Everyone is talking about COVID-19, and rightfully so. It can be overwhelming to continually hear about it in the news, social networks, phone calls, text messages, and at work. On top of this uncertainty, a TON of the world’s workforce is also being sent home to work remotely and for most people, this is their very first experience with this type of “work” or “WFH” (I have sporadically worked from home, so this week has been the longest stretch for me as well).
My goal in this post is to help YOU feel more at ease and comfortable with this new WFH lifesytle – hoping to bring you support, comfort, and experience while maintaining your mental health so that you can achieve your best in the days and weeks ahead!
Tip #1: Stick with your habits and keep your routine
Do keep your morning routine – whatever that may be. Don’t let your guard down just because you’re working from home. Remember, you still need to be productive and need to keep your distractions to a minimum as best you can.
Set an alarm, and get up at the same time every day. Shower. Brush your teeth. Get dressed (more on that below). Go for a walk or run. Call your friends or family for a quick check-in. Make coffee/tea. Eat a wholesome breakfast (you’ll need all the nutrition you can get). Make sure you follow this cadence every day!
Tip #2: Set a healthy boundary between work and home, NOW
If you don’t have a separate room (and are surrounded by family, roommates, or others), you WILL need a way to set a boundary letting folks know that you are at work and should not be disturbed. This all starts with a dedicated place to do your work, which helps you mentally separate being at work vs being at home and ready to relax/recuperate.
I happen to use this trick at work, and am using the same intentional visual cue at home as well: a lightbox that simply says “now focusing” with a thumb’s up emoji. When the light is on, it’s a visual cue that keeps me focused, while setting the clear expectation to others that I am focused and do not want to be disturbed. If it works with a 10 and 12 year old, it will work for others as well!
Tip #3: Make sure you have the right setup and Tech
I can’t stress this one enough – you need a GREAT location and setup to do GREAT work! Opening your laptop while being on the couch or sitting in your bed will NOT cut it, nor will it be good for your body or mind in the long run. Seek out a location that is appropriate for sustained work and energy, and will support your work requirements as well as your mental and physical health. I prefer to be near a window as I love natural light (this also helps with improving video call setups), and prefer to have some type of music playing in the background at a low volume.
I personally do not have a ton of room in our current house, but I have found something that works very well (for me – your mileage may vary). I have a high-top breakfast bar that can fit everything that I need to be successful:
- Microsoft Surface Pro 5 and my beloved Microsoft Wedge Touch Mouse Surface Edition
- Lenovo ThinkPad T570
- Two docking stations, one for the Surface, and one Thunderbolt for my work Lenovo device with cables nicely organized
- A 32″ AOC Agon Curved monitor
- Logitech C910 HD webcam (still works with BOTH Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams, folks – don’t knock it!)
- JBL FreeX wireless headphones (necessity for those sensitive/confidential meetings that we all seem to have)
- Gadgets/fidget toys to help focus my efforts
- A small Jabra Speak 410 speakerphone (thanks Microsoft Azure!)
- A Learniture wobble stool (helps my posture, as well as my fidgeting)
- A coaster for my water/coffee/tea (sense a trend?)
Tip #4: Workplace vs home attire; You do You
I have heard both sides of this story: get dressed as you normally would for work OR just wear what’s comfortable AND appropriate for handling business-related calls with coworkers and clients.
In all honesty, you have to do what you feel makes you comfortable, productive, and ready to tackle the day. If that’s putting on dress clothes or work casual clothes, you do you. If that’s wearing lounge pants and a dress shirt with a bowtie, you do you. If it’s jeans and a t-shirt of your favorite music band or technology (most definitely my style), YOU DO YOU!
Tip #5: Have another work area, and/or set up a snack bar
Let’s be honest – we NEVER just sit at our desks all day when we are in the office, and tend to move around when fielding phone calls, need an in-person update from another coworker, or just need to socialize for a bit. Look to ensure that you have a secondary location, be it a couch, chair, or another comfort zone that allows you to simply step away from your “home office” to reset the mind for a few minutes.
This should also include a home “breakroom”. For me, I have a pantry with a snack drawer (yes, one for me and my wife, one for the kids), as well as a fully stocked tea/coffee bar. Sure, I like to grind my own coffee beans and do a pour over mid day, but this is arguably the most rewarding 5 minute break I spend all day!
Tip #6: Take breaks and do NOT skip meals
I’m not kidding here, folks. You need to ensure that you are still giving both your body, eyes, and mind the necessary occasional rest. You need to walk away for a few minutes every so often, and that’s “OK” – don’t feel bad about the decision to simply stretch. This is ever so important if you also have other friends, family members, and/or roommates that you’re now sharing your “workspace” with – you cannot simply ignore them, so why not spend a few minutes bonding as a break from the monotony?
Healthy snacks and solid nutritional meals are a MUST, but we all need to bend, and not break to keep our sanity. Have a quick snack that gives you a much needed energy boost. Fruit, vegetables, a protein or protein replacement bar are all great choices. Stay hydrated as well, keeping an insulated cup or mug near you at all times, filled with water or a favorite liquid. Try to minimize junk foods or sugary stuff, as it just doesn’t last or give that sustained energy our bodies crave (especially when we are anxious and stressed).
Tip #7: Be inclusive/mindful of others, and embrace online meetings
There already are a TON of online meetings (more so now, given the current circumstances), and you need to find a way to express yourself in each and every one. Consider pausing frequently to ensure that all attendees voices are heard and that you’re giving others a chance to share their thoughts.
Make sure that meeting invites are simple to use, and have a “join” button so that team/project members can easily join from anywhere. Don’t be afraid to turn your video on for a more connected feeling (after testing first to ensure that you can clearly see yourself in the frame, as well as any gestures, especially if you talk with your hands like I do).
Tip #8: Find a way to continue hallway talk, and communicate often
I still struggle with this on a daily basis, as I typically get into the office early and frequently “check-in” with other coworkers to discuss how we’re doing with our plan(s). I LOVE to have that 1-on-1 discussion, as it’s more real and heartfelt – those that know me know that I am passionate about EVERYTHING that I do.
Set reminders to check in with others, just as you normally would – you simply need to utilize a different medium (phone, txt, IM, video chat) that works for you and the recipient. Don’t wait for others to reach out to you, be proactive and reach out to others so long as schedules are in sync. Talk about cooking, fun things your kids or pets have recently done, share things that might be currently affecting/bothering you. Showing vulnerability is completely acceptable – it shows that we’re human and are empathetic.
Tip #9: Have a clear beginning and end of your work day
I’m finding that we ALL abuse this, and in the end, are only denying ourselves of the routine we all need. Stick to the routine! Start at your scheduled shift time. STOP WORKING at the end of your shift time, and let others know that you are done for the day. They will not only support you, but will be your guardrails when/if they see you still connected and working with the most dangerous mindset to date: “I’m just finishing this one…last…thing.”.
Tip #10: Celebrate the small things, have fun, and remind others that we’re in this TOGETHER!
Remember, we’re all going through this situation together in a unique global fashion unlike we have ever experienced before. Not all remote work feels as it does right now, as this is a rare event that is just not normal. Continue to monitor your anxiety, stress, and general mental health (as well as others around you) making appropriate adjustments as needed. Be kind to EVERYONE, and be well!
Thanks for your faithful readership, as always!