What has been an occasional convenience for some and an ongoing practice for others has now become a necessity for many. With the advent of the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis, more people than ever are working from home. While less than 10 percent of all U.S. workers regularly worked remotely before the pandemic, over half of Americans do now. In addition, economic forecasters say that as much as a third of our population will continue to regularly work from home when the crisis is over as companies may try to save costs by minimizing office space and reducing overhead.
Add to this the millions of students staying home and learning remotely due to school closings and suddenly you might have a full house of bustling activity as you try to focus on your job and all of your tasks at hand. This unexpected transition means many of us are faced with added child care and online school assistance responsibilities while working. How can you create conditions to set you and your family up for remote success?
Set Up Your Spaces
While being around loved ones is usually a welcome experience, too much “family togetherness” can prompt you to search for your own place to get back to work. Start by designating a workspace of your own and set up ground rules so that family members understand that when you are in your home office, you expect minimal interruptions and disruptions. If laying claim to a room with a door isn’t possible, get creative. Take a fresh look at your home’s interior and you’ll discover that a side table in the bedroom makes a cozy corner office, that coat closet has just enough room for a portable desk and your little-used dining room can be transformed into an executive suite. Be careful though, when your spouse and children see your office vision realized, they may try to lay claim to your enticing new work area.
Have a Place for Everyone
It’s important that everyone in the family has an area to call their own. If your children share a room and will be on their laptops for school each day, cardboard boxes can be used for handy cubicle dividers, the back deck can double as a creative area for your college-age child (when they finally wake up each day) and that nook at the top of the stairs could be the perfect space for your significant other. While things may be crowded when everyone is home throughout the day (and night), when everyone has a designated place to call their own, work and life go much more smoothly.
Along with office space considerations, make sure your in-home technology is ready to accommodate your family’s needs. Amping up your home internet speed may be a priority if you are video conferencing or if there are multiple members of your household accessing multimedia through their electronics at the same time. Does everyone have the desktop or laptop they need, loaded with the right software? Your frequent video chats with coworkers and your kids’ online classroom sessions may require an operating system upgrade. In addition, interactive activities like these require that you have some level of sound isolation from the rest of your household. Headphones are an easy and inexpensive solution.
Create a Realistic Schedule
For many families, being home together all day is unexplored territory. Creating a group schedule will help you all stay on track. If you are most productive in the mornings, focus on involved tasks early in the day. Sync your schedule with your family’s so that school assistance or child care duties coincide with downtime in your workday. Hold yourself accountable as if you were going into an office. If your workday is set to start at 8:00 a.m., make sure you are in your workspace ready to go. Getting dressed for work can put you in the right mindset too. Don’t forget to plan for breaks or rewards every couple of hours. Without planning for off-duty time, you will likely find yourself struggling with productivity and patience and it will be hard to keep going for days on end at that pace. Online resources like Cozi and Bievo can help your family stay organized.
Keep in Touch
The biggest challenge some remote workers face is losing in-person communication with employees and clients. For many, video conferencing has proven to be the next best thing to being there and sites like Zoom, Google Meet and GoToMeeting make it fast and easy to set up online gatherings. When hosting a meeting, be sure to have an agenda just as you would in the office to ensure you make the most of your time. Also, consider scheduling a virtual group meetup toward the end of the day just for fun to stay in touch with your team. This will build morale and help you stay in touch even when you can’t be together.
Embrace Your Situation
We are in the midst of an unusual time and the lines are blurred between work and home life. Now is a time to be more empathetic and understanding toward your work team than ever. So, if you’re on a Zoom call and you see your team member’s toddler run across the screen, or if you can’t keep your dog quiet while you’re attending your daily online meeting, embrace the fact that this is simply the reality for all of us right now.
Unexpectedly working from home can be a challenge for you and your family. By establishing workspaces, schedules and expectations you will not just survive but thrive when working from home. With today’s technologies, we are more prepared than ever to manage this new reality and we will learn new things from this experiment that make us even stronger in the future.