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Adjusting to the New Normal: How to Be Happy and Effective While Working from Home

TELECOMMUTING – LIVING THE DREAM, SOMETIMES


With the COVID-19 pandemic now forcing most companies to ask their employees work from home, many who have never had to rely on their own self-discipline fully, or have time to plan or set up their ideal office space, have been thrust into the ever-growing world of telecommuting.

While I think this mandatory transition will make many companies more open minded when it comes to having a distributed workforce in the future, there may be some difficulties when it comes to starting work from home with little preparation (and with your entire family at home with you!). I do hope that after this crisis is over, that more people will be given the opportunity to live where they want to, and that with fewer workers commuting, we will continue the trend of reducing greenhouse gas emissions with less unnecessary travel. If this crisis has inspired you to decide to make a move from the city, one of the best ways to ensure a stable transition to country life is to take your city job with you. A higher city salary can help you offset your initial start-up costs, especially if you take the leap and buy property or a house straight away.


A TIME magazine study recently showed that 45% of the U.S. workforce now has a job that is suitable for full or part time telecommuting. We may realize now that number might even be higher. While not all industries are the same, many businesses are starting to realize that their productivity doesn’t decrease when their employees work remotely, and it can save them money as they don’t need to pay for additional office space.


HOW TO SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS

Bookend Your Work Day With a Commute

This might seem like a crazy concept, after all, you might think one of the best parts of working from home is the fact that there is no more traffic or commuting! Think for a minute though what that commute offered you; uninterrupted time to gear you up for your work day and then to decompress from the work day. Immediately switching on and off work mode doesn’t allow this period of transition.


Lucky for you, your “commute” time can now be spent walking down your road, or even through the woods. If you live in an urban area with current restrictions on outdoor movement, try starting your day with a little bit of meditation, journaling, or light stretching, or seeing if you can go for a walk early in the morning. Walking at the beginning and end of your work day will not only make you much more efficient but it will also help your turn-off after a hectic day.


Find Your Productive Space

If possible, create a designated, productive and organized work space. I worked from our kitchen table the first year of our business and as a result I found myself constantly distracted. There is always a new load of laundry that needs to go in or a floor that needs to be vacuumed. Rotating your work space in a non-designated area can drastically reduce your productivity and remove the structured observance of your work day.


I would start work early in the morning, hop back and forth between work stuff and home stuff and finally close my laptop at 9pm. I felt like I was working all the time, even though I probably only logged about 5-6 hours of actual work a day.


My solution came by designating a room with a door for my home office. It wasn’t an easy transition; it requires a forced observance of routine to develop the habit. For three weeks, I forced myself to wake up, shower, do some exercise, go to my office, work until noon, eat lunch, work until 5pm (or earlier if I finished my work for the day), close laptop, leave laptop in work space. I immediately noticed a difference both in the quality of work I was producing and also an increase in my overall happiness. I spent my lunch breaks outside eating on a blanket or weeding the garden, I would return to my office refreshed and ready to power through the rest of the work day. I’m telling this story because I got it completely wrong when I first moved rurally, I wasn’t working to live, I was still living to work – old habits die hard. If your place is too small to set aside an entire room for your office or you don’t have a door, add a divider to the space and keep that area clutter free and organized. Create a sense of discipline when it comes to your family when it comes to interruptions during the work day.


The Power of Lists

Another productivity tool while working from home is to break down your tasks each day and cut out all the busy work and aimless surfing online. We are all guilty of diving into the internet black hole and clicking through photos of an old flame on Facebook - or nowadays - reading dire and cataclysmic news reports. However, if you are to manage any semblance of productivity from your new work situation, focus on the things you can control - like your focus!


End your day and begin your day with a task list. You can use online tools, calendar reminders or take my preferred old-fashioned approach and just write them down. I keep a yellow notepad on my desk specifically for the day’s list of tasks and meetings. Once I cross of all the tasks for the day I feel no shame in leaving work early, doing yardwork, playing fetch with my dog or getting an early start on dinner. Making a list at the end of the day is key as everything is fresh in your mind and you know what tasks still need attention the following day. By revisiting your list in the morning, after you’ve gone through your emails, you can quickly prioritize and hit the ground running.


Quit Mindless Internet Surfing

If you still find yourself getting off track and surfing online, you are not alone. This is such a common problem that many online tools have been created to put people’s internet surfing in check. If you are one of those people who can eat half a cookie and save the other half for later (I do not fall into this category) give yourself an allowance or window of aimless time. Schedule 15-20 minutes of time to read online news, check Facebook, etc. Once your surfing time is used up, close your web browser and focus on the task at hand. For those of us who lack that level of willpower, never fear, here are some awesome tools you can use to curb your mindless internet time.


Freedom: A site-blocker for block websites and apps, and can sync across all of your devices (so you can't sneak away to your phone or iPad!). You can customize your own time-sucking websites, or they will offer you a list of common culprits.


StayFocusd: A simple site-blocker for Chrome that allows you to enter your tempting time-wasting sites and allocate a maximum duration of time spent on them each day. When you’ve used up your time, the site is blocked for the rest of the day. Also, it makes it difficult to change the amount of time you’ve allotted yourself by requiring you to type a long paragraph verbatim, without making any errors. If you mess up, the entire box clears and you have to start all over again.


Leechblock: This robust plugin allows you to block certain websites for periods of time. For example, you can ban looking at Facebook on weekdays until 5pm. You can also block certain sites after you have visited for a certain amount of time. If you want to avoid 30+ minutes of Facebook stalking, Leechblock will block the site after you have hit your 30-minute quota.


Be Available!

The anxiety managers feel about having employees work remotely is that they won’t be as available or quick to respond to pressing needs. You can alleviate this anxiety by answering emails quickly, volunteering for new work and opportunities and checking in with your mangers and coworkers frequently. Using collaboration tools like Skype, Zoom, Instant Messenger, Google Docs, and the like, will allow for regular interactions and collaborations throughout the day. Many remote workers start their days with a video conference with their coworkers to go over the day’s tasks.


Giving your colleagues “facetime” throughout the day, keeps you an active and valuable member of the team. Just make sure you schedule these meetings when you’re in your office and your office is clean and organized (at least in plain sight). Throwing on a “Skype blazer” or “Skype tie” can go a long way to solidify your telecommuter professionalism with your colleagues while working from home. I keep a “Skype blazer” handy on the back of my chair in my office for any last minute video conference calls with remote clients.

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