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July 6, 2021

How to Work From Home Effectively During the Pandemic

How to Work From Home Effectively During the Pandemic

Additional reporting by Jenny Blair, M.D. 

Updated on April 1, 2020 at 9:00am EST

In mere weeks, COVID-19 has upended the global economy and forced millions of Americans who normally commute to busy—and fully-equipped—offices to abruptly halt their daily routines and work from home.

While freelancers and those with flexible schedules may know the ropes and understand how to be productive while working remotely, many employees who normally commute may find the transition disorienting and daunting. If you’ve suddenly been thrown into the world of telecommuting, there are some key perks you should try to enjoy—and some pitfalls to avoid—as you strive to be as productive as possible.

Finding the upside
First, the good news. There is some evidence that remote workers may be better able to concentrate than those in offices, particularly if they have jobs that can be done on a laptop without much supervision or social support. Anyone who sits near an office water cooler or busy conference room can attest to the challenges of confronting distractions and interruptions throughout the day.

Some research also suggests that telecommuters may have a slight edge on their office-working peers when it comes to their overall job satisfaction. Working remotely can help ease workers’ stress and help them maintain a sense of control or autonomy, according to the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology.

Telecommuting is often viewed as an advantage for those hoping to achieve the elusive “work-life balance.” Cutting out the commute and rducing office distractions leaves more minutes each day for fitting in self-care and family time or responsibilities. And these days, for so many people facing the stress of social distancing, home schooling and caring for loved ones, that found time may be precious.

Avoiding the pitfalls
While working from home has some benefits, it’s not as easy as it sounds—especially if you’re used to an office environment with IT support, high-end printers, white boards and private areas. Aside from the equipment and space that help make your job easier, you might even miss the daily face-to-face interaction with your co-workers.

There is also a notable difference between working from home a few days a week and doing it every day, and between choosing to telecommute versus being forced to do it under social distancing or shelter-in-place orders—especially while others in your home may now be doing the same.

In short, working from home can make you feel isolated from colleagues and present logistical challenges during an already stressful time. But there are some strategies that could help you make it work as the world tries to adapt to the evolving situation.

Use technology to communicate effectively
If you’re new to working from home, you may initially feel at a disadvantage without the benefits of nonverbal communication, such as making eye contact with your co-workers and reading their body language. Relying on email, text messages or phone calls can make sensitive business interactions more challenging.

If you’re not up to speed on instant messaging platforms, like Slack or Microsoft Teams, it may also be harder to share information quickly.

Don’t fear technology. If you’ve been meaning to figure out video conferencing, virtual private networks, remote desktops and group-chat services, now’s the time to bone up. Taking advantage of these and other apps—particularly those offering video chat options, such as Skype, Google Hangouts and Zoom—can help improve your workflow and allow you to connect face-to-face—even from a distance. 

It’s may also be wise to set up a communication schedule with your co-workers or supervisor to ensure a smooth workflow and consistent exchange of ideas.

Establish a “work zone”
If you’ve been suddenly relegated to the world of telecommuting, you may not have a proper work area set up in your home. With a spouse or partner also working nearby, finding the space you need to set up your computer and concentrate may be a challenge. If you have children schooling online, a quiet place to work may be even harder to find.

It’s ideal to have a room where you can close the door. But even if you don’t have a separate office, claim a spot in your home and use it consistently. It doesn’t have to be large—and you might need to get creative—but having a designated space where you can “go to work” each day could help you stay on track. Ideally, situate yourself as far as possible from high traffic areas, distractions and other people.

If there are other people in your home working and schooling, establishing certain “quiet” hours or break times during the day can help everyone stay productive.

Stick to a schedule
As the old saying goes, you should “dress for success.” Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should drop your morning “get up and go” routine.

If your situation allows, set your alarm and start your day as you normally would if you were heading to your office. If you’re accustomed to an early morning workout, keep doing it. Shower and get dressed and “clock in” by a certain time each morning.

This strategy may not work for everyone, particularly those with young children. In these cases, keeping a flexible schedule and working around naptimes or outside of normal business hours may be necessary. If you need specific accommodations, be sure to communicate them to your co-workers and supervisor.

As you work, if you’re having trouble focusing, consider using a timer to help you stay on track for set periods of time, with short breaks in between to rest your eyes, stand or take a quick walk. Setting daily goals can also help you meet deadlines.

On the flip side, since telecommuters never actually leave their office, it’s important to stop working and “clock out” around the same time each day to maintain a boundary between your job and personal life.  

Limit tempting distractions
The constant bombardment of COVID-19 news can make it difficult to remain focused on work. Take information about the pandemic in manageable doses and be sure to carve out some time to disconnect and recharge. Also, remind yourself about what matters—your job and professional goals, your interests and charities and all those who might be counting on you for your ideas and other contributions.

Keep in mind however, quick social media breaks could become lengthy distractions. It can be easy to lose track of time while scrolling endlessly. If you’re having this problem, consider using apps that help you limit or block certain websites or tools during certain times in the day.

Fake it ‘till you make it
There is no getting around it: These are challenging times. And having to find a new work routine makes an already worrisome situation more complicated. Since your workday now begins and ends in the same place that you eat and sleep, the lines between your business and personal life may seem blurred.

This can be disorienting—at first. But rest assured, with some adaptations and adjustments, you can help maintain your productivity and efficiency. And remember you’re not alone. Thousands of other workers in many different types of jobs in various industries around the world are facing similar hurdles and doing what’s necessary to navigate this global health crisis.

Medically reviewed in March 2020.

Sources:
Zara Greenbaum. “The future of remote work.” American Psychological Association, Monitor on Psychology. October 1, 2019. Vol. 50, No. 9.
Nicholas Bloom, James Liang, John Roberts, Zhichun Jenny Ying. “Does Working From Home Work? Evidence From A Chinese Experiment.” The Quarterly Journal of Economics. (2015), 165–218.
Sarah Feldman. “This is what people find distracting at work.” World Economic Forum. March 18, 2019.
Kristen Shockley. “Telecommuting.” Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology. 2014.
Avni Patel Thompson. “A Guide for Working (From Home) Parents.” Harvard Business Review. March 19, 2020.
“Work Life Balance.” Mental Health America.
Zara Greenbaum. “Psychologists’ advice for newly remote workers.” American Psychological Association. March 20, 2020.
Kimberly A. Eddleston, Jay Mulki. “Toward Understanding Remote Workers’ Management of Work–Family Boundaries: The Complexity of Workplace Embeddedness.” Group & Organization Management. December 15, 2015.
Josh Hoffman. “Work from home? Develop these habits.” Freelancers Union. November 06, 2017.
Michele Reynolds. “5 Tips For Working From Home.” Harvard Business School Online. March 12, 2020.
“Tips for transitioning to working from home.” CU Boulder Today, University of Colorado Boulder. March 24, 2020.
“Smartphone Addiction.” HelpGuide.org.

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