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March 24, 2020
For some, remote work is uncharted territory—for others, it’s just another Thursday. Nearly 25% of U.S. workers already work remotely, but for employees who are new to working from home, it can be a major transition. When you add that to the rest of the external factors we’re all coping with during the COVID-19 pandemic, trying to be a remote employee can feel overwhelming.
After interviewing remote staff from different industries, we’ve summarized the best tips to help you feel connected, productive, and mentally healthy, even when being socially distanced.
Know when you want to start and end your workday, and if you need to take a break from your screen, schedule it in.
Angela, a channel marketing manager and full-time remote employee for three years, said, “Break your time up into blocks. If you don’t have designated times when you’re committed to prioritizing work, you might end up trying to juggle housework, office work, and your kids at the same time. Making work the priority focus in designated hours is key to feeling less chaotic.”
If you’re accustomed to structure, it can help you cross more tasks off your to-do list. Christopher M. Palmer, MD, director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital, advised, “Having a predictable structure in place often helps people get more accomplished. They can go on autopilot and accomplish the day’s work without having to create a new plan every day.”
The benefit of no longer commuting to work can have its drawbacks. Since your home has now become your office, it can feel difficult to “leave work,” logging more hours as a result. Just like you have your time in the office, you should have your office hours for your remote work and share these times with your team at work and your cohabitants.
In addition, if you’re used to taking a 30-minute lunch every day, continue to do so at home. Taking a break is good for your body and your mind, and if a break is part of your routine, continuing to do so will make the transition feel less disruptive.
Palmer suggested avoiding multitasking, despite how easy it may seem to do when looking at your to-do lists for work and home. “Although multitasking often seems like a good idea,” he said, “research has shown that it makes people less productive, which can lead to feeling more overwhelmed.”
Maybe your desk has become your kitchen table, but that doesn’t mean chitchat with teammates has to end. Rachel, a financial analyst, lives in Boston, but her boss of five years lives in Dallas. To maintain a good working relationship, she advised, “Always take time to talk as people and don’t fully dedicate all your time in every conversation to talk about work. I’ve only been in person with my boss eight times, but with how much we knew about one another, you’d think we saw each other daily.”
Despite not being together in person, continuing to have lighthearted conversation with your colleagues over email, text, or a messaging system can help you feel less alone. Human interaction, digital or not, can make a big difference in productivity and mental health.
If you are dealing with daycares for pets and children being closed, you might find your new “coworkers” disruptive. Or you may find that everyone else is trying to stream content during their lunch break, so you can’t unwind in front of the television. Just like every day in an office is different, every day when working at home will provide productive moments—and challenging ones too. Be compassionate toward yourself as you learn to work in a new environment and practice self-care that lowers your anxiety.
Productivity will look different at home, but you’ll end up still accomplishing your tasks for work. Just like your work style may differ in the office from your peers, your work style at home may differ from your norm. Despite Angela’s tenure in working remotely, she shared, “I am constantly readjusting my strategy to be a more successful work-from-home employee.”
Lately, she has found success in using the Pomodoro Technique for work, especially with the current evolving situation. She explained, “It’s based on a kitchen timer: 25 minutes of work and a 5-minute break, repeated all day long. I find it easier to commit to 25 minutes at a time than the prospect of a full 8-hour day.” Pomodoro Technique or otherwise, working remotely is a great way to figure out the working style that is best for you.
Working from home may sound like a good opportunity to stay in pajamas, but it can hinder your productivity. Alice, a communications director in health care, shared, “Get dressed like you’re going to leave the house. That alone can change your mindset altogether.”
She also explained the importance of using what would have been your commuting time to do something productive for yourself. “If you carved out 60 minutes a day for getting to and from your job, use that as an opportunity to exercise, meditate, or just drink water,” she said.
In a time like this, basic self-care is essential to keeping yourself healthy and happy—even when adjusting to something as new as remote work.