The COVID-19 pandemic has made physical distancing a necessity. Governments and public health officials have been calling on the public to work at home, if they can. But working from home full-time is a big adjustment for most people. Even if you have the ability to work from home, chances are you weren’t doing it everyday, and your organization may not have been prepared day-one to accommodate an entirely virtual workforce. And for those freelancers and location-free veterans, many of the regular haunts, such as coffee shops, have stopped customers from being able to sit and work.
As we all navigate this new era of remote work, here are some friendly tips from TELUS to help you make your work-from-home experience more productive.
Foster work-from-home habits
Humans are creatures of habit. Habits are short-cuts our brain takes when presented with a scenario similar to past experience. Because you’re most likely going to be associating your home with doing “home tasks” and not necessarily “work tasks”, it’s important to be intentional about a new working from home routine.
Have set work hours
Just like you would in an office setting. Most people get a standard one-hour for lunch, and two fifteen minute breaks in an eight-hour period. Schedule them into your day and take them just as you would at the office. Studies have consistently shown that you’ll feel better and you’ll work better in the long run.
Create a work area
The idea is to create an area where you can focus. This can be challenging in smaller spaces, but even carving out space at a table will help keep the distractions to a minimum. If you need headphones or white noise, use it.
For some people, starting work in the first place can be a hurdle when adjusting to working from home. When you enter the office, the office itself is the cue to start your brain in work mode. Try to cue yourself at home to enter work mode. For example you can say to yourself, “Once I have my coffee in hand, I will begin responding to emails” (or whatever your first task is). In this case, the coffee is the cue to start working. Actually saying it out loud helps too, and saying it to someone else is even better. Psychologists call this an “implementation intention” and it helps people stay accountable by externalizing the expectation of a personal action. Especially during uncertain times, “ you need to control what you can control” says TELUS’ chief neuroscience officer, Dr. Diane McIntosh.
Some people run the risk of not knowing when to stop working when they’re at home. You can solve with a cue too. Most people stop working because they have someplace else to be. Schedule something, like “take a walk,” or “start marking dinner” to get you to turn off. Put it in your calendar if you need to, or set an alarm, or create an implementation intention. If you have a partner, tell them you’ll start making dinner at a set time. If you have kids, tell them you’ll go for a walk together at a certain time. Do what works, but the key is to mould your surroundings to be better conducive to work habits.
Practice good electronic communication
It can be a stark difference going from sitting next to your co-workers to sitting alone at home. You take for granted the ability to clarify things or just ask questions. You lose this when you’re primarily communicating over email or instant messaging with the majority in the written word. It’s imperative that emails or messages be clear and comprehensive, leaving as little ambiguity as possible. Default to over communication. It may seem like you’re putting in more time now, but it saves you time in the long run by avoiding confusion or follow ups to clarify.
When people rely on you, be transparent with a shared calendar.
Your writing tone should signal a professional yet friendly intention and sensitive. When the majority of our communication becomes non-verbal, we might omit important emotional and social information we instinctively pick up on with tone of voice, facial expressions and other body language.
This is why video conferencing can serve as a great tool when it comes to meetings. Being able to see and hear one another provides the face-to-face interaction we’re all missing right now. Team productivity applications such as Cisco’s WebEx, Microsoft Office 365 and Google’s G-Suite encourage video interactions as the default and help us feel connected to the group.
Finally, make sure that not all of your communication is work related. In tough times like these, have some good hearted socialization online with your colleagues. Share GIFs or memes, ask how they’re doing, offer support where you can. Workplace socializing happens naturally when people are face-to-face, and it’s vitally important to keep some semblance of that alive or risk taking a collective morale hit. Stress needs to be alleviated somehow, and providing a bit of a distraction now and then, or a friendly conversation will genuinely help keep everyone cope a little bit better.
Working from home with kids
Working from home alongside your kids is a reality for many. Consider the following guidelines and ideas for creating a happy and productive day for your entire family.
Decide what you are okay with your colleagues seeing and knowing about your family
In a time when everyone is working alongside their families, it is inevitable that there will be times when kids will be heard and even seen during calls. Determine on the front end what you are comfortable with:
This can range from signs that you have children from the sound children playing, crying or yelling "I'm bored". It’s easy to let these sounds create additional stress, but consider what someone would hear if you were in the office. Corridor sounds, background socializing, and the occasional interruption is normal. Don't be surprised that these things exist in your home, too.
Define the routine for your work days
You likely already have a routine for the days you are in the office. You and your kids both still need routines for work from home days. Look at the routine your child is accustomed to and create a schedule that is similar while allowing for the needs of your family. Create a visual schedule for the family.
Create a set of family signals
Have some fun determining the signals you will use as a family for communicating during meetings. Having "secret language" for communicating can bring added enjoyment to the day while reducing anxiety. Being ready for the workday means having all the items for the day gathered and available for your kids. The good news is that you don't need any special equipment to keep your kids occupied throughout the day.
Security at home
When working from home, you have to be more careful with how sensitive information gets transmitted, shared and handled. The most common data breach isn’t some international hacking ring, or malicious software ripping through systems worldwide, it’s unintentional sharing of information. That includes leaving screens unlocked and stepping away from your computer, or sending a message to the wrong email. In other words, the biggest system vulnerability continues to be human error. Friendly reminder: Don’t open suspicious email attachments!
While your home is presumably safe from passersby looking over your shoulder, it’s best practice to use a VPN to secure your web traffic and to encrypt any sensitive data stored on USB drives, which, as we all know, have a tendency to get left behind when packing up or otherwise misplaced.
Security is a shared responsibility. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your organization. If your computer is so old the operating system refuses to update, see if there’s a newer one available, or if you can get some financial support in obtaining new equipment. Not being able to update your operating system opens your computer up to attack, as software developers are constantly patching any newly discovered vulnerabilities.
Take care of yourself
Our whole health is influenced by five interlocking dimensions – physical, psychological, social, financial and environmental – all of which together support our total health. It’s times like these that remind us to stop and slow down as we share a common good. If you need to take care of a loved one, whether it’s delivering groceries to an older relative, or checking in on a friend, make the time. Also try to incorporate moderate exercise and get enough sleep. Despite keeping closer to home, social connections are vital to our well-being and have the power to lift us up in challenging times. No matter who you’re connecting with, no gesture is too small and no conversation less impactful than the last.
Stay well, stay safe and stay connected.
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