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Staying Sane and Meeting Expectations While Working from Home During COVID-19: Part 1

August 14, 2020
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Staying Sane and Meeting Expectations While Working from Home During COVID-19: Part 1

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit the US, over 100 million Americans found themselves working from home, many of them for the first time[1]. As the pandemic and social distancing measures wear, many of those are facing the likelihood of working from home through the end of 2020 and beyond.

Though working from home has already been happening for several months, the lessons are likely ongoing. These are some pointers and considerations for working from home when it is not yet second nature. Part 1, here, talks about your work habits and workday, while Part 2 discusses some ways to support healthy and efficient work habits while away from your in-home office.

Your Daily Schedule at Work

The workday in the office may follow a standard pattern, such as 9 to 5 or something similar. That is great if you like that pattern and can manage it at home, but it is not alway possible to set aside so many consecutive hours of work at home if you live with other people, especially children. 

Rather, alternative work schedules may be necessary for you to get your work done and keep the household running smoothly without overextending yourself. For example, the following daily schedule lets you eat meals with your family, exercise, do household chores, and spend quality time with your family or help children with schoolwork.

The above schedule includes only 6 hours of work per day, but that may work out because of:

  • The nature of working from home compared to in an office, where you may feel obligated to attend meetings that are not useful for you or interrupt your workflow to take care of other tasks that come up.
  • The potential to reduce wasted time, such as by limiting email checks to a regular schedule, such as hourly or twice a day.
  • Increasing focus during the abbreviated workday, which can happen with increased motivation to finish your tasks within the shorter time frame. 

Communicate with Your Boss...

It may be hard to remember, but your boss is unable to monitor you every second of the day the way you may feel she does at the office. When you are working from home, your boss does not know if a family situation comes up that requires your attention and therefore may push back your target deadline for a deliverable, or if your spouse has an unexpected meeting and therefore needs you to watch the kids for a bit, which throws off your own availability for work.

It is crucial during this period of remote working to communicate with your boss. She deserves to know that your work is progressing according to plan. If it is not on track, your boss needs to know how long of a delay or what other type of fallout to expect. Depending on the nature of your job, your boss may also want to know which hours of the day you expect to be available.

Depending on how comfortable you are sharing such information with your boss, you may also want to point out possible reasons for disruptions such as altered availability or a delay in meeting a deadline. Having children at home, and caring for eldery or sick family members, are examples of reasons why your work schedule may be less predictable or consistent, or why certain meeting times may not work for you despite being during regular business hours.

...And with Everyone Else

Coworkers and family members also affect your work, and good communication can make things better for everyone. Certainly keeping in touch about joint projects and shared items at work is necessary, but it may also be a good idea to mimic water cooler chat using your company's messaging/chat system. 

Casual conversation at work lets you get to know your colleagues better, which can lead to more positive feelings towards them and greater motivation to help them and the company. Collaboration can also be easier when you know your collaborators on a more personal level. The casual chit-chat can also make you a better employee by making you happier and healthier.

Set Expectations with Household Members

When they are used to you working in an office and having leisure time while at home, it can be hard for household members to understand that now, you are working from home and are not available for trivial conversations. Being clear and consistent with your messages and expectations can help, as can being patients as it can take time for everyone to adjust.

In addition to providing your general hours, it may help to have a system so it is easy for others to know whether they can come. A traffic light system may help.

  • Green: you are available for them to come to your workspace and talk to you.
  • Yellow: you are available for important questions, but not for chit-chat.
  • Red: you are unavailable except for emergencies. This may be when you are in online meetings or fighting a tight deadline.

You can simply post your color on your door or elsewhere that is visible. If you get an image of a traffic light with an arrow showing which one is "lit" at the moment, kids may love playing the "game" of adhering to the traffic rules and not bugging you when you are busy.

Be Flexible

As unpredictable as a day at the office can be, the spontaneity may seem like nothing compared to the seeming randomness of a day at home. Seemingly constant interruptions can include answering the door for a delivery person, helping your neighbor with a broken sprinkler, running to the grocery store for eggs, and playing with, entertaining, helping, and cleaning up after children.

The best approach is to limit unnecessary interruptions, and accept or work around the others.  Getting upset will only interfere with your focus and productivity.

You may need to adjust to working in shorter spurts, and being hyper focused in the moments that your family doesn't need you. This can require a conscious effort to improve your skills at switching tasks quickly. For example, after pouring your daughter a glass of milk, you may only have a few minutes to work before she needs your help with a math worksheet, so you cannot afford to waste any time getting back to work after pouring the milk.

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