It’s no secret that things in the age of COVID-19 are much different than what all of us are used to. To those of us in the software industry, working from home (WFH) has generally always been on the table but typically presented as an option, not a mandate.

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Since the recent pandemic, that idea has changed and WFH is now something that all desk workers must learn to do, from engineers to designers to managers. Working from home (or remote entirely) has different levels of effectiveness for everyone, but it seems that for the foreseeable future it is the new norm.

So how do you achieve your normal level of productivity in a state of flux and discomfort? The real answer is that there is no one true answer. Some may be more productive in this state without having to deal with their daily commute or other stressors that normally come with their jobs. Others might find themselves far too distracted to be effective.

No matter which category you fall into I think there are some beneficial tips that can help guide you through the day and back toward a sense of normalcy (at least as it relates to your work life).

Keep your morning routine

You may be tempted to wrap yourself up in bed a bit longer in the morning, snooze that alarm, or keep those sweat pants on a little longer than normal. DON’T.

One thing that many people find helpful is to maintain a normal morning routine, even while remote. This means showering, brushing your teeth, putting on pants (yes I swear this helps), and even wearing shoes. Treat your day like you are actually going to work.

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If you let your mind think that you are following through with your normal routine there is less of a chance that you will let yourself get distracted. Keep this up for a few days and it will become second nature.

Have a dedicated workspace (and clean it)

One thing that people are often tempted to do when the idea of working from home is put forth is work from their couch or bed. But this can often be a hindering distraction, not to mention really bad for your posture.

If you have an office in your house, use it! If not, set up something where you can treat it as your desk or office space. If you have anything that resembles your every day work setup, make use of it. Working in this fashion will help to keep you honest and on track.

If the space that you choose to use has other uses when not in your work day, make sure that when you plan to start working again that it is clean and well arranged for your work day. I personally use the same desk that I have for my gaming PC with a dongle so that I can use my monitors, keyboard, and mouse with my work computer. When I wake up in the morning, before I start doing anything, I make sure that desktop is cleaned off of anything unrelated to work.

Take breaks

This is super relevant to work regardless of if it is remote or not. It’s not good to push yourself all day. Especially in the current time period we are in where there are constant stressors, it helps to relieve some of the stress that we have control over.

One effective way that I have found to help me with this and force myself to take breaks is the use of the Pomodoro Technique. If you are unfamiliar with it, there are plenty of articles on it incuding this one. In a short summary it is a structured series of periods of focus in which you should be tackling a task and only that task. At the end of the period you are granted a short break in which you can do whatever you wish. After 4 focus cycles you are granted a longer break as well. There are also many tools to help you keep track of the time and what you are doing (I personally use the Marinara chrome extension).

Stay active!

With everyone being hunkered down in their own houses it’s more important now than ever before to stay active in some sense. Exercise can relieve stress and open up the mind allowing us to be even more productive when working. It can be very beneficial to keep a regular workout schedule. It does not have to be rigorous, just some light running, body weight exercises, yoga – whatever you are capable of.

If you can keep these active periods regularly scheduled it will help you even more to get through your days with regularity. I personally have been trying to adhere to a pre-lunch workout every day, mixing in running with some body weight exercises.

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If you are looking for direction there are plenty of fitness instructors taking to the web to lead in teaching classes that are doable at home! My personal favorites are led by several of the instructors at EverybodyFights here in Boston that I used to regularly workout with. They have been streaming live to Instagram regularly throughout the week, and it helps to support folks like them during this time, so if you are inclined you can check them out at @laurmkeenan, @fightflowfly and @getwellwithkel.

Lastly… communicate communicate communicate!

Communication is always key, but it is much more important when everyone is working in separate places. You need to clearly state the company’s top priorities and on top of that you need to document your critical processes to get everyone on the same page. People should be aware of what others are doing, this is easily done by sharing your calendars, schedules and daily updates. To be more effective in this new world, everyone needs to have access to more information than before, so additional transparency is required to succeed when working remotely.

During this time it is important that the right channels are used to relay this information. Use tools like Notion to document processes and notes. Make sure that discussions on Slack are in relevant channels when they apply to more than just yourself. Use asynchronous communication when you can so that workflow is not interrupted. Make sure that video is the standard for all of your conferences and meetings!

One other angle that doesn’t always get the spotlight when it comes to communication is communicating how you feel. This is a weird time for everyone so if you can set up a process for people sharing how they are feeling during the day it can really have a positive impact allowing others to know that they are not alone. This is a trying time for everyone, and it’s important now more than ever to show solidarity!

Categories: Remote Work

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