Right now you may have been told to work from home rather than go into your usual place of work. Or you might already be self-isolating because you or, someone in your family is showing signs of coronavirus.
Whatever your situation, there’s no doubt that this is a hugely stressful and frightening time – it is for me! Especially when our lives have been turned upside-down and we feel powerless to do anything about it.
Often, when our anxiety levels have risen sharply about one thing, there’s a temptation to ‘stick our heads in the sand’ and hope everything will go away or delay dealing with the reality until another day.
As I write this, many parents will be wondering how they’re going to cope from next week, with the children out of school for the foreseeable future; while you need work effectively from home.
The first thing I’m going to say is, next week, when the kids are home; don’t sweat it. Don’t get hung up on the need to home school just yet – everyone is going to be stressed enough without you piling on the pressure about school work.
And, unless you’ve got something particularly pressing that needs doing (you’ll have to be the judge of that), there’s really no harm in your taking a little time out to spend with your kids.
If the weather is nice and you can get out for some exercise somewhere whilst maintaining your social distancing or lockdown plans – do. (This is the case at time of writing, but it looks as though this will soon change – please follow guidelines, for everyone’s safety.)
If you’re staying in, then just spending time with your kids – reading, playing games, or doing some projects – could be a really special time. But not if everyone is stressing about work all the time.
Sooner or later, though, you’ll probably have to get some work done, in order to keep your business, or your employer, happy. Many business owners and leaders are justly worried about the future, so you’re going to want to find ways of being productive.
Here are 6 hacks to help you and those around you:
1. Find a home office environment that works
People who habitually work from home know that setting up their workspace can make all the difference to their productivity.
Ideally, it needs to be somewhere with minimal distractions, and which doesn’t need to be used or moved through all day by other people. You might not have the luxury of a separate room, but you could try using headphones to block out noise – they also serve as a useful physical signal to other people that you’re not to be disturbed!
Natural light is important, too, as is your physical comfort. You don’t want to add back, neck or eye-strain problems to the challenges over the next few weeks or months, so make sure you’ve got a suitable chair and work surface that fits you.
Maybe your company will be prepared to pay for a suitable desk chair? There’s no harm in asking.
Working from your bed, or even from the sofa, may not be the most productive solution.
2. Making it work
Your employer might already have an infrastructure set up that enables you to work from home easily, and have access to what you need. If not, talk to them proactively and positively using a clear case for what you need and how it will support your contribution to the company.
There are loads of online tools that you can use to manage a team and keep communication and collaboration open when you’re all working remotely.
I use Zoom a lot for online meetings. You can record meetings, too, so you can use it for interviews, webinars, training sessions and group workshops. There’s also Go to Meeting, and Skype for Business.
For group working, Trello is popular, allowing you to create and manage workstreams, and Slack is another alternative.
One thing you may find is that your home broadband connection is challenged by having so many people using it at home all at once. And there is a possibility that, with so many more people working from home, providers may struggle to meet demand.
You might have to set some parameters around gaming or streaming TV shows to make sure that you can meet your work priorities.
3. Establish a routine
Regular home workers all say that setting a regular work routine helps them to stay focussed and be more productive.
Your routine will depend on the hours you need to work, as well as the hours your family needs. If your work doesn’t require you to be available 9-5, consider setting out different working times so that you can spend time with your family. If there are two of you working at home, maybe you can alternate your working hours so there’s always one of you free to look after, nurture and entertain your children.
Whatever you decide, draw up a timetable, so everyone knows what’s expected. For older children, why not give them a timetable too? Their school may be doing some online lessons, or, if they’ve got homework to do, set some study times. If they have to concentrate on their work, they’re more likely to respect yours.
Make sure everyone in the family who is able to has a role to play, and their own routine. Set out time to do chores, as well as reading time and, of course, play time.
4. Rethink your daily habits
The chances are that your usual morning routine will have gone right out of the window. Our daily habits are important for our health and sanity, though, so it’s a good idea to create some new ones that fit the needs of your current situation.
You might even take the opportunity to establish some new, positive habits that your old routine just didn’t seem to allow time for. Instead of the morning commute (and the school run, if you have kids); how about mediation, exercise or journaling? It could be time for you, or some time that the whole family can join in with.
Even if you can’t leave the house for a couple of weeks or months, there are plenty of exercise options. Check-out YouTube for a huge range of workouts you can do in your home. If you are able to go out, a brisk walk will help your sense of wellbeing, boost your Vitamin D and help you manage stress.
The important thing is that it works for you and your household, and sets you up for a good day. Whatever you choose, a positive morning routine helps you to feel more in control, maintain a greater sense of calm during the day and be more productive.
I find that removing the barriers to beginning my day with a positive routine starts the night before. I prepare for what I need, and make sure my bedtime is set to allow me enough sleep. And remember – no phone, laptop or TV screens in bed, to ensure your body is ready for sleep!
5. Manage distractions
If you think it’s easy to get distracted in the workplace – conversations with colleagues, multiple demands on your time – it’s even easier at home. Emptying the dishwasher can suddenly become really appealing when you’re looking for an excuse to procrastinate!
More disruptive though, are social media feeds and email. So when you need to focus, turn them off. If you don’t need your phone to be on for work, put it away so you’re not tempted to keep checking it for messages or news updates.
(A note on that: I actually took a break from Facebook last week. Not only was it distracting me, but constant posts about Coronavirus were sending my anxiety levels sky high and making it hard to concentrate on what’s important – my wellbeing, my family and my work. Ask yourself honestly whether you’re suffering from similarly high stress levels, and take action if you need to.)
As I said before, headphones are great for cutting out noise (as long as you’re not ignoring unsupervised young children, obviously!)
If your children are old enough to get them, giving them boundaries can really help, too. Guaranteeing them that you’ll take a regular break with them (and setting a timer to make sure you do), is a great way of balancing your needs and theirs.
6. Planning your schedule
Once you’ve worked out a routine that works for you, setting out your priorities is a good idea. You may well have begun the year with a set of goals, whether you run your own business or have an employer. The changing times may mean that you need to refocus.
Now would be a good time to map out at least the next quarter’s priorities – especially if you manage a team who still need your guidance whilst they work from home, too.
Giving them clarity and a clear sense of direction will help boost their confidence and reduce the amount of time you might be tempted to spend trying to micro-manage them from afar. This should make you, and them, happier and more productive.
One thing is certain, the next few months will mean us changing a lot about the way we work. But looking on the bright side, perhaps it will also enable us to make long-term, positive changes in our work/home balance that will be good news for our stress levels, mental fitness, overall health and business productivity. Let’s hope so.
In the meantime, stay home and stay safe for yourself as well as your circle of influence.