With coronavirus dominating the news and now our lives, many people are finding themselves working from home for the first time. Whether you see this as a blessing or a curse, telecommuting is the new reality for many.
I’ve worked out of my home for the last 20-plus years, from when I was the mom of a young child through now as an empty-nester. So, I thought I’d share some of the tips and tricks I’ve picked up on over the years to help you make the best of it.
Data Point No. 1: Create a schedule to balance your day.
I’ve always found that one of hardest parts of telecommuting is that you can always be working on that computer that’s right in front of you. So, create a schedule that gives you some ebb and flow. For instance, I usually start my day at the Y, work, and take an hour for lunch, laundry and other household tasks. When I’m done for the day, I shut down my PC and start making dinner. This doesn’t necessarily mean I won’t open the PC again, but it does provide balance.
Data Point No. 2: Have 'the conversation' with adults and older kids with whom you reside.
Maybe your spouse is already working from home or has also just started to do so. Maybe you have kids, or your retired parents, living in your house. Whomever you share your home with, talk to them about the situation and agree to some basic ground rules so you can focus on work when you need to. With more people at home, there’s going to be more cleaning and cooking to do. I hate to sound sexist, but if you’re the mom, they may expect you to do it. Resist! Ask both the adults and older kids in your home to do their part.
Data Point No. 3: Stock up on extra activities for young kids.
Sign up for extra quality-screen time activities and subscriptions, and stock up on physical world fun too—think Play-Doh, building blocks, coloring books and comics. Get outside for a walk or bike ride to burn off some energy. If you have other adults in the house and everyone is healthy, set up a schedule to take turns watching the kids. And ask younger kids to pitch in to help with household chores that they can do, such as setting the table and putting away toys.
Data Point No. 4: Feel free to move about the cabin.
It kind of goes without saying that you need to set up a primary workspace that has your office staples in it (printer, office supplies, etc.). Sometimes, I feel very productive in my home office, but other times I feel more motivated working in the kitchen or living room. Move around a little and find what feels best for getting different kinds of work done.
Data Point No. 5: Engage in water cooler conversations over the phone.
In most offices, casual conversations about non-work-related things abound—and for good reason. They help us get to know other people, form relationships and foster teamwork. These conversations are also critical to our well-being in light of the anxiety that the coronavirus is fueling. So take time for casual chats with co-workers while you’re telecommuting.
Data Point No. 6: Embrace the dreaded video conference.
You’re going to be in many more virtual meetings. Increasingly, people expect that you will share your camera. So prepare for the fact that you cannot wear your pajamas all day, and make sure you feel good about showing your face. Check out how you’ll look on screen beforehand, and position your PC so that you’re not looking down into the camera. Sit in a nice sunny or well-lit spot with the light on your face, not casting a shadow over it. Keep a comb and any go-to cosmetics nearby for last minute touchups.
Data Point No. 7: If you need to run a virtual meeting, get tips from the pros.
Just Google “how to run a great virtual meeting” for an abundance of how-to posts on conducting a virtual meeting. And if you need a virtual conferencing solution, many vendors—including Microsoft, Google, Cisco and Zoho—are offering their solutions at no charge for the next few months.
Data Point No. 8: Don’t worry about being human.
Many of us live with other humans and/or pets. While it’s great to minimize distractions, don’t panic if the little humans or pets interrupt a virtual meeting or phone call. In fact, this can be a good way to relax everyone—at least from the dog’s point of view. And remember, we’ll all need to practice tolerance and kindness to get through this thing.
Moving from the office to a work-at-home situation will be an adjustment—not just for you, but for your co-workers, bosses, and the people and creatures you live with. But who knows? This giant, unplanned telecommuting experiment may pave the way for this to become the new normal, long after the coronavirus crisis ends.
Laurie McCabe is a co-founder and analyst at SMB Group, specializing in small-business IT. ©SMB Group 2020