Luke Hanson, Academic Advisor and postbac at University of Alabama at Birmingham, Capsule Contributor
The current pandemic has seen millions laid off and/or furloughed, with millions more quickly transitioning to working from home. Working from home or otherwise distantly has been on the rise for the past couple of decades. Since 2005, remote work in the U.S. has grown by 173 percent, with approximately five million Americans telecommuting prior to the pandemic.
There are myriad benefits to working from home, and no shortage of studies backing them up. These include increased productivity, happiness and cost-savings. An employer can save on average $11,000 annually for each employee who works remotely half the time; that same employee can save anywhere from $2,500 to 4,000 on average, per Global Workplace Analytics.
That's all well and good. Employers can create an efficient, dynamic workforce by strategically implementing full- and part-time work-from-home initiatives and policies. However, our current situation instead thrust tens of millions into this situation literally overnight, and many find themselves scrambling to maintain literal and feelings of productivity in light of a situation they never thought they'd be in. So, how to do that?
At Capsule, we've touched on strategies to maintain and increase productivity while working from home, mainly centered around communication, relationship development and professionalism. GitLab, the world's largest remote company with over 1,200 employees spread across 65 countries, has an excellent and comprehensive Remote Manifesto and other resources for adopting and succeeding with an all-remote approach.
Communication: This is universally identified as the most important component of productively working from home. Professionally, continue to stay as connected to co-workers and supervisors as you would in the office. Establish shared expectations in terms of chat, text, phone and video contact. This will help you maintain a beneficial communication flow and productivity with the added benefit of keeping you connected despite being isolated from your team and clients.
Don't be afraid to check in often. If you're used to popping your head into a manager's or co-worker's office with a quick question continue to do so. Don't send a passive email that can get lost in the shuffle when a quick text or video call will do the trick.
If you get an email that you can't reply to ASAP, just let the other person know, so you don't keep them waiting. Even a quick "Got it, will do" or "On a call, will ring you 15" is enough to acknowledge you received the message and put them at ease.
Home workspace: Almost neck-and-neck with communication in terms of importance was the concept of the home workspace. In general, try to recreate the positive and eliminate the negatives of your office. This goes from the broad sensory environment all the way down to the items on your desk or workspace.
First and foremost, get out of the bedroom. If possible, designate a space not otherwise associated with rest and relaxation to be your new office. If you don't have an exclusive room or area for this, designate a common space such as a kitchen or coffee table as your work space during your scheduled work hours (more on this later).
In general and to the extent possible, pick a space that maximizes your productivity. Make sure it's well-lit but avoids glare from natural and other light sources. Find a spot devoid of distractions and other interruptions. If you need silence and or stillness, consider a room furthest from distractions in your house or apartment. If that's not possible, try little hacks such as facing a blank wall and listening to ambient white noise through headphones.
In general, you want a space in which you're comfortable, devoid of distraction and naturally geared to be productive. This will vary from person to person, but while stuck at home utilize this time to figure out where and what that is for you. For me, it's a spare bedroom with a coffee table for a desk and my laptop, with soothing nature videos on a TV behind my computer screen and instrumental music. How about you?
Establish and keep routines: In all likelihood several components of your daily routine have been upended. It's incredibly important to revert to or re-establish these for each part of your day and week to put your brain in a situation to be most productive during work times.
During the week, continue setting an alarm and or otherwise waking up at the same time. Use things like making coffee, eating breakfast, showering, picking out clothes or early exercise as mainstays that put you in the mindset of getting ready to work. If you're used to having your morning commute to prep for the day, adopt new activities to stimulate your brain. Consider taking a (socially-distanced) walk or drive, watching a motivational or educational video or prepping more of your day (e.g., writing out a to-do list, drawing up a schedule or even making lunch or dinner in advance).
