Suddenly Working From Home? 5 Tips to Stay Focused and Sane

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Mom works on a laptop while her child does homework
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Companies from Amazon in Seattle to Capital One in Virginia are combating the spread of the new coronavirus by encouraging and even mandating thousands of employees to work remotely, many for the first time.

You, too, may soon join the legions of workers told to turn their homes into workplaces if you have not already.

Remote work is advised by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and nearly half of all businesses are planning it because of the outbreak of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, says the Willis Towers Watson risk management firm.

If your company asks you to work from home, you actually might find yourself more productive than at the office, says Kathy Gardner, spokesperson for FlexJobs, a subscription-based job board that specializes in postings for legitimate part-time, remote, flexible-schedule or freelance work.

Fewer distractions and interruptions from colleagues, more-efficient meetings and a comfortable work environment contribute to higher productivity, she says.

1. Create your workspace

“If you’re new to remote work, carve out a dedicated, distraction-free work space, set clear expectations from your manager, stick to a schedule, establish boundaries with others in your house, and communicate,” Gardner says.

Any flat surface with available power outlets and internet will do. That can mean kitchen counters, dining room tables or even your couch. If you have a room where you can close the door, great.

A table in the quiet corner of your house or apartment may have to do. But no one on the other end of a business or conference call will want to hear your kitchen blender, arguments about the TV remote or screaming kids in the background.

2. Set rules

If you live with others, you will need to tell them: When you are working from home, you’re working. Put a “Stop” sign on your desk or office door. When it’s up, no one bothers you and silence is mandatory, even if you’re not in the same room.

Even when the sign is down, they still should ask first before entering to let you concentrate. Noise-canceling headphones or even wearing a hat can signal others that you’re in the middle of something.

Prepare activities to keep kids busy while you work. You might consider hiring a babysitter for a few hours a day. If your spouse is home, maybe you can take turns.

3. Keep your routine — mostly

Treat your work-at-home day like any other day at the office, advises FlexJobs blogger Rachel Pelta. Still, skipping the morning commute may give you time for a leisurely breakfast, starting the laundry or walking the dog.

You may no longer be a commuter, but you’ll still want show up on time at your computer. Sit down to work at your normal office start time and be dressed for work. Forget the stereotype of staying in your pajamas: You want to look professional for any online video conferences and chats.

Plan to take any normal coffee breaks and lunch periods. You likely will be closer to tasty temptations in your own fridge than you were to your office’s breakroom.

Structure your days so you can get your work done without stretching your working hours, blurring the line between home and work. You might be tempted to use the equivalent of your home-commute time to get a jump on tomorrow’s work. But just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you’re suddenly available 24/7, unless you were already.

On the other hand, if your home situation prevents you from putting in a full day, you and your significant other might find yourselves catching up on work at night.

4. Check your equipment

Most remote work requires a laptop or desktop computer, internet access and a smartphone, Gardner says. Ideally, your company might be able to provide you with a larger monitor or dual monitors, a wireless full-size keyboard and mouse and a headset for your computer and cellphone.

Also, make sure you have the right communications apps and software, Gardner says. Many companies already have their own tools, but you might find yourself using Slack for instant messaging, Zoom for web and video conferencing, Skype or Google Hangouts for video calls or chats, Pivotal Tracker and Trello for project management, and Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive for document collaboration.

Remember to turn off your computer’s camera and go with audio and chat only if, say, your cat’s litterbox or child’s crib is in the background. And don’t stream Netflix to have something in the background. It’s too distracting.

5. Communicate

You need to find the balance between being out-of-sight-out-of-mind and pestering your boss and coworkers electronically every five minutes to brag about your latest spreadsheet update.

“It’s natural to want to prove to your boss that you really are working when you’re at home,” Pelta says.

To keep your supervisor in the loop, document your work and talk about it. You can upload documents and spreadsheets to a shared drive, update project management software or simply write an end-of-day email about what you did and what you plan to accomplish tomorrow.

Chatting, instant messaging and phone calls, when not excessive, will help you feel connected and keep up your morale while physically apart from your team.

What do you do to work from home? Post a comment below or at Money Talks News on Facebook.

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