Working from Home During COVID… Your Top Questions Answered

With the coronavirus pandemic making companies implement voluntary or mandatory work-from-home (WFH) arrangements, more and more people are finding that the WFH lifestyle isn’t all it’s hyped up to be.

Following are some of the most common concerns or questions newbie work-from-home workers face and my personal tips on how to deal with them. (Personal tips since I’ve been working-from-home myself for over a decade… and yes, I love it! 😀 )

Working from Home… COVID Style

1. WHERE SHOULD I WORK?

If this is your first major attempt at remote working, you’ll soon realize that there’s an abundance of DISTRACTIONS that you’ve probably never realized before.

Picture it: dogs barking outside, deliveries coming and going, your young children wanting to play with you, your older children arriving from school, other people’s children playing outside, your significant other asking you to help with household chores, the non-stop phone ringing, the pull of Netflix… the list goes on.

So here’s probably the most important tip I can give you… isolate your work space as much as you possibly can! Seriously, create that ‘zone’. It will help you keep your work and home life separate.

wfh-setup-2020

One of the common pitfalls of remote working is that the lines between work life and home life become blurry very, very fast. So you need to establish that boundary right away so that neither your work productivity nor your home life suffers.

If there’s a spare room or if you have some attic space, seize it. Can you transform part of the garage easily? Do it. How about that shed? It may look tiny and slightly dingy, but if weather permits and you can find peace there, why not?

If you don’t have access to a separate space, then consider your own bedroom. Mind you, many remote workers don’t like this option at all because they get sleepy easily seeing a cozy bed nearby. However, considering that this is probably the most ‘unoccupied space’ during the day… it may not be a bad option for you.

A desk in the kitchen, the dining table, a corner of the living room. Sure, any of these options can provide you ‘work space’ but what you need to consider foremost is this: where can you work with minimum distraction? Find that space and use it.

2. WHAT DO I NEED?

Now that you’ve settled on a designated work space at home, it’s time to focus on what you need to properly, effectively, and productively do your job.

First things first; it’s up to your employer to ensure that they have the right infrastructure to support your new work-from-home status. For example, it’s up to the company to ensure that if it’s required, you can easily login to your organization remotely, that you have access to company-used proprietary software, and so on.

However, having said that, YOU should also ensure that you have a fully functioning home workspace.

FOR YOURSELF. These are the things to consider: your desk, your chair, lighting, the devices you need.

Remember that you’re still required to do what you would normally do if you were at the office. As such, an ergonomic desk and chair is crucial. Proper lighting is also important. And of course a desktop or laptop, and a robust internet connection is vital.

Another tip… if you’re using a laptop, consider investing in a keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Spending hours hunched over a laptop is not healthy at all!

FOR YOUR JOB. What you need depends on what you need to do. For instance, are you always in meetings? Then ensure that you have the right audio and video software and equipment.

work-from-home-meetings

  • Software. Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, etc. Find out what teleconferencing software your organization uses and make sure you have it installed, tested, and ready on your end.
  • Equipment. What do you prefer to use during meetings? A robust headset or separate mic and speakers? Figure it out and have them ready before-hand for your online calls.
  • The following are NOT often thought of… BUT CRUCIAL!

Security: You’ll probably be doing A LOT of stuff online for your work. Now, you may say you’re not a caveman and have been online for years so you know how to be secure, but still… being online for personal reasons is very different from when you also need to do work-related stuff.

Remember, your laptop or desktop will most likely need to connect to your organization. So it’s best to be safe and secure. This goes both ways. You don’t want any personal stuff on your devices to be unknowingly shared to your organization, do you? And since so many people are accessing company digital resources, you also don’t want anything accidentally entering your system. For this purpose, you need a really good antivirus (AV) software.

IF you already have an AV installed, great!
IF you’re using a free version, you may want to upgrade to a paid one as it has more robust features.
IF you haven’t done a full scan recently, do it now.

Functionality: Now is not the time to have a slow working laptop or computer, or one that freezes while you’re in the middle of doing something.

Invest in a simple pc cleaning utility. If you don’t want to splurge just yet, here’s a free pc cleaner you can try first.

As for online meetings, you don’t want to be the one everybody waits for, right?

no-audio-no-video“Can you guys see me?”
“Sorry guys, I can’t hear you.”
“What? There’s an echo?”

Poor audio or video quality during meetings is often due to outdated or corrupt audio and/or video drivers. Download a driver update tool and update your device drivers so that you’re ready for online meetings anytime.

ASK for what you need. You may find that you don’t have everything you need for an optimal work-from-home setup. So why not ask your boss/organization for some help?

The coronavirus pandemic is a very trying time for all of us. We’re all adapting and you may just be surprised at how much support your company is capable of providing.

For instance, they may allow for that high-end computer setup you have at work to be transferred to your home for the time being. They may be willing to provide a top-of-the-line headset for you, or send IT staff to ensure you’re all properly setup at home. If you need to drastically increase your bandwidth and purchase work-related software, perhaps the company is willing to shoulder some of this expense.

You’ll never know until you ask… so… ask!

3. HOW DO I GET ANY WORK DONE AT HOME?

I’ve got three words for you. Schedule. Routine. Discipline.