Use your night or evening routine to officially end your workday and transition your brain and body to relax and otherwise focus on non-work activities. Give yourself something enjoyable to do once you've closed the laptop or said goodbye to your last meeting for the day. Enjoy virtual happy hour through Zoom (I used to roll my eyes at this one until trying it for the first time last week and realizing how fulfilled it made me to see and relax with friends, even if through a screen).
Just because you're working from home doesn't mean you have to or should go nonstop from start to finish. Take that midday break. Go eat somewhere else instead of in front of your computer or at your workspace. If you had activities you engaged in during a typical work week, incorporate them. If you're a lunch break exerciser, find a home-workout program or video to prioritize here, or go for a run or walk. Giving yourself a distinctive break to split your day in half can be critical to preventing burnout.
Schedule: Along with a routine, it's more important than ever to create and stick to a schedule. Whatever your preferred method, create and continue pursuing professional and personal goals. Rank them and begin allocating blocks of time to achieving them.
It's incredibly important to have a schedule to help you remain productive and keep yourself from lingering between work and home modes while working from home. Designate time to planning in detail. Instead of saying, "I'm going to catch up on email today," consider something more specific like, "I'm going to devote the first hour of my day to prioritizing then working through emails that have backed up in order of importance. My goal is to get through all of them, but if not I'll stop at X point and pick it back up later."
Then, check these little goals off your list for a rush of dopamine every few hours.
Consider other reminders and techniques to stay on task. Write out to-do lists on your computer, sticky notes, notepads or even a home whiteboard if you have one. Consider sharing your schedule with people you trust to positively encourage you to stay on task, whether they be co-workers, managers or even housemates or friends.
Finally, don't forget to schedule time for non-work activities such as self-care and self-development. These are necessary components of being successful and productive and can fall by the wayside if not given proper, mapped out attention and commitment.
Breaks and limits: In a nutshell, take breaks and set and know your limits.
Again, you can't be professionally productive nonstop throughout the workday, much less 24/7. Identify enjoyable, feasible activities, schedule them, and utilize them as part of your daily routine to ensure you're operating at peak capacity when you're in work mode.
It's ok to not achieve everything set out in a given day. We all have limits; especially right now, a given day can hit like a ton of bricks and derail everything. That's going to happen in all likelihood. Being aware of and in touch with yourself is of paramount importance, as you need to be in the right mindset to be professionally productive, and trying to force it when you're past your breaking point isn't doing you or anyone else any favors.
Lastly, know when to call it a day. Build it into your schedule. Give yourself a set time to say, "That's it for Wednesday, we'll pick this sucker back up tomorrow." Beyond that, give yourself triggers to reinforce that the day is over. For me, it's a matter of exiting out of my browser one tab at a time, then closing my computer, turning off my background video and leaving my workspace. Then, a walk with the dog or a happy hour with my girlfriend or others via Hangouts. Find out ways to tell yourself physically and mentally, "It's ok to turn off for the day."
Attitude: Lastly, it's necessary to keep a positive attitude to remain productive. That sounds simple, but it's true now more than ever. All of the above work in tandem to help keep our brains and minds in a state where we're at ease enough to achieve peak performance.
It's ok and frankly normal to not be "fine" all the time in our present reality. However, we have to remain self-aware to maintain our health and well-being, much less our professional productivity.
Capsule's first mission focuses on mastering one's mind through cognitive behavioral therapy approaches. Specifically, it explains how to identify negative, anxious thoughts and feelings and ultimately overcome them through the adoption and development of learned optimism and a growth mindset.
I honestly can't think of a time that's been more important. I wake up some mornings feeling immediately crushed under the immense uncertainty the entire world is experiencing. It's incredibly tempting to stay in that place, and the thought of coming out from under it is daunting.
The concept of getting work done can feel impossible. However, beginning with a focus on attitude and mastering or at least keeping those anxious thoughts in check, as well as the execution of a plan incorporating the elements above, I'm making it. If you're struggling with your new reality, you can to. Give it a shot. And let me know if you need any help.