One of the key public health responses to the global coronavirus pandemic has been social distancing. A major tactic for social distancing has been encouraging or requiring people to work from home.
Before COVID-19, only around 7% of U.S. workers had the option to work from home regularly. That means roughly 9.8 million of the nation’s approximately 140 million civilian workers (meaning private industry workers) had access to a “flexible workplace” benefit, or telework, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In a recent study conducted July 20-Sept. 30, 2020, 31% of establishments (employing 68.6 million workers) increased telework offered to employees.
There’s no doubt that working from home has its perks. There is no daily commute in the morning, the flexibility to run a laundry load before your next meeting, and no strict dress codes. While the flexibility of working from home is excellent, it also has its disadvantages. It can be hard to stay motivated, communication is harder, and it can feel impossible to stay organized. This is the reality most of us face this year as we continue to wade through the pandemic’s uncertainty.
Here’s a list of some of the most common challenges you might face working from home and tips for overcoming them.
A common misconception about working from home is that you can set your own hours. Except it doesn’t work that way. The concept of “normal business hours” remains in use because it works as an efficient time management tool. When you have set hours, you know when you’re supposed to work and when you’re free to pursue other interests or spend time with your family. You can make plans for days, weeks, or months in advance because you know when you’re going to be working.
Without this kind of structure, many at-home workers find themselves procrastinating or spending their day doing unproductive tasks. That leaves you with a choice: Work, unpaid, during off hours to get something done or procrastinate further. Many conventional employees complain about the structure of a regular schedule, but it actually serves them far better than they realize.
Not only does a conventional schedule make you more productive, but it also allows you to spend time with the people you care about. This also gives you the flexibility to run errands or go to appointments.
Another important part of your day should be taking regular breaks. Breaks can increase mental wellbeing and productivity. So, don’t get sucked into the work void. Set alarms for yourself to take a break, drink water, walk around, or step outside for a few minutes.
When you’re working in the same space you live in, it’s easy to get disorganized. So if you have space, try working in a different place than where you spend your leisure time. This helps you separate work and play.
If this isn’t possible, try to keep your work desk (kitchen table, etc.) organized and tidy. Shut down your computer at the end of the day, or if you have a laptop, tuck it out of the way. This will help you turn your work brain off.
Another great way to stay organized is to take the time to organize your computer desktop (i.e., cleaning up folders, files, images, and clearing your trash bin).
Blurred personal and professional lines
A big challenge when you work from home is that you no longer have a clear division between workspace and personal space. Staying organized is just one part of the solution here. Another solution is to set clear expectations with your spouse and/or kids when you work from home. Ultimately, the clearer the boundaries you draw—both in space and time—between your work life and personal life, the better you can keep the two comfortably distinct.
The number one distraction working from home are our phones. As a whole, we waste so much precious time browsing and liking useless content online. The best way to deal with this problem is to put your phone away. Set your working hours and make a rule for yourself that you won’t be checking social media during predetermined working hours.
When working from home, we are also surrounded by our personal belongings and reminders of chores when we work from home. This can make it hard to focus. Distractions like your TV, books, and the laundry start calling to you. Physically removing yourself into a separate home office helps.
Lack of direction
People love to gripe about their superiors, but bosses/managers serve a crucial purpose—providing direction and supervision. They not only tell you what you need to do, but they give you feedback about your progress on it.
When you work from home, you tend to get less supervision and direction. But this guidance is what many employees desperately need to stay on track. The key here is to remain in close communication with your supervisor. Ask them which projects you should prioritize and when they expect you to reach each milestone. Meet with them weekly if needed to gain feedback and direction.
Human beings rely on nonverbal communication when they speak. But emails, phone calls, and even video calls remove much of the nuance from how we communicate. Just think back to the last time someone misinterpreted an email or text message you sent.
To solve the communication issue, schedule meetings with your team. Knowing what your co-worker’s big picture projects are will keep you informed. Sharing any previous agreed-upon deliverables and goals will ensure everyone is staying accountable for the work they said they would do.
For daily communication, use collaboration tools to keep track of all communications and ensure all team members remain in the loop using the same platform. Examples include Slack and Microsoft Teams. These tools allow you to track threads between two or more people, create assignments, file sharing, private messages, and much more.
Motivation and long-term vision
When you’re not surrounded by the career-driven energy of ambitious colleagues every day, it’s all too easy to slip into a rut. You get comfortable, earning enough money to get by and losing sight of your long-term career goals. You don’t get to walk by the corner office every day or chat with co-workers about the new promotion available.
Not everyone feels driven to advance their career and pursue promotions. But when you never leave your house, even those with an inner fire often feel it blow out. To solve the motivation rut, write out your long-term financial and career goals. Listen to motivational or inspiring podcasts or audiobooks. Continue to network in your industry, and if necessary, take online courses to help you advance your career or skill set.
Another motivational biggie here is to get up and get dressed. It’s hard to feel clean and fresh in the pajamas you slept in the night before. While you should keep professional clothes in your wardrobe for meetings with clients and vendors, you don’t have to sit at home in a suit all day. You do, however, need a work routine that includes real clothes.
Whether you’re working from home temporarily or working from home for the foreseeable future, overcoming these challenges is crucial to your WFH success. Setting clear boundaries, opening communication lines, and staying organized will ensure you have a successful workday any day.