Want to be even MORE productive at home than you were at work? Try these tips…

This blog post is part of our Working with Virtual Teams series. You can find all of the content here.

Updated on April 7, 2020 with more useful information.

For many of us, working from home was something we ALWAYS wanted to do, but were rarely able to do so. It’s quite likely that the COVID-19 crisis has changed that situation forever. Workers that are successfully able to negotiate the obstacles that the home office presents and end up as productive if not MORE productive are going to find their lives changed forever.

So, we at Artisan thought we might share some tips for working at home that will come in handy during the self-isolation of the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

Create a Dedicated Space

Successfully working from home is as much about psychology as it is about physicality. If you’ve spent your entire career working in the office, you’ve already established a “work-zone” and a “home-zone.” Although we still tend to work at home more than we should, we play by different rules at home than at work. All of that has to change if you’re going to be spending the same hours working at home as you were working at work.

You need to start by dedicating a space that is your “office.” It doesn’t have to be a separate special room (although that helps). I just recently watched a YouTube video by Seth Myers – he did a “Closer Look” segment from what looks like his upstairs hallway. Hey, whatever works!

Close the Door

If you have a separate space for your home office, shut the door if there’s a possibility of home life leaking in to your work environment. These leaks may cause context switching which is something you REALLY don’t want to have to deal with. If you’re planning to be in a meeting or training event, post a note on the door that reminds everyone else in the house that you’re not only working, but you’re in a meeting and can’t be disturbed.

Get Some Exercise During the Day

Just because you are working from home doesn’t mean you postpone your exercise schedule. Again, it’s SUPER important that you remain healthy – especially now. Schedule some time, usually first thing in the morning, to get some exercise. Do it every single day and your body will start to cooperate with getting up on time, being fully awake when you’re working, and you’ll beat the cabin-fever-blues.

I recommend the following morning routine (you don’t have to do it as listed, but try to work in these items as best you can):

  1. Get up (at the same time every work day) and brush your teeth.
  2. Drink a glass of water.
  3. Workout for 30 minutes.
  4. Eat breakfast and have your coffee (or whatever you like to drink in the morning).
  5. Meditate for 10-20 minutes (there’s a lot of weird stuff going on – don’t think that you can simply deal with it like normal – give your brain a chance to stop and think).
  6. Go to the home office and kick butt.

Be Consistent

Both you and your family will appreciate that you begin work at the same time pretty much every day, that you take breaks and lunch at the same time, and that you quit working for the day at about the same time. It allows them to adapt to your unusual work circumstances and will help you become really productive working from home. you will find it easier if you simply get up at the same time EVERYDAY (even weekends). Once your body gets the hint, you’ll be ready to wake-up when the alarm goes off in the morning.

When you are done for the day, I recommend that you close the office. what I mean by this is that you decide what you want to start working on in the morning. Open up the right application and start typing the beginning of the first piece of the work (for example, many writers quit for the day by writing the beginning of the first sentence of the next paragraph — it gives them a jumping off point for picking up in the morning). Then, put the computer to sleep and walk away.

Leave Your SmartPhone in the Home Space

With technologies like Zoom, WebEx, Microsoft Teams, GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Duo, etc. you simply DO NOT need your smartphone in the work space. Unless you have a specific phone for work, leave your smartphone in another room. It has nothing on it you don’t already have in your home office. What it does have on it is lots and lots of unwelcome distractions from your work day.

Likely, during the COVID-19 crisis, you have loved ones in high risk groups (I can count at least seven in my close family that I worry about every day). Add some time to reach out to these folks during your breaks and lunch. Plan times with your partner, spouse, or siblings to reach out to those folks you love on a regular basis. They’ll feel better for it and so will you (which means more work gets done when you go back to the home office).

Be Happy

If you make comments in your house about “oh, I have to go to work now! Ugh” or “I hate going to work” or “Hey, stop making so much noise, I’m working!!” two things are going to happen. First, everyone in the house is going to believe that you HATE your job and will start to resent you having to work when you are home. Children will be most affected by this and you may even discover them making noise just to draw you out (negative reinforcement). The second thing that will happen is that YOU will begin to believe that you HATE your job.

Don’t do this to yourself. There are too many things to be positive about. You are working! You have a job! Even COVID-19 aside, not everyone has that luxury. Be positive. Say, “I get to go to work now — everyone please try to be quiet until my next break. Thank you!”

