Finding it challenging to develop a work rhythm and missing some of your “real office” comforts are common reactions to adapting to remote work. On top of that, remote workers might find themselves caught in an anxiety-provoking news cycle or juggling full-time childcare, which can impact focus.
Makeshift offices. Kids fighting in the background. Catastrophic headlines everywhere. The nation’s sudden pivot to remote working is different than a “normal” work-from-home policy, and many teams are struggling to adapt.
(That’s not to say that remote work doesn’t offer unique challenges even in a “normal” world; many of the techniques and suggestions you’ll find here will also be helpful to anyone working from home even after offices are opened back up.)
Finding it challenging to develop a work rhythm and missing some of your “real office” comforts are common reactions to adapting to remote work.
On top of that, remote workers might find themselves caught in an anxiety-provoking news cycle or juggling full-time childcare, which can impact focus.
From managing a team remotely to navigating a self-disciplined routine, it’s an entirely new world for many professionals. Here are tips to help you navigate some common challenges when it comes to mental health and productivity when working from home.
Dealing with Isolation and Anxiety
Keep in Contact
Working remotely doesn’t have to mean cutting off social contact; in fact, staying in touch is more important than ever. Consider having video-based meetings—even just for short, informal sidelines—with your coworkers and teams instead of sending email updates.
You can also set planned break times throughout the day for “water cooler” chats, where work-related topics are off the table for 10 minutes, and everyone can share something interesting or fun they’ve been doing outside of work.
You might be physically isolated, but that doesn’t have to mean being socially isolated.
Control What You Can and Set Limits
You might not be able to control what’s happening in the news, or even in your own home. Instead, focus on what you can control. You can eat regular meals and set a regular sleep cycle. You can take time for daily exercise or quality time with your family.
You can limit your news or social media consumption if that makes you anxious.
At work, you can control how you plan your day, use your time, complete your tasks, and how you treat your team members. Those are the things you should be expending energy on.
Remember to cut yourself some slack during this time. Even seasoned remote workers might struggle right now, so it’s important to balance your work with things that remind you you’re doing the best job you can.
Did you complete that report you had on your to-do list? Maybe take a quick break to walk around the block or listen to your favorite podcast. Did you stick to your news consumption limit? Make that dinner recipe you were looking forward to.
Optimizing Your Focus
Keep a Schedule, but Make It Work for You
One perk of working from home is that you may have the ability to work different hours than normal; for example, starting the workday a couple of hours later or working into the evening, if that is your peak time.
Make sure to arrange this schedule with your manager and teammates beforehand, so that everyone at work knows when you are available.
Many remote workers right now are also juggling full-time childcare as schools and recreation programs remain closed. If this is the case, you might consider working a slightly different schedule than your partner to balance this out.
For example, your boss might allow you to work a Saturday to Wednesday, so you and your partner can stagger childcare duties. This is also helpful if you and your partner share an office.
Stick to a Routine the Way You Would in an Office
Even if you’re working slightly off-peak hours, it’s still important to have a routine. Wake up at a regular time, get dressed, and make sure you eat breakfast.
During the day, schedule short breaks for exercise, refueling (physically, mentally, and emotionally), or to tackle household tasks. The more you structure your day, the easier you will find it to keep on task.
Make a Daily Task List
If you struggle to focus without conventional office structure, try breaking your day into manageable chunks: Two hours for task #1, two hours for task #2, coffee break, etc. Write this down on a pad of paper and keep it next to you if you need. When you feel your attention drifting, refer back to your list.
Making the Most of Your Space
Mimic Your Office Setup as Much as Possible
If you have dual monitors, an external keyboard, and an ergonomically designed desk chair at your office, don’t expect to have the same output at home with a laptop and an Ikea stool.
Ask your boss if you can bring your monitors to your home if this is a temporary setup, or if they will let you keep an extra one there indefinitely (your I.T. specialist can likely walk you through the setup over the phone). Invest in a solid desk, good lighting, and other office accessories you might need.
Your body—and brain—will thank you later.
Customize Your Background on Video Calls
In times of crisis, we all crave genuine human connection, so it can actually be compelling to see your colleagues in their natural habitat, with kids or pets running through the background.
If you’re worried about privacy, or you really don’t want colleagues knowing your home office is actually the guest bathroom or something, take advantage of custom backgrounds for video calls.
Both Zoom and Skype allow you to select custom backgrounds in settings (it works much like desktop wallpaper). Microsoft Teams lets you blur your background for video calls, which can be useful for privacy concerns too.
Control Ambient Noise
If your work-from-home setup is an open space and you don’t have the option of closing a door for some quiet time, consider using noise-canceling headphones to drown out background sounds.
If you’re in a separate room but still can’t avoid household sounds, consider some makeshift sound-baffling. Hanging textiles, heavy drapes, or foam panels on the walls can go a long way to reducing ambient noise in your workspace.
Be Flexible with Hours and Deadlines if Possible
Be mindful that this is not a typical work-from-home scenario. Your employees may not just be working remotely, but also caring for children who are out of school or running errands for friends or family in self-isolation.
If possible, be flexible with hours. That might mean allowing some team members to work slightly off-peak hours or to have weekly deliverables instead of daily deliverables. As long as your team is completing their work on time and to standard, it’s okay to be flexible about how and when it gets done.
Make Time for Community
During this chaotic time, human connection is important, and even your most introverted employees may be missing some of the social aspects of office life. Show empathy and community as a leader by scheduling ongoing virtual coffee breaks with your team.
Even just thirty minutes every other day can make a big difference. Set up a recurring video call and invite everyone to grab a coffee and join.
Keep the conversation light and send around a theme question to discuss beforehand if necessary. Questions like, “What’s one non-digital activity that’s keeping you sane during self-isolation?” Or, “What’s the best trip you’ve ever taken and why?” are some examples.
Agree on Methods of Communication
If you’re like most offices, your team may be communicating using several different platforms, from in-person and phone calls to email and task management software.
Without the luxury of being able to pop into someone’s office and ask for a direct update, it can get pretty chaotic tracking down info sent on various platforms.
Agree beforehand how information will be communicated when your team is working remotely.
Maybe weekly status updates will happen over video, while ongoing project communication happens through email, and casual “water cooler” chat happens on a designated chat thread.
Have a Plan for Business Continuity
Unfortunately, some of the same business challenges can happen when your office is operating remotely.
And, of course, bigger disasters can still happen and interrupt your business.
Hackers and cybercriminals have always worked from home, so it’s business as usual for them. And Mother Nature is still as fickle as ever; she does not seem to be planning to wait out the coronavirus before throwing extreme weather and events at us.
It can be challenging to handle business continuity remotely, so it’s more important than ever to have a plan in place and to make sure your team is familiar with it.
Your I.T. team can be a wealth of information with this, so get their input and make sure your team has their contact information for troubleshooting on the fly.
How can we help your team with the technical details of a pivot to remote work? In addition to being able to provide all the necessary technology tools, JMARK has experience in outfitting and operating remote teams that can help you create a powerhouse work-from-home group.
In addition to our home office in Springfield, Missouri, we’ve got an office in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and over a dozen remote workers spread throughout the country, working from home full time. Contact us now using the form on this page, at 844-44-JMARK or by email at [email protected]