In just a few short days, the mood in our country has changed. Our reality has shifted. And, amongst a myriad of “new normal” practices, many people are working remotely for the first time – or for the first extended period of time.
Fear not, friends. I’ve been working remotely since I moved across the country from New York to Austin two years ago and I am not alone. In 2015, 3.9 million Americans were working remotely. In February 2020, that number had reached 4.7 million. 3.4% of the population.
Why does that number matter? Because – aside from the comfort during crisis of knowing you are sharing this experience with people across the country (and the world) – working patterns and practicalities have already been adapting for the past few years. Technologies have developed to keep us in touch with our colleagues in the most human and authentic of ways. In other words, remote working was already an area of focus for many employers. Which means we have established best practices to learn from, and personal advice from remote workers everywhere – including me.
Over the next few weeks, I’m going to share insights and advice for those working from home, and those enabling their employees to do so in this 'Remote Working Blog Series'. For many of you, I know this is the first week of this new normal. And so – for now – I want to share my five top tips for productivity when working from home becomes your new normal.
1.Maintain as much structure as you can. Shower. Dress for the day. Set yourself a time when you will stop for lunch. Decide when you’re going to finish work for the day and try not to let the working day creep into your evenings. When you’re stuck within four walls, the more separation you can create between your work and life, the better. That also means giving yourself every opportunity to focus on work during working hours. I can’t stress this enough right now – do not turn on the news if you need to be productive. Also (and I speak from personal experience) do not sit down to watch “just one episode” of a binge-worthy Netflix show at lunchtime. This will not end well.
2.Know when to turn off. And how to do it. When you’re busy, it’s all too tempting to keep working. Conference calls run into each other and before you know it, 6pm has passed and you still have things to get to. That’s why structure is so important. You must set yourself a cut off – even if you come back to work later in the evening. Right now, without so many of our usual beloved activities and gatherings, that could mean getting in a home workout, stopping to cook something for dinner, or finally letting yourself catch up on that Netflix show. Whatever it takes, find a way to unwind and punctuate the end of the working day.
3.Communicate, communicate, communicate. Chances are you still have the same team of colleagues. You’re just connected through technology now. Without a doubt, feeling isolated is one of the biggest challenges for remote workers. Just because you aren’t sitting down next to them or bumping into them at the water-cooler doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a little time every day to catch up with colleagues. Instigate a daily Google Hangout, or catch up on Slack. Make phone calls. Text. The more you communicate, the more normal this will feel.
4.Get outside. If it is safe to do so, go outside. Take a walk to the end of your street. Go to the park. Go for a cycle. The health benefits of being in nature and fresh air are important. According to a study at the University of Melbourne, even staring at a screensaver of nature can help your productivity. In the weeks ahead, I plan to replace my crowded morning workout with a walk outside before the working day begins.
5.Create a dedicated office space. Find a spot where you can be productive. Perhaps you have a spare room in your house. Perhaps you’re in a studio apartment and a clear, dedicated surface will have to do. Whatever the circumstances, find a spot that feels good. Consider the lighting. Our brains need good lighting, and you might be doing a lot of video calls. Is your chair comfortable? What can you do to make it feel more like a work space? Personally, I like to keep a calendar and weekly schedule posted to my wall, and have some photos of my son and my husband on my desk to make me smile during the day.
It’s not easy to switch a routine that you’re used to. It’s even harder to do so and maintain your productivity and motivation – especially in times of stress and worry. But with so much changing in our world right now, there are easy steps you can take to make the working day easier, and more enjoyable.
As a final note, my cat keeps me company every day while I’m working. Our animal shelters are struggling right now, and many animals need short and long-term foster care. Consider giving shelter to an animal in need. They’ll likely become your favorite colleague.
- April Bryce, Director of Creative and Strategy - Havas People North America