How to Thrive While Working at Home

As we all get used to our new normal of social distancing, I’m already feeling nostalgic for the simple, daily routines that I know many of you, like me, take for granted. What do you find yourself missing in your daily routine? Some things I miss:

  • Stumbling out of bed early to make it to my favorite Bar Method class. A good workout and stretch makes me feel energized by the time I leave class.
  • Driving my daughter to school and hearing what she is looking forward to this week.
  • Stopping by Starbucks to pick up my coffee and spending a moment chit-chatting with the group of retired men who are at their table, talking about sports or community happenings.
  • Interacting with colleagues or external partners all day as we continue moving forward on key initiatives.
  • Rushing in the evenings to get carpools of teenage girls or boys to hockey practices and finding time to get a healthy dinner on the table.
  • Falling asleep within five minutes of my head hitting the pillow after an active and productive day.

Much of the hustle and bustle of my days has been eliminated. I recognize there are many people much worse off than I am, and I am extremely grateful for all that I have and all that I will have back in my life once we move past this difficult time.  That does not mean that I do not pine for my daily routine. You might share these feelings.

I’m no stranger to working remotely and have been fortunate to spend years telecommuting part-time.  It started with one day a week during my American Express days and became more telework than “in office” days at my next company. Working with colleagues and business partners nationwide meant that I was increasingly working with others remotely. At Colony, I am regularly on a plane for management team meetings or office visits or events (add those visits to my list of things I miss).

When I simply have a lot of virtual meetings or solitary work, I am home. What have I learned about working effectively from a home office? Let me share some tips:

  1. Structure your days just as you would if you were in your office. I prefer to respond to emails first thing and then carve out independent working time in between scheduled meetings. Admittedly, I often get caught up spending too much of my day on emails and that’s OK.
  2. I have yet to find a meeting I could not participate in remotely or a project I could not complete, simply because I was in a home office. Do not assume being out of an office means you cannot participate as an active team member.
  3. Set up a pleasant workplace. I have a desk with good lighting, functional equipment and a fun family photo. I am now taking video conferencing meetings in another location with better video lighting so others can see me without a glare.
  4. Take breaks. There is no water cooler conversation when you’re working from home. But those conversations are valuable. They allow you to clear your head for a few minutes or catch up with a colleague on a business topic. You need to find time for those chats. Send a colleague a note to ask if they have five minutes to catch up.
  5. Step away for lunch. I am terrible at this, but it sounds like a good tip to me! I think I will try it for the next couple of weeks.

All of these tips become more difficult to manage when you have loved ones at home, especially little ones. I felt the challenge acutely in the aftermath of Storm Sandy when my community was without power for two weeks, and I had young kids at home. How I longed for Wi-Fi! Some more tips for those with children at home:

  1. Have a family meeting to discuss how things are going to change for a period of time and that everyone needs to be a team player. Be optimistic but realistic with them.
  2. Set up a schedule for kids to follow each day. Have time for physical activity, educational pursuits, meals and family time. Schedule time for them to watch tv or play online games so they do not go on auto-pilot in front of a screen for hours and hours.
  3. Increase their awareness of your schedule. I let them know when I will have 15 minutes free to reconnect with them and check-in on how they are doing. I’m scheduling time to walk the dog together with my kids daily since we can all use more time outdoors together.
  4. If your children are young, I was always able to find a teen in the neighborhood who could play with them while I was busy. Since this option has been eliminated from the rotation, I feel for you parents of young ones! You might want to carve some 20-30-minute breaks in your day and/or switch on and off with your spouse so you can take turns with the kids. Your most productive hours might be during kids’ naps or after bedtime.

My biggest piece of advice is to try and embrace your new routines and the time spent with those who are now closest to you. The time will come that we will look back at this moment and long for some of the routines we have now.