EY, Mirvac, Atlassian, Telstra and King & Wood Mallesons are just a few of the many Australian companies that have rolled out compulsory work-from-home policies in the past few days.
With confirmed cases on the rise in Australia, it is realistic to assume that shifting to the ‘home office’ will become the new norm for many of us. And for the subset of us who will be working from home for the first time, this means figuring out how to stay on task in a new environment that may not typically lend itself to productivity.
Plenty of us have fantasised about working from the comfort of our own home and foregoing our commute in favour of more sleep, family or exercise time. But the reality is that working remotely is a double-edged sword. Whether it’s going down the slippery slope of watching “one more episode” on Netflix or fighting the itch to do housework (which suddenly seems much more appealing than your to-do list), staying productive at home can take a little extra effort.
Nevertheless, there are great ways to continue meeting deadlines, managing others and keeping your physical and mental health above board sans office, from setting up an ergonomic workspace, to changing the way you speak to your team. Here’s what our work-from-home veterans have to share:
1. Set up a dedicated workspace
Instead of lying in bed with a laptop, try something more deliberate. Do as much as you can to create a well-equipped, bespoke space that you can associate with your job, and leave when you’re off the clock.
Ideally, this should be a separate room where you can close the door - signalling to those you live with that you’re working. If your floorplan allows, consider sectioning off part of your living room to create a comfortable work nook. A sliding door is another space-saving solution for hiding your desk away when not in use.
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If that’s not an option, find a corner of your home without clutter. This may mean sitting at a specific chair in your dining room so you don’t see the chaos in the kitchen, or pulling out a folding table in your bedroom if it’s the cleanest spot in the house. The key is to be able to unplug and clear your desktop at day’s end, so consider a desk with deep drawers or a collection of flat-bottomed baskets that projects can be packed into and stored out of sight.
2. Treat it like normal work
While some advise against working in pyjamas, the beauty of working from home is that you don’t have to worry about the optics of how you’re working, you just have to focus on getting your work done. However, when there’s no face-to-face interaction planned, it can be easy to slip into working long, unstructured hours.
Since you can’t commute or enter and leave a physical office, which typically provides clearer boundaries to the workday, try to split your day into “psychological segues” to help you adjust to your working mindset. Similar to how your day in the office could be broken up by everything from meetings to water-cooler chats and even toilet breaks, you should impose a structured daily schedule. This could mean taking the 20-minute coffee break you usually take to start the day, dividing your day into 45-60 minute periods of focused work followed by short breaks, and then finally closing off your day with some exercise. Whatever it is, it’s important to structure your day effectively, especially when there are few external factors influencing it.
3. Communication is key
Clear communication with your team and knowing exactly what is expected of you is crucial. Most people normally spend their day in close proximity to their team, meaning that communication is easy and almost effortless. However, there is an added layer of difficulty when you can’t walk over to their desk to check in, ask a question or assign a task, which makes communication breakdowns much more likely with remote work - especially if your organisation isn’t used to it. For example, your manager might not be used to managing people virtually or your company may not have a ready-to-go suite of tools set up for remote workers yet.
As such, you should put in deliberate effort to ensure that you have clear-set expectations for communications daily. You may want to do this by asking your manager for a 10-minute call at the start and end of each day to align expectations, and by checking in with your team more regularly throughout the day. Moreover, experts say that high fidelity communication while working from home can help fight isolation, while safeguarding team unity and productivity. So when you do communicate with your manager or team from home, you may want to consider using “richer” forms of communication that’s face-to-face and instant, such as video calls.
4. Don’t neglect your well-being
If you aren’t in quarantine, try not to spend all day cooped up indoors and keep up social interactions. Prolonged isolation could potentially impact morale and productivity so trying to sustain a semblance of normalcy and camaraderie can go a long way. Try to get out of the house at least once a day and make time for casual conversations and ‘water cooler’ chat to add a bit of levity and lightness to an otherwise difficult situation. If you need something to break the ice, then you can use fun tools like Quizbreaker to get the conversation started!
While it’s tempting to stockpile on junk food, unfortunately sugar highs are inevitably followed by crashes, so not only will an unhealthy diet compromise your immune system, but they’re also not the best option for keeping your brain focused! Since one of the joys of working from home is that you can cook a proper meal, you should plan and commit to cooking healthy snacks and lunches at home. If you’re worried that people will think you’re slacking off, tell your team that you’re logging off for lunch to avoid being disturbed.