Working From Home During The Coronavirus Pandemic? Here’s How To Maintain Productivity

As the coronavirus takes its toll, working from home is the new reality for many US workers. 

With the spread of the novel coronavirus affecting everything from the availability of hand sanitizers to international travel companies closing their doors to reduce the spread of infections. Social distancing is the new buzzword, since according to NIH, it is associated with a 29% to 37% reduction in H1N1 transmission rates. Big tech companies, such as Twitter, Facebook, Google and Amazon have already announced that a larger part of their workforce will be working remotely. If your employer has just asked you to work from home, you may be feeling lost navigating remote work.

82% of workers who wished they could work from home at least part of the time, would often fantasize about working from the comforts of their own bed, and foregoing their commute in favor of more exercise, family, and sleep time. But working remotely is a double-edged sword — sure, you have all the freedom in the world, but it can be harder to focus on actually working. Be it nagging thoughts of binge-watching that show people have been raving about on Netflix or that pile of laundry that suddenly looks more appealing than the presentation you have been working on, staying productive at home can take a little extra effort. Not to mention, for social animals, the isolation can leave them a little downtrodden.

So how can we manage to boost our productivity rather than see it wax and wane? While all this can be tough, finding a strategy that works can help you make it through.

Understand The Ground Rules When Working From Home

Let’s set one thing right. Regardless of where you are working from, you are still a professional, who has been tasked with certain responsibilities. If your company is asking you to go all digital, you need to understand the expectations from your organization.

For instance, is the company going to provide you with internet access and a phone line, or are you expected to use your own? Do dress codes still apply? How do your superiors expect you to be available – ready for a video call at any moment of your workday, or only for pre-scheduled calls? Is your company expecting you to clock in and out at exactly the same time as you used to, or are they allowing flexibility in work hours?

 If you want to make the most of your remote working opportunity, start by comprehending the ground rules by which your organization wishes you to operate. On the other hand, if you are embarking on the remote work route as a leader, clearly communicate to your employees how you wish for your professionals to operate, so that all employees know what is expected of them.

Carve Out Space

Some of you are lucky enough to have a separate room in your home for an office, but those of you who do not have this luxury will find themselves slipping back into the routines and habits that run your home-life. Maybe you’re working on the couch in your living room and turn on the TV out of habit. Maybe you start playing an innocuous game with your two-year-old that runs on for an hour. Maybe you pick up a video game controller and become immersed in a video game. Or, maybe you pick up the phone to check on a friend and forget the time or get carried away doing another non-work-related activity.

A common barrier to productivity is an inadequate workspace. If you are going remote, start by deciding on your working space and form a ritual around it. It could be anywhere, a desk, a sofa, or even the kitchen table. The key is to stake your territory and designate it for work. Connect all your chargers, set up your workstation like the one you had at work, and get comfortable with this updated setting, so that whenever you are there, you are in your work mode.

If you are substituting a kitchen table or a countertop as a makeshift workstation, keep a designated work bag to store your laptop and other paraphernalia when you are not working. This allows you to be flexible in your workspace but keep everything you need in one place. Pack up as soon as your shift ends to mark the end of a workday.

Stick With Your Routine

In these unsure times, try to regain a sense of normalcy by following your preset routines. For instance, there’s no need to sleep in late now that you are working from home. If you get up at a certain time, eat at a certain time, exercise at a certain time, watch TV at a certain time, we recommend that you stick to your routine. 

In fact, get dressed each morning as if you’re going into the office. Even put makeup on or fix your hair if you like. Anything that gives you the sense that you are not home in your PJs. Similarly, set primary working hours and stick to them, so that remote working doesn’t bleed into your non-work life. This way your mind will know when to relax and when to be active, even without getting up from the couch.

This is because abandoning your routine will lead to a lapse of willpower and decision fatigue. If you slip into an unruly lifestyle, you will find yourself not showering or dressing up for days on end. Not to mention, it will be pretty hard for you to get back on track once your office reopens.

Seek Out Social Interaction

The current circumstances do not leave room for much social interaction, but in order to stay sane, productive and healthy, you need to connect with other people. Even the most levelheaded people are prone to falling into anxiety and depression during periods of isolation. This is why you need to get some kind of “people connection” through out the day. This could be in the form of virtual meetings, facetime with your office buddies, sending a friend a text, or hanging out in a virtual watercooler with your colleagues. In my experience, the best possible way to survive this panic is to reach out and support one another—and laugh!

