
One of the keys to remaining productive while working full time remotely, is recognizing and understanding how other things will pull at your attention naturally. It’s hard enough keeping a focus while working alone but being surrounded by additional people required to be home at the same time can be extra challenging or even daunting.
I was a dad trying to work a full-time job remotely from home with 4 kids ranging in age from 8 to 17. I would put together most of the day’s meals, do school drop offs and pickups, clean the house, do laundry, grocery shop and even attended college online for 18 months. To say I had my hands full was an understatement, but I made it work. And if I can do it, anyone can with a good amount of self-discipline and work ethic can do it too.
Here are my top 10 suggestions:
· Make a schedule – More than anything, creating a schedule that mirrors your typical office workday as much as possible is critical to keeping things on track, to mesh with co-workers. Getting up and ready at the same time as you would to go into your business has the added benefit of no drive time to work and this extra time can help you get an edge at keeping on track or even ahead. Trust me, this extra time in the morning will pay dividends down the road in reducing stress levels. One thing to keep in mind, most employers will still expect some amount of facetime in the office. Keeping your regular schedule helps with that as well.
· Make a checklist – Make a written daily checklist of normal repetitive work activities like clocking in until they become second nature. Lists in general are your best weapon to juggling many tasks… grocery lists, kids schedules, chore lists, etc. No matter how much you think you know your schedule at work by heart, the myriad of interruptions at home will throw you off your game, count on it.
· Dealing with kid issues – Along the same lines, if you have kids at home (whether it’s Coronavirus or just schools closing for the day or summer vacation), boredom can sink in quickly and result in unexpected chaos of arguments and needs about the littlest things. Developing chore lists to help pitch in to mirror parents working can be effective for younger kids who like to model mom or dad. There are also many resources on the web of age appropriate chore lists for older kids to help provide direction during all the down time as well as tons of indoor activity lists to help fill time other than with screens.
· Devise a strategy – Being surrounded by things like laundry, dishes, household chores or even running errands can feel like they are literally calling out to you to do them, plus the allure of easy tasks you can just check off your list is tough to combat. It’s what we are typically used to doing when at home and not at work. Staying on top of those things in the evening or building them in to your schedule (think periodic 10-minute break to swap laundry as an example) will help keep you on track and not feeling overwhelmed. Turning a lunch hour into a grocery trip was a common experience and got me out of the house for a bit when the kids were in school. Working from home, it’s easy to squeeze in lunch at odd times.
· Multitasking risks – That being said, try to avoid the temptation to multi-task work and home activities until you have a significant amount of time learning how this will work out for you and your employer. If you want to insert a home task into your activities, schedule it as a break or during a mealtime. Folding laundry while trying to participate in a Skype meeting means you aren’t paying attention to either thing very well. Working remotely doesn’t work if your employer thinks you aren’t focused on work.
· Manage your family overlap – Communicate with people you live with and make sure they understand that interruptions are the same as getting calls at work and must be kept to a minimum for you to remain productive. It is critical that you dictate the times that you can interface during your work. If your kids are old enough to email or text, that’s a great way for them to communicate without making it a “now” thing.
· Enforce privacy – Try to set aside a space that can give you privacy via a closed door if at all possible, to keep noise interruptions to a minimum. If you are working with any kind of HIPAA or PII data, remember that privacy is critical and people you are living with must abide by the same rules and should never be looking at your screens.
· Security considerations – Any screens you have related to work should always be locked, just like while in the office, if you are not physically in front of them. Nobody should see your work except you.
· Avoid burn out – It is NORMAL to discover after a few weeks that you’re working extra hours and losing track of time to compensate when working remotely. It is well known that most people feel an unconscious need to work longer hours while working remote to compensate for the perception they may not be working as hard as people in the office. It is just something to be aware of as a normal thing people do experience. Only you can decide if you aren’t giving 100%, but statistically, you’re probably giving over 110%!
· Optimize your communication – Communicate with people at work on a regular basis, daily if possible. Develop strategies with your supervisor/manager that can communicate work status (like a daily or weekly bulleted list via email) that’s minimally disruptive. A great side benefit to this is it counteracts most forms of micro-management too!
Working from home can be tough if you don’t live alone and trying to juggle a family life at the same time can test anyone’s patience. But I also found it to be one of the most rewarding working experiences of my life and I really hope it becomes more of a normal thing going forward, especially for people with families because it is more than doable if you take it seriously and put some thought behind it.
Feel free to contact me with any questions, and meanwhile I’ll be working on additional thoughts about taking the remote work thing to the next level once you’ve done it for a while!