COVID-19 has changed the working environment for millions of American workers as the need to socially distance has prompted many employers to temporarily suspend workplace gatherings.
A Gallup poll reveals that only 25% or remote workers want to return to the workplace once those restrictions are lifted. For many people, it’s much more convenient to work from home. Gone are the long commutes, bumper-to-bumper traffic, and parking fees.
There’s no need to worry about getting dressed, since you can wear comfortable clothes, like pajamas and house shoes – although a dress shirt might be necessary for the occasional video chat. Another perk is that you no longer need to worry about your co-workers “accidentally” eating your lunch and drinking all of the coffee without making another pot.
While the advantages of working from home are many, there is one major drawback: the ability to stay productive.
How Your Company Creates a Work-focused Environment
A typical workplace environment, such as an office, has a lot of built-in mechanisms to help you focus on the work at hand. First and foremost is the boss walking around. And then, there are those coworkers who are likely to give you the side eye when you appear to be goofing off. And even if they don’t, the very act of seeing other people work is a reminder that you should be working as well.
In addition, the physical layout of the office is conducive to work. The placement of chairs and desks, ringing phones, and keyboard tapping sounds all combine to create the type of environment in which business is conducted.
Even the time factor plays a role. People arrive at a certain time, go to lunch at a certain time, and then leave at a certain time. The office functions like clockwork.
Your Home Environment May Be Too Much Like Home
At home, your work environment is completely different. Since you’re the king or queen of your castle, there’s no one monitoring your actions, and no peer pressure from coworkers.
It’s quite likely that your work setup is also completely different. If you have a home office, this space is more likely to at least provide a level of separation from the rest of the house. However, if you have a desk and a chair set up in a spare bedroom, or you’re working on your laptop at the kitchen island, it’s not going to even remotely resemble your office.
In addition, working from home tends to skew your work hours. You may sleep longer, stop working throughout the day for various reasons, and lose track of how long you’ve actually been working.
However, these tips can help you stay productive:
Mimic Your Office Environment
For some people (for example, you’re in a cramped apartment with a roommate) space could be an issue. Other people may have a dedicated home office. However, if you don’t fall neatly in either of these categories, try to create a space that’s dedicated to your work. A guest bedroom is an ideal place, but at least try to put a small desk and chair in an unused part of your house.
However, it needs to be a place where you can keep everything you need to do your work. And it needs to be comfortable, or you’ll look for every opportunity to leave it. If you don’t have natural light, make sure you have a task light so you’re not straining your eyes. Your desk and chair should also be at a comfortable height.
Mimic Your Work Hours
Being at home provides flexibility, but if you don’t keep a regular schedule, it will be hard to remain productive. If you start working at 8am one day, 10am the next day, and 9am the following day, your body and your work may suffer from such inconsistencies.
Also, if you’re running errands on your lunch break, try to stay within your usual timeframe. Occasionally, you may need to run an errand that takes a couple of hours, but as a general rule, try to take your lunch break at the same time and for the same amount of time. And actually take a break when you’re on lunch. It’s tempting to eat at your computer while you’re working. However, your brain needs to recharge, so give it time to rest.
In addition, get in the habit of stopping work at the same time every day. When you’re in the office, it’s easier to leave on time, because you know that you have to travel home. However, when you’re already at home, there’s a tendency to keep working. If you fall into that habit, you’ll end up working 9, 10 or more hours a day without even realizing it.
Put Your Chores on Hold
When you’re at home, the laundry room is so close that you might be tempted to stop and put a load of laundry in the machine. Although it seems like these are quick projects, the time can add up quickly. No one washes just one load. Also, you’re not going to leave your wet clothes in the washer, or let your freshly dried clothes get wrinkled in the dryer. And once you fold the clothes, you’ll want to put them away. And you might end up going down a rabbit hole of tasks. Treat laundry as you if you were at the office: tackle it when your work is done for the day.
Another area where people get tripped up is making meals. For example, when you were going to the office, perhaps you would cook several day’s worth of meals at one time and then refrigerate them. However, now that you’re at home, you may be stopping to cook lunch every day (and also stopping to wash your breakfast and lunch dishes). Again, it may not seem like a lot of time, but these changes to your routine can add up.
Remove Your Temptations
You might like to keep the TV or your favorite tunes on in the background as you’re working. However, if you end up stopping to actually look at the TV every time you see something interesting, you’ll never get anything done.
The same goes for music. Some experts consider listening to music (unless it’s instrumental, like classical or jazz) to be a form of multitasking. And the same part of your brain that you use to read and write is the part that you use to remember the words to the songs that you sing along to. This means that you’re not concentrating on your work when you’re trying to sing along with your favorite tunes.
Family members and friends are another temptation. Even though you’re at home, you’re still at work. This is not the time to help your kids with their homework or listen to your friend’s latest escapades. Create do not disturb times on your phone and with your kids. Obviously, they can interrupt you in the event of an emergency, but those are rare.
Also, avoid surfing the internet while you should be working. Those social media posts will still be there when you get off work – and if not, maybe they weren’t that important in the first place. Taking a five-minute Facebook break can easily spiral out of control when you see a post, decide to Google it for more information, and during the process, see another story that looks interesting . . . and now you’ve spent over an hour going down different rabbit holes.
Working from home can be convenient, but it can also be hazardous to your work. By setting boundaries and exercising discipline, you can be just as productive at home as you were in the office.
Terri Williams is a freelance writer, covering business, finance, real estate, and lifestyle topics.