How to effectively work from home- How to stay focused during chaos

By: Ali Broders, PMP

As consultants, we have honed our skills of working remotely over the years. Over the past few weeks, the modern workplace has changed. For many, this means changing out the conference room table for the kitchen table.

Here are some productivity tips that we have learned from working ‘out of the office.

Designate a workspace

It can be difficult to work in the same space in which you relax, sleep, or eat. Identify a space that can be designated for work, preferably a room with a door that can be closed. Aim for space without clutter or distractions. Gather your work equipment and supplies and set them up in a functional manner.

If your spouse, partner, or roommate is also working from home, designate separate workspaces. If separate workspaces are not possible, coordinate schedules so that you are not trying to hold overlapping conference calls or web conferencing meetings.

Reduce Distractions

For many, the shift to working from home also means a whole new set of distractions. Remove yourself from an environment in which you are amidst domestic responsibilities such as laundry, dishes, or cooking. Reduce background noise and turn off the TV.

With recent school closures, many parents are faced with a new challenge of homeschooling children while balancing work. Determine a schedule with your children that everyone can stick to. Do not be afraid to set boundaries with your children so that they know while you are in your workspace, they need to be respectful of the fact that you are working. A visual cue may help kids to understand when they absolutely cannot interrupt, for example, a stop sign or quiet sign on the door. Enlist your kids to help make the sign as a craft.

Also, give your coworkers or clients a heads-up on conference calls that you have a child with you at home that may make their presence known so that they aren’t caught off guard if they hear small voices in the background. People are generally understanding, especially during these unprecedented times.

Establish a work schedule

Eliminating your commute and office small talk should leave you with so much additional productive time, but that isn’t always the case. Without defined start and endpoints, the day can easily drag into unproductive time. The mindset that you have all day or that there is so much extra time can be damaging to productivity. Set checkpoints of what you expect to accomplish by certain times throughout the day and keep track of how long each task ends up taking. Evaluate how your time is spent and develop a plan to work more efficiently if necessary.

Many people find that even when they are not going into an office, they still need to get themselves ‘together’ first thing in the morning to be productive. Setting a routine of waking at the same time each day, showering, dressing, enjoying breakfast and coffee, and then starting the workday can make all the difference. Establishing a structure to your day is essential.

In the same sense, working from home for some can also mean working longer hours because now the boundary between work and home has been blurred. Setting a schedule will enable you to maintain a sense of work and life balance.

Schedule Breaks

It’s easy to get lost in your work and then notice that several hours have passed without taking a break. Make it part of your routine to schedule breaks through the day to recharge yourself. If you can, take a walk around the block. At the very least, set an alarm on your phone to stand up and stretch every hour.

Work your ‘To Do’ List

Start each day by developing a ‘To Do’ list. List tasks in order of importance and prioritize work that cannot be postponed. Unanticipated tasks arise each day, so first accomplish those items that are due soonest. Know yourself and learn the times of the day during which you are most productive. Address the tasks that require the most brainpower during those periods of time. End each day by reviewing unaccomplished tasks and prioritizing a new ‘To Do’ list for the next day.

Managers may also face a new challenge of remotely managing their teams. A daily 15-minute morning touch-base conference call is a very effective approach to keeping your team accountable and on-track. Ensure there is a set report structure established in order to streamline the call so that during the call, you can focus on reviewing what each team member has assigned, who needs help, and who has the capacity to help.

Maintain Communications

Without organic office conversations, you may find yourself sending many more ‘quick’ emails to your co-workers. Rather than sending multiple emails throughout the day, try to ‘batch’ the items to be addressed by the recipient into one email. We also follow a philosophy that if a topic requires more than three emails back-and-forth, pick-up the phone and discuss the item over a call.

Don’t be surprised if you feel a sense of loss or isolation with the reduction of daily social interactions at work. The social component of the office is an integral part of people’s lives. Find ways to continue to effectively communicate with your teams. Leverage technology to stay connected. Conference calls, web conferencing, and screen sharing sessions are all very effective communication platforms. The future of work is changing, so the more easily we can adapt, the more productive we can be.