“Work from home” – or WFH, as it’s commonly abbreviated – is not a new concept in the 21st century. But back in March, when the country (and much of the world) all but shutdown, the majority of the white collar population was forced to become an entirely remote workforce overnight. With no remote business training or acumen, most workers were ill-prepared to make the transition. Even for those of us accustomed to working remotely, working from home during a global pandemic changed all the rules. Uncontrollable stressors like loss of childcare and eldercare, homeschooling, financial woes, among others, piled on – and any playbook for navigating the situation went out the window.
Now, entering month eight of working from home, the shock of our circumstances has subsided and even the false hope that we could be nearing the end of this strange time has waned. No one really knows what’s coming next, and so, many seem to have fallen in stride with the new reality. More of us have gotten a handle on what works best day-to-day, what encourages productivity and creativity, as well as what we really need to succeed in an untraditional work environment. We’ve also become more attuned to the situations of our colleagues and clients, realizing that working from home looks very different for each person – and cutting everyone just a little bit more slack for making it work however they need to, because, really, everyone’s doing the best they can.
So, in that spirit, compiled below are 5 lessons I’ve learned over the last several months about how to effectively work from home. Some are expected, while others more surprising; all are ingredients for maintaining quality work performance, as well as your sanity.
BOUNDARIES GET BLURRED. ROUTINE PROVIDES FOCUS.
Who would have thought the commute to and from an office could have any redeeming qualities? As it turns out, the ritual of getting to and from work does an excellent job of marking the start and finish of a work day. While the commute itself was often stressful (highway traffic or packed train, pick your poison), this built-in boundary that many of us grew accustomed to having, completely disappeared with the onset of a daily work-from-home schedule. The lack of structure left many, myself included, feeling less in control of the daily work day. I quickly learned that in order to both jumpstart productivity and know when to wind it down, I needed to establish new routines to replace my former commute. For me, that means dropping my daughter off at school (in person…for now), then pouring myself a large cup of coffee and reading The Morning Newsletter from NYT. These rituals don’t have to be complex or lengthy, they just need to act as a mental bookmark – telling you where to start your day and where to end it.
WORKING FROM HOME IS INTENSE. SHORT BREAKS ARE NECESSARY.
It’s a safe bet that anyone who once thought working from home was a walk in the park, feels very differently now. With the constraints of COVID-19 in play, apartments and houses that used to be empty (re: quiet) during the day are now epicenters of chaos, hosting daycare (if you’re lucky enough to have childcare), home-school and multiple makeshift offices. Pile on other distractions like loads of dirty laundry, unpaid bills and a dog to walk, and it’s easy to see how finding focus is near impossible. And that only accounts for the built-in distractions of working out of the home; compound those challenges with the fundamentals of remote work – like constant connection and communication with clients and colleagues, and it’s no wonder we’re all exhausted. But, what hasn’t changed through all of this are the expectations that you do your job well. Because of that, it’s clear our work days require incorporating some level of self-care. Making time for a quick walk around the block, a screen-free lunch break or a mid-day yoga or meditation session can do wonders for relieving stress and resetting focus.
YOU DIDN’T PLAN FOR YOUR HOME TO BE YOUR OFFICE. ASK FOR WHAT YOU NEED TO SUCCEED.
Back in March when Double Forte first transitioned to the WFH model full time, we all learned a lot about one another’s personal spaces (thanks, Zoom!). For a close-knit team like ours, we didn’t bother trying to mask the reality. Many of us joined video chats from anywhere we could close a door and find quiet – sometimes, even from the bed (guilty!). The truth is, very few of us were outfitted with the space, equipment and supplies we needed to replicate our office workstations. Sensing this, Double Forte CEO Lee Caraher set a dialogue in motion to understand what all of us needed to do our jobs better from home. The result was a generous stipend for each employee to invest in his or her space. Don’t underestimate how a proper desk, comfortable chair and a wireless printer can set you up for success – speak up!
COMMUNICATION IS KING. USE EVERY MEDIUM AVAILABLE TO AVOID FATIGUE.
If you know Lee Caraher, you may have heard her talk about the importance of over-communicating, particularly under unusual or challenging circumstances. And rightly so. Communication is in fact at the root of what makes us good at our jobs in PR. While it can be tiring to “spell it all out” all the time, it more often than not saves our team confusion, missteps and duplicate work. For a break from the constant video conference stream, toss in some good old-fashioned phone conversations here and there too. It beats trying to have a full-blown conversation over Slack and gives everyone reprieve from being front and center on their computer screens.
DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF.
Last but not least, it’s worth noting the well-known and well-loved idiom: don’t sweat the small stuff. When you work from home – especially in the time of Coronavirus – things don’t always go according to plan. Interruptions happen, technology doesn’t always cooperate; we do our best to mitigate these issues of course, but given the circumstances, it’s important not to get caught up in the minutia. I learned this first-hand when my 4-year-old daughter barged in during a recent client call, intent on placing a pair of sparkly unicorn ears on my head. Thankfully, we all had a good laugh (client included). And in that moment, it became perfectly clear that if the general population’s mass transition to the WFH model has shown us anything, it’s humanity. And maybe that’s not so bad.