For a majority of the past 15 years, my career has been rooted from my home in rural America. With the COVID-19 pandemic, many of you are trying to navigate a telecommute situation. Through trial and error, here is a list of best practices I have learned to create an efficient work-from-home routine for my employer, colleagues, family and myself:
1. Dedicate space for your work.
If you don’t have a home office or are now sharing it with your spouse, take the time to create your dedicated space. You’ll need a desk or table, good lighting and a comfortable chair. For those with children, I strongly suggest your workspace has a door. If necessary, hide in a closet or the laundry room with a lamp. Set up your office in a corner or along an open wall in a bedroom. I’ve learned a dedicated space allows you to “go to work” and “leave work.”
2. Wake up and get ready for work.
Get up like usual for your office commute. Exercise, shower and get dressed for work. Yes, working from home has the benefit of staying in your pajamas or workout clothes — and I’ve done that before. However, I’m more efficient if I feel and look like I’m going to work.
3. Make sure you have the internet service and equipment to be successful.
Thanks to my rural state of North Dakota, which has 95% of the state covered in broadband internet access, I’ve never had internet access issues. If your internet isn’t rocking it, try your mobile phone provider’s hotspots. My internet provider is doubling bandwidth availability right now at no extra charge. Mobile phone providers are opening up hotspots. When it comes to equipment, a larger screen and headset or ear buds for a phone are helpful.
4. Create a disciplined routine.
Go to work just like you leave the house daily. Take your coffee with you to your desk. Prep a meal the night before or in the morning before your workday starts. Put in a load of laundry, if you want, but don’t plan to do laundry, cook or whatever else might distract you in the middle of your workday unless it’s during a break you’ve built into your routine. I build my work-from-home routine into my calendar. If I need an hour of no interruptions to complete a project, I close out my email and all notifications. I set up video calls with colleagues just as we would have face-to-face meetings. With today’s technology and your work-from-home space, you can be a disciplined employee with a set routine.
5. Build interaction into your day.
If you’re an introvert, working from home is likely an easy transition. Extroverts need interaction and energy from others to thrive in a work-from-home environment. Build in 15-minute coffee breaks with colleagues or friends outside of work by video to simply not talk about work. Chat like you would over a cup of coffee at your favorite coffee shop or over lunch with a friend. It’s also a good idea to take a break from your computer and go for a walk outside. For work meetings, set up video calls and have face-to-face interaction with others.
6. Set expectations with colleagues and family.
Communicate your expected work hours with colleagues and family members. Prior to COVID-19 precautions, if I’m going to be away at an appointment or leave my home office to run an errand, I put it on my calendar and let those who might try to get in touch with me know I won’t be available. Your family should understand you are at work. Your work team should expect you are working during normal hours unless you let them know otherwise.
7. Working with kids at home.
Working with kids at home is not ideal for a quiet workday routine. When I had babies and toddlers, they went to daycare or their grandparents' house. Thankfully, they were nearby, so I could drop in to breastfeed my baby or have lunch with them at Grandma’s house. I have also hired babysitters to care for our children in our basement while I worked upstairs. When school isn’t in session, I carve out time each night to discuss the plan for the next day with our daughters. Before they interrupt me, they must ask themselves: Am I bleeding? Am I breathing? Is anyone in danger? That rule helps ensure my kids won’t interrupt me 20 times an hour. In addition to educational activities, I leave a list of jobs for them and they read, play games and create art projects.
Based on my experience, I’m a better employee because I work from home. I get more done. I’m more disciplined and efficient in my work. When the COVID-19 global health pandemic subsides, we will see more employers maintain telecommute work policies. Establish your routine now — and without a commute, enjoy more time at home with your loved ones in your home.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.