Set Boundaries With Other People At Home

Working from home when you are surrounded by kids, pets, roommates, or family can’t be easy. If you are surrounded by people who have never worked from home before, they might not be able to register that you are working while lounging on the sofa! They may assume you can do whatever you want. This is why you need to set boundaries with people around you. Clearly communicate to your roommates or family members that you’ll be working during certain hours and they are not to disturb you until its an emergency. Even though you may not have the luxury of a separate home office, do what you can to avoid interruptions.

Take Breaks

Just because you are apparently in the comforts of your home doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve a break. And no; scrolling through your social media feed does not count as a break. It’s advised to take a break every 75 to 90 minutes, for about 15 minutes per break. Ideally, these breaks should be screen-free. Go out, take a breath of fresh air, talk to a friend, whip up a nice snack for yourself. You’ll find that you’re much more productive if you walk away from your workstation from time to time. 

Even better, try to move around from time to time, instead of becoming a couch potato. When you had an office to go to, you got to move around because of the commute for starter. But when you have no place to go to, you can become lazy and sloppy. You can cram in some physical activity between your Skype calls, such as taking conference calls while strolling on your balcony or delivering an important presentation to a client standing up.

Overcome Your Natural Tendencies to Procrastinate

Procrastination kills productivity. It slowly drags you away from your goals. Even when you have made some significant strides, a moment of procrastination can set you back into old patterns and routines. The worst part is that procrastination usually stems from the very devices that we use to work every day, such as social media, emails, and meetings. These things not only divert our attention from our real goals, but also fuel our tendencies to put things off.

 Procrastination usually involves activities that we absolutely shouldn’t be engaged in. Whenever I work from home, I use a 15-minute rule! Set a timer on your smartphone for 15 minutes and in that time, take on a task that you had been putting off for a long time. Do not commit to more than that because 15 minutes seem a short enough time to give to something that you do not want to do. When we promise ourselves just 15 minutes, you get past the hurdle of starting and may end up actually finishing that thing. 

Here is why it works; Our propensity to procrastinate stems from our anxieties that lurk in our subconscious mind. So, when you overcome those by promising 15 minutes to yourself, you end up building momentum. Trust me, once you start, you will keep going even after 15 minutes, but even if you stop, at least you broke the procrastination cycle.

 Use Daily Goal Setting

Without some system for setting goals on a daily basis, it can be a challenge to stay focused, and easier to lose productivity. However, staying on track becomes easier when you have set goals for what you want to achieve in the day. Before you set your daily goals, try setting some long-term goals in place. This is because when you set long-term goals, you end up creating milestones, which can be weekly, quarterly or even weekly. Having milestones helps you engage in daily goal setting. This boosts your productivity and helps you stay on track of your goals.

Review your milestones each morning before you set your daily goals. Think about what you should achieve by the end of your workday and envisage yourself having achieved all that by evening. This way, when you do start your day, you can do so knowing specifically what you need to get done. This is one of the most viable ways of boosting your productivity in the midst of the pandemic chaos. Since we are constantly surrounded by distractions at home, having a productivity hack such as this at your beck and call will do wonders for you over time.

Download Apps That Keep Out Internet Distractions

If you are one to get easily distracted, we suggest you download some anti-procrastination apps as a shield against procrastination. If you find yourself checking your phone again and again at every notification ping, when you are supposed to be working, the Checky app will let you know how much time you are spending scrolling your Facebook and Insta feed. Similarly, the Freedom and focus apps work by blocking certain social media websites, such as Facebook and Pinterest, for a specified period of time. You can even structure your time using the Pomodoro technique with the help of a site like Strict Workflow. For those of you who don’t know, Pomodoro is a time management technique that lets you divide your time into 25-minute chunks of deep focus, interspersed with breaks in-between.

Stay Connected With At Least One Co-Worker Via Video Chat

Whenever I am working from home, I can’t help but miss swiveling my chair from time to time and having a spur of the moment interaction with the person beside me. If you usually work with another person while physically at work, I suggest you spend a few minutes of the day every hour or so connected to that person via video chat. Having a bit of a facetime with that person just as you are both in the same room, would help you feel connected to your office and allow you to communicate with that person, ask question, and regain a sense of normalcy.

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