  • Create a work schedule. What time do you normally start and end work? 9AM-5PM? If you’re used to this and don’t want to change it then establish this as your work schedule.

work-from-home-work-routine

And here’s what’s important: ensure that family members are aware of your work schedule too and that they respect and follow it.

  • Establish a work routine. What triggers ‘work mode’ for you? For me, for the past 12 years of working from home, this is how I start: I wake up, do yoga, have breakfast, grab a big mug of coffee and then go to my home office. The coffee ritual is what signals the start of my work day.

I tend to handle emails, communication, and other admin-related stuff at the start of my work day. My goal is usually to CLOSE my inbox (i.e., not check emails) before lunch.

During work hours, if my personal mobile phone rings, unless it’s an emergency, I DON’T pick it up. I take small but regular breaks, and at least 1x a week, I take a really long walk after lunch.

I work till about 5-ish, and then I get up and get active or workout. This can be a lazy, low-impact, 15-min Pilates or stretch routine, or a full-on hour of cardio. For me, this ‘get up and get active’ thing is my end of work day trigger.

Figure out your own routine. You can apply what you normally do if you were still going to the office but why not seize this opportunity to change your daily regimen? All up to you!

  • Have the discipline to stick to the above. It may be a bit hard at first but the more you stick to your work schedule and routine, the easier it will be to truly work from home. Sure, a little flexibility can occur but do your best to follow your own work from home setup. If YOU stick to your schedule, then others will respect your boundaries.

4. WHAT SHOULD I DO TO STAY RELEVANT AT WORK?

This is a VERY COMMON concern for many employees new to the work-from-home scenario. And it’s a legit concern. When you’re at work, you’re physically seen and can even create opportunities for yourself to stand out and be heard. This is a tad more difficult to do if you’re isolated.

So, how do you ensure you stay on the office radar? A few tips…

  • Be active in the virtual office. The new normal of working from home usually means being linked to the office through social apps like Slack, Basecamp, Skype, or even through your company’s own internally developed project management software.

When logged into these apps, don’t just be a lurker in there… participate. Ask questions, get direction, give direction, etc. In short, contribute to the group to stay relevant in the group.

  • The virtual lunch. Sitting is the new smoking so desk lunches should normally be avoided, but… perhaps a once or twice a week ‘desktop lunch’ or ‘virtual working lunch’ is not bad to ensure that your very much a part of the team.

virtual-desk-lunch

  • Step up. If you’ve been holding back and not recommending something at work, now is NOT the time to do this.

For example, say a particular task required 5 steps. But with everyone at home, using different devices and setups, this has now become a long and tedious 8 steps… voice this concern to the group and offer up possible ways to improve the process.

  • Be ‘physically distant’ but ‘socially connected’. The COVID pandemic requires physical distancing but that doesn’t mean you need to ghost your co-workers completely. So stay in touch.

For instance, after an online meeting, ask a colleague to stay on the line and simply catch up. Ask how working from home is for him/her; share your experiences and just connect as you normally would if you were face-to-face with someone.

5. HOW DO I DEAL WITH THE LONELINESS?

working-from-home-can-be-lonely

When I started working from home over a decade ago, it was all about the appeal of ‘working in your pajamas’, ‘ditching the alarm clock’, ‘coffee breaks all day, every day’, and so on. I’m lucky because it was a work lifestyle that suited my personality, I had the discipline for it, and my type of work was easily adaptable to the work-from-home culture.

However, this is NOT the case for everyone. With the COVID pandemic, a lot of people were truly shocked at how LONELY working from home can be.

In fact, a Buffer report done in 2019 called the State of Remote Work showed that loneliness is the second highest challenge remote workers faced. So what to do?

  • CALL that person. We all have that ‘someone’ we always intend to call or stay in touch with… but somehow never do. Now is the time to reach out.

Remember, we’re all feeling the effects of this pandemic so chances are your call will be much appreciated. Start by reaching out to family members, especially the elderly (and most COVID-vulnerable) ones, and work your way to friends, and colleagues.

Getting on the phone and having a full on conversation too much for you? No sweat. Just send a quick email or leave a short voice message.

  • SLOW DOWN. One thing that most people agree on during this pandemic is that it’s a reminder to slow down. Instead of feeling loneliness, try and look at it as an opportunity to be quiet; a time to reflect, re-focus and re-energize.

chillaxing

  • Focus on your mental and physical well-being. Now is a great time to get fit, mentally and/or physically. Read that book you’ve been wanting to read; join that online course you feel will improve your skills; start that fitness routine you always wanted to try. Whatever it is, it’s a great time to focus on YOU.
  • Help others. There’s a joy and special kind of fulfillment that comes with helping others. And no, help does not necessarily mean grand, expensive gestures.

Here’s some ideas: de-clutter your home and donate; support front liners by sponsoring lunch packs; clear your pantry and donate to a local food drive; if you’re tech savvy, help colleagues starting to work from home by becoming a volunteer ‘Work-from-Home Transition Officer’; volunteer to work for a crisis hotline or do some volunteer online tutoring; cook/bake at home and give them away to family/friends who are struggling.

I hope I’ve helped you ease into the work-from-home lifestyle during these pandemic times. The world may be slowly re-opening now but it seems that remote working will still be the norm for many months to come (at least), so why not embrace it? Who knows, you may end up loving it after all 😉

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