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Working from Home – the New Normal

By the time you read this all non-essential businesses in Massachusetts will have shut their doors until at least May 4th, and most people with the option to do so have already started working remotely.

There are some noticeable benefits, such as a morning with no commute, time to eat a real breakfast, no rushing out the door, no sitting in traffic or on a jammed train. We could get used to this, right? But some of us are finding out there are downsides as well.

While making the adjustment from a structured work environment to the relaxed surroundings of home, the challenge is how to be productive and stay focused on your work. That can be difficult when distractions seem everywhere, especially if you have kids at home with you. While remote work may not be a great fit for everyone, we have some tips on how it’s possible to not just survive the next several weeks but actually thrive.

Dress for success

This is not a vacation, and while it may be tempting to work in your PJs, it is not a good option. If you want to be productive it helps to get up, get dressed and prepare for your day just as if you were going to the office. Which you are, just not in the normal, pre-COVID-19 way.

Of course, you set the office dress code so everyday can be casual Friday. But there is evidence to suggest that the ritual of getting dressed has psychological benefits and can actually boost your mood – something we can all use a little more of right now.

Manage your time

Set office hours, giving yourself a specific time to work. Ideally, that would be Monday through Friday from 9-5 if you can manage it. Creating and sticking to a routine will help you stay focused, and help you better manage interruptions if they occur. Use your calendar to assign work hours. Don’t forget to set reminders for when to switch tasks or take a break. Speaking of breaks, be good to your body. Too much sitting isn’t good for you.  Schedule time for a walk if you’re able, fresh air and sunshine are important to your health and can boost your immune system.

Create your workspace

If you don’t have a dedicated home office, you need to create a space in your home for one. The closer you can come to creating a place that feels like a real office the easier it will be to get into working mode. Even if the only place you can work is a corner of your dining room table, set up your computer each day and make sure you have everything at hand you need to do your work. Pens, paper, desk accessories, your favorite tchotchke etc. If space is tight and you need to relinquish your space at the end of the workday, a box or bin can be a great stow away place. With everything in one place you’ll be able to quickly set out your office each day and get to work.

When choosing how to set up your office, try following some of the ergonomic tips in the links below:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169

https://www.inc.com/minda-zetlin/ergonomics-home-office-work-at-home-setup-spinal-back-health.html

Stay in contact

Use digital communication to talk with colleagues, clients and friends. Rely on any available technology such as Zoom, google meet, IM, email, social media or even just a phone call. A lot of people are isolated right now, and this is the next best thing to meeting someone in person. And a lot safer for everyone.

Use every tool in your toolbox

Video conferencing is a great way to stay in touch with people. If you feel awkward on camera you’re not alone, but keep in mind that the more you use it the more comfortable you will become.  If you’re new to video meetings, then practice first. Set up your lighting and audio, use your computer’s camera function to see what others will see. Be aware of what is behind you and give some thought to a pleasing background or at least not a lot of clutter or personal stuff. Art or posters are great for creating some visual interest without looking busy or distracting.

Hang out a “Do Not Disturb” sign

One of the biggest differences between commuting to work and working from home is that now instead of co-workers you share your office with cohabiters. This can also be the most challenging, so try to communicate your expectations with anyone who shares your home with you. This includes parents, spouses, roommates, children, dogs (well, maybe not the dogs). They all need to understand that just because you are working from home does not mean you are not working, and they must respect your space during work hours. In order to have the privacy you need to do your job it may be necessary to set up your office in a room with a door you can close, at least for part of the time.

Give yourself a break

It’s easy to get distracted by the work itself. Don’t get so caught up in things that you don’t take breaks. You don’t need to be always “on”. Do some stretches, calisthenics or even dance moves. Go ahead no one is watching! visit the “employee kitchen” (your own) to get something to drink. And if you don’t get quite as much accomplished as you would under normal circumstances don’t be too hard on yourself. These are not normal circumstances, and everyone is stressed enough without adding guilt on top of that. Stay home and stay healthy. That’s one of your most important jobs right now.

Stay safe everyone!