Who can work in a time like this, you may ask. Anxiety levels are through the roof; kids might be underfoot; and every day brings new, often unsettling information to process. While most workplaces are understanding of the stress employees are feeling, the good news for people who have jobs where they can work from home is that A) They have jobs. B) They can work from home.
If you are one of those, this guide is for you, packed with details on how you can stay productive and effective while working from home, while acknowledging the uncertainty that is today’s reality.
- First, be safe.
If you have any indications that you are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19, make sure to prioritize your health. That includes talking to your employer about your ability to work from home and inquiring about benefits, such as disability insurance that you may need to access. And even if you are not at increased risk, take all necessary precaution to protect others: obeying all instructions to quarantine or practice social distancing, as well as, of course, maintaining impeccable hygiene.
- Identify work priorities.
You may find that many of your colleagues are unable to work or are working non-traditional hours, which means that your work load may increase. If you’re unsure which tasks you should be tackling each day, talk to your supervisor. Find out what processes they have in placeto track remote work and what “outputs” they will be measuring to ensure you are meeting expectations and staying on track with the most vital projects.
- Discuss preferred communication channels.
Does your manager want a daily email summarizing your accomplishments, or do they expect you to be plugged into the Slack channel all day? Determine their preferences and then make sure you adhere to them as much as you can. If your team is planning to get together by video conference, make sure your camera is on if everyone else’s is…but first, be sure you are dressed appropriately and that the background is clear of clutter (or at least, clear of the clutter you’d rather your coworkers didn’t see). If you are convening via conference call, remember to put yourself on mute if you’re not speaking so the whole team doesn’t hear your dog barking in the background.
- Set expectations.
While keeping up with the team’s expectations is wise whenever you can, everyone has their own extenuating circumstances. If you are simultaneously (and unexpectedly) “home schooling,” let the team know that your hours might be flexible so you can attend to childcare demands as needed. If you can’t be part of a team meeting, make sure to follow up to find out what you need to know and then act on the projects that are assigned to you. Keeping your team in the loop for what is the best way to reach you and the general hours you are working puts everyone at ease.
- Make a plan with your family.
If you have kids and/or a partner who is also working at home, recognize that quarters can get tight. It at all possible, commandeer a computer or laptop that’s just for you, rather than sharing with kids who are trying to do remote schooling. (If you need tech support from your employer, make sure to ask. Many can accommodate requests, even if you don’t have a regularly issued work laptop.) If you have smaller kids who need extensive attention, make a plan with your partner to swap care duties. It might mean getting up extra early or working later in the evening, but everyone should have the ability to do uninterrupted work. And, consider this permission not to skimp on screen time. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and this qualifies. So if you need to lower your standards in order to preserve your work time—and your sanity—it’s perfectly all right. Balance it with some focused “together time,” and everyone will be fine.
If your kids are older, create a system to help keep interruptions to a minimum. That might mean creating a signal, such as a closed door, that means “Only bother me for an emergency.” (And then, we will add, define “emergency.” Someone stealing someone else’s snack probably doesn’t rank.)
- Develop a routine.
Everyone benefits from a routine, and currently everyone’s routines have been upset. So now’s the time to create some artificial structure for the day. Get up at the time you normally do (unless you need to get up earlier for focused work) and then set the rest of your family up with a schedule. For older kids that might include chores, schoolwork, reading time, exercise and free time. For younger kids, you might suggest they look at books or do puzzles, then organize an art project, preferably something they can do on their own.
The good news is that there is a plethora of options for online activities these days since virtually everyone is housebound. Check out these suggestions for virtual field trips and find out how you can access eBooks from your local library. One way to spread cheer would be to make cards you could send to a local nursing home, where residents might be feeling lonelier than usual without any visitors.
And, make time to exercise, even if it’s just a simple walk around the block.
- Find a way to socialize.
If you’re not used to working at home, it can feel isolating. Make sure to combat that by being in touch with office colleagues with your company chat or email and reach out to friends via text or social media. Remember that everyone is likely feeling the same way, so they will appreciate the overture. Try a video call with a loved one who can’t get out or make time to talk on the phone.
- Don’t neglect self-care.
Finally, remember to “check in with yourself” to see how you’re feeling. It’s easy to be anxious these days, especially with so many unknowns, and when you feel like even the “knowns” are all pretty scary. So, limit news consumption and find some fun videos or stream a favorite movie to distract and relax when your work is done.
Tomorrow is a new day, and every day the “new normal” will start to feel a little more familiar and manageable.