While the number of people working from home has tripled in the past 15 years, it’s grown leaps and bounds in the past several weeks, at least temporarily. With the likes of Facebook, Google and Amazon encouraging at least some of their employees to work remotely during the coronavirus outbreak, supporting the social distancing recommended by the CDC, you can bet the laptops are open and humming on kitchen counters and couches, amidst dirty breakfast dishes and laundry, across the country.
If you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly working from home, you may be floundering with how to cope with some unique challenges. Here’s how to keep them from derailing your productivity:
You get up from your computer to get a glass of water and notice the dishwasher needs to be emptied. You spy a neighbor through your office window and remember she has your lawnmower, so you pop outside to chat with her (at least six feet away) about it. Suddenly, those domestic chores you avoid on the weekends seem really tempting.
To combat the ironic allure of cleaning the kitchen, develop tunnel vision. When you make a trip in there for water, don’t let your eyes or thoughts stray. Get your water and go back to work. You can schedule your own breaks away from your workspace to give in to those distractions. You can decide you’ll take a break to fold the laundry or walk the dog after a certain amount of time working or after you complete certain tasks.
When you’re living and working in the same space, it can be easy for work to carry over into your personal time. You’ll remember someone you meant to email and sit down to do “just this one thing” at nine o’clock at night, and suddenly you’ve gotten pulled into several other tasks, spending hours working when you should be relaxing.
Make your work boundaries clearer with space and time. You can tell yourself you absolutely will not check in on work after 6pm or on weekends. If you have an office door you can close (with you on the outside), that will help enforce that self-made rule. If you don’t have a whole room for work, at least find a dedicated space so that when you’re in this chair or at that table, you are working, and when you are away from it, you’re off the clock.
Lack of Context in Communications
We’ve all lamented the lack of tone of voice when writing an email or sending a text, but when working from home, you rely a lot more on such indirect communications. It’s easy to misinterpret someone’s two-word response as annoyance or to misunderstand the facts entirely.
There are several ways to cope with this. Number one, proofread your own typed communication vigilantly to avoid misunderstandings. Two, don’t read too much into someone else’s written tone. Unless they are obviously angry, odds are a clipped response simply means they’re busy. Number three, ask for clarification when necessary instead of assuming things. And fourth, just pick up the phone and call them instead of sending a manuscript-length text.
If you live with other people, they’ll likely interrupt you. With other adults, a closed office door or a studious “I’m working” expression will do the trick. With kids, you’ll probably have to be more explicit. Put a sign on that door, or maybe on your forehead, stating that unless the house is on fire or someone needs to go to the hospital, you’re effectively not home. A promise of hanging out later, at a specific time so they know what to expect, can help younger kids respect these boundaries.