A personal 6 step guide by Kilian Frank [Senior Consultant at CPC]. | April 2020 – With the increasing spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, many of us have exchanged our workplace for the home study, kitchen table or fold-up desk improvised from piles of books and an old shelf next to the baby crib – anyway, we have gone to home Office.
Some people are already used to working from home – according to last year’s report by the Institute for Employment Research (IAB), approximately one-quarter of all organizations in Germany offered home office and around one fourth of employees worked at least partly from home. I was one of them. But there is a big difference between working from home occasionally for a couple of hours or for days, weeks, or even months! Working from home poses special challenges for managers and employees. It might be harder to keep up to date about what your colleagues are working on, some might feel a little lost without the daily structure the office provides (e.g. daily commute to work, fixed lunch hours) and it demands quite some discipline to stay focused and concentrate on one’s tasks, with possible distractions at every corner or children running around at home. So each of us needs to find their own way of working effectively from home, possibly over a longer period of time in order for organizations to master the current situation successfully – and I am fully convinced that we will!
The following 6 step guide may help you to stay productive and “get things done” while working from home. It is enriched with my own experience from working as a consultant – one of those jobs where you get used to working in any possible place, as long as there is wifi. So here are my 6 tips for you:
- Get ready for work as you’d normally do
Work remains work, whether your sit in an office tower surrounded by your colleagues or at your desk at home. There is no need for you to change any of your morning routines. Just get ready for work as usual (my routine: take a shower, get dressed, have cereal for breakfast and read the newspaper). Part of your morning routine should definitely be to dress accordingly. Not only will it help you to mentally differentiate between work and private life (see step 6), but you will also be ready for video calls with your colleagues (nobody should see me in my stay-at-home collection, which includes a Chupa Chups hoodie). Besides, you probably have heard of the saying “clothes make the man”. The psychologists Adam and Galinsky (2012) demonstrated impressively that the clothing you wear may have strong influence over the way you think and act – this also entails on how you think about yourself! Now once you’re properly dressed, you can simulate a physical way to work if you want, e.g. walk around the block before you start your work day.
- Choose your workplace and set it up accordingly
I do not need a fully equipped study in order to work effectively from home, as long as I follow some basic guidelines. Choose a workplace that is noise-protected and offers enough room and light. You should be able to concentrate on your work and have calls without disturbances. Before video calls, check your background as your colleagues are likely to see what’s going on around you. Naturally, ergonomic measures should be applied in the home office as much as possible. Ideally, you won’t have to clear your work spot every night, so that you can set everything up according to your needs (e.g. monitor, headset, plants, pencil sharpener, pinboard, lava lamp, you name it …). In case you don’t have sticky notes and / or whiteboard at home, there are also great applications for this, such as MS Whiteboard, Ideaboardz, Trello, Sticky Notes.
- Structure your day every morning – and reflect on it every evening
Start your working day by getting an overview of today’s meetings, progress of tasks, and upcoming deadlines. Structure your day by setting clear goals as well as to do’s and plan your calendar accordingly, always allowing some flexibility for social exchange (see 5), breaks (see 6) or unforeseen events. Don’t forget to continuously track your progress. I usually end my working day with a short retrospective: what should I add / drop / keep / improve in order to have an even better workday tomorrow?
- Prioritize your tasks and stay productive
I often hear sentences like “today during home office I only accomplished the work that I normally do in 30 minutes”. I guess most of us have all been there. Working from home requires a high level of self-organization and structure. Plus, the couch or bed is often only a few steps away. In the previous section we talked about setting goals; the more difficult part is to achieve them. Doist have created an extensive list of productivity methods that will help you improve your productivity, including great hacks such as The Pomodoro Technique, Eisenhower Matrix, and The To-Done List and the To-Don’t List. My personal favorite is the simple but effective Eating Live Frogs method: The term is based on Mark Twain who supposedly once said, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day” (sorry dear vegetarians). So in other words: Start with your hardest, most important or intimidating tasks and get them done while your energy level is still high. The rest of the day will feel like a piece of cake!
- Stay in contact with your colleagues
It is no secret that social contact is one of the most beneficial factors for well-being, satisfaction and health in the work environment. It is what retirees miss most about work – we are social creatures after all. But home office does not mean being on your own or that you can’t stay in contact with your colleagues, quite the opposite. Make use of modern collaboration tools, such as MS Teams, Zoom or Skype for Business, to have virtual meetings and workshops, collaborate on tasks together or to stay up to date on what your colleagues are currently working on or how they are doing. Besides, lunch dates or quick coffee breaks also work perfectly remote, just turn on your camera and enjoy the chit-chat that you used to have in the office kitchen!
- Pay attention to your life balance
In section four, I talked about the couch or bed being only a few steps away from your workplace. I can only advise you: Resist the temptation to let these two spheres of life mingle either way! Do not jump from couch to laptop to briefly check your e-mails before going to bed, work through your lunch break or get too little exercise during the day. Set yourself boundaries and rules for segregating work from private life (e.g. set up a permanent work corner, change clothes after work, no mails after 7pm, lunch is leisure time only) and make them transparent to your surrounding (family, colleagues etc.). Make sure you get enough exercise during the day, be it regular visits to the coffee maker, occasional stretching / mindfulness exercises, or a short walk around the block during breaks. Find your own way of balancing work and private life at home, but take care of yourself and your well-being, and most importantly, have fun while doing so!