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Staying Productive While Working from Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Mar 18, 2020

By Lillilan Bell


During this COVID-19 crisis, it may be necessary for you to work from home for periods of time. These are just some preparatory guidelines. Because your situation is temporary, it is tempting to set up your laptop on the dining room table, thinking how easy it will be to get a cup of coffee and keep an eye on things, but establishing a suitable work area, learning to manage your time, and effectively communicating with the other people in your home to minimize distractions and stress are vital to remaining productive. I consider myself an expert on this matter since I have worked from home for nearly three decades.

Choosing a Home Office Space

Noise. Pick a location away from TVs or gaming areas where you can work and take meetings without household noises interfering. Consider, not only other people, but noise in general. For example, find a space away from busy areas such as the noisy dishwasher, a TV, or outside the window street noise and distractions. Don’t forget your pets. Does your dog have a barking fit every time the doorbell rings? Maybe a spot near the front door isn’t the best choice. It’s great to have a room with a door, but it’s not always possible. In that case, try to mitigate the noise around you (for example, purchase ANC headphones so others can watch TV without bothering you).

Privacy. Ideally, the location you choose should allow you to take meetings without others hearing sensitive information and should be a space where others don’t disturb your belongings.

Connectivity. Ensure the space you choose has electrical outlets and/or Ethernet connections nearby. Is it a good spot to get a Wi-Fi signal or use your cell phone? Your internet connection is your lifeline to your company, so ensure you have adequate service and the ability to connect to the company VPN. Ensure you have all the cords and connectors you need before leaving to work from home.

Clutter. Once you’ve decided on a work area, clear that space. As much as possible, create a clean, spacious environment.

Comfort. If possible, procure a real desk that fits your professional needs. Likewise, a good chair is vital. Take time to adjust your chair to avoid neck and back strain. Add a lamp, fan, heater, coffee cup warmer – whatever is necessary to allow you to work comfortably.

When you’ve established your office, sit down at your desk. Everything you see should remind you that you are a professional and this is your place of work. Make sure this is a place where you can switch, both physically and mentally, from being at home to being at work.

Getting Work Accomplished at Home

Work Life. As much as possible, keep the same hours you would if you were going to the office. Get dressed. Stay professional and on task. Maintain good communication with your manager, reports, and peers via Zoom. Follow all directives provided by your company. It can be tempting to work every day because your office is so accessible, but that can leave you feeling that work is never ending. Weekends are important to rest and recharge.

Manage Expectations. When working from home, the perception can be that you can do whatever you want, whenever you want. Everyone wants a piece of your time. Your productivity will depend on your ability to set boundaries. Be FIRM and CONSISTENT. The people in your life will eventually learn that you mean it when you say you’re working and can’t be disturbed.

Children. Working from home when children are present is challenging. Ideally, there is someone there to care for your children while you work. In that case, consistency is key. You can’t stop what you’re doing and go play with them one day and then angrily tell them to leave you alone the next because you have a deadline. Remember that they don’t understand what goes on in your office. Even teenagers, who may understand your job, don’t know your workload or schedule. What they do understand is routine. If you establish set working hours and consistently gently, but firmly, usher them out of your office during those times, they will eventually stop pleading with you to come away from work to be with them and will start looking forward to their time with you after work. It’s tempting to step away from your desk and “treat” them to some time with you, but it sets up an expectation that you can do that every day and ultimately causes more conflict and confusion.

If you find yourself working and caring for children on your own, the strategy is different. You will need to be more creative about your work hours (like working while they’re sleeping) and spend extra time planning activities that will keep them occupied. One strategy is to enlist the help of your neighbor’s preteen children. It can be good babysitting training for them to care for the children while you are still present to supervise, giving you time to get work done and take meetings without interruptions. Trading childcare duties with another work-from-home peer can also be a good way for both of you to get some concentrated work time.

Thank you and stay healthy

About the Author

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Lillian Bell
Senior Staff Technical Writer
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