Get the Right Equipment

Of course, you need the right equipment (or the best you can do under the circumstances):

  1. A laptop and a large connected monitor works best.
  2. A desk that can be raised and lowered (so you can stand and work during the day).
  3. A comfortable chair (you’re going to be spending hours in it).
  4. Post it notes for when you need to take a quick note (or use OneNote or EverNote or DropBox Pages, etc).

In my personal home office, I also include:

  1. A side table for drinks (I can’t afford to spill my drink on my computer or work).
  2. A separate hard drive for running incremental backups (I use TimeMachine on my MacBook).
  3. A printer (I create a lot of materials that I simply like to hold in my hands and read).
  4. A flat screen TV with Apple TV connected (which allows me to use it as a separate monitor when I need more “work space.”
  5. A timer – as a Scrum trainer, I like to practice what I preach, so I work in time-boxes (more about this in another blog in this series). When the timer hits zero, I wrap up what I’m doing and move to the next project or task.

Plan The Night Before

The folks that are REALLY going to be challenged during the COVID-19 crisis are the parents of small children who are home from school for the foreseeable future. Trying to work while your children are leaning on you for, well, everything is going to be REALLY difficult. My advice is that you plan for the next day before you pack it in for the night. Here are some of the things you should be thinking about in your nightly planning:

  1. If you’re lucky enough to have a spouse or partner in the house with you, you might want to set a schedule that allows each of you to handle your meetings while also being on call for the children.
  2. Meals – depending on the ages of the children, some meals can be planned by simply making sure that the ingredients are available for them (bread and lunchmeat for sandwiches, soups that can be easily heated, leftovers from the night before). Other meals will need to be prepped the night before so that they can be easily heated for dinner (or you might find yourself sitting down to dinner at 7:00pm).
  3. Activities for the children during the day – again, depending on the ages of the children, this can vary from when naps are supposed to occur (lined up with the spouse/partner schedule so you each know who is responsible for getting the little ones in bed) to chores that the children are supposed to complete). you might even want to use this situation as an opportunity to teach your children how to safely wash dishes, clean the dining room table, clean their rooms, etc.
  4. Plan time during the next day for your exercise routine.
  5. Update the grocery shopping list as you plan. Nothing results in either delaying shopping until you run out of things, causing more interruptions during the workday for stuff you ran out of, or poor financial decisions in the grocery store than shopping with no list.

No Work After Quitting Time

Make your home office the space for WORK. When you’re there, you’re working. When you are not working, don’t use this space! Too much non-work stuff will gather in the workspace and you’ll quickly find yourself looking at the clock as it ticks past noon wondering why you haven’t gotten any WORK done (but the checkbook is reconciled and you’ve gotten the shopping list done for the week).

Likewise, if too much work stuff gathers in the non-work spaces, you’ll find yourself working more and more. This is a recipe for disaster. As you work harder and harder, the things that need to be done to keep life going in your household will fall by the wayside, intruding more into your work day, making it harder to get work done, forcing you to work longer, etc. Remember, in this situation, YOU need to stay healthy.

Pay Attention to Your Home Network

If you’re working over WiFi in your home, there are some steps you can take to reduce or eliminate the stuttering performance on Zoom, Skype, or Teams.

  1. If your router support QoS (Quality of Service), you can prioritize video streaming (Zoom, Skype, etc.) so that you don’t end up switching off with your son downloading the latest 20GB monster game on his Xbox.
  2. Modern WiFi support “channels” (like lanes on a highway). If you use a channel that all of the other homes around you are using, it’s like sitting in traffic in a crowded lane when the lane next to you is moving more quickly. Set your router to automatic channel selection and restart it.
  3. If you can, run a wire from your router (yes, most of them still do that) and hook it up directly to your computer. This will give you far faster performance when you are video conferencing.
  4. Consider having everyone else in the house that is using WiFi switch to cell data instead. Check with your provider first, of course, but many are already offering unlimited data during the COVID crisis.

Setting up a home office properly is a key element if you want to be successful working from home. Take care to get the office right, but also take time to ensure that you take care of yourself. Working in your home creates real challenges keeping work and life reasonably separated.

We at Artisan hope all of you, your family, friends, and coworkers are healthy and safe and wish for you, in these times, serenity and happiness. Be well!

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