How Does Working from Home…well…Work?- Responding to COVID-19

If you’ve always been an employee or worked in a traditional office setting, it can often be difficult to wrap your head around the concept of working from home.  For some, it conjures images of sitting on couch, Netflix binging, with a laptop and pajamas.  Now, with the reality of a global pandemic people who’ve never worked remotely before are finding themselves in uncharted territory.  So, how does working from home work, in reality?

Designated work zone.

While the mental image of working from your couch while Netflix plays in the background might be the first thing you think of when you hear the words ‘work from home’,  those of us who have experience will tell you that’s simply not realistic.  Reality is having a designated work area.  It can be an actual home office or simply a quiet corner away from the hustle and bustle of the household happenings.  You need an area where you can focus without interruption.

Set hours with flexibility.

If you’re a remote employee, your employer may set your hours to coincide with in office hours.  If you’re in charge of setting your work hours you want them to be consistent yet leave yourself some flexibility.  For example, my clients know my normal working hours are 9 am to 5 pm and for the most part I follow that schedule,  However, I allow myself the flexibility to leave my home office to do things like go to the post office, pick up supplies or take a lunch time walk. 

Email, Skype, Zoom and Phones.

You have choices when it comes to communication with clients or team members.  I prefer email because it has the least impact on my ability to focus on client projects.  I can quickly read and respond to an email without losing my momentum in a website build or other project.   My second choice would be a phone call.  I schedule all of my calls due to the fact that they can be time consuming.  On par with a phone call is Skype or Zoom.  This allows me to interact via my computer and I can either use the video feature or not.  A video call has a bigger impact on my ability to focus on projects, and it’s a little bit harder to shift gears from a video call back to project work. Again, any actual call, whether via phone, Skype or Zoom are scheduled.  I never simply answer a phone call during my workday because it can have such an adverse effect on my productivity.

Elimination of background distractions.

The one thing that might surprise you the most about working from home is how many distractions there are.  From children and family members, undone chores, the ringing of the doorbell to the cat walking in front of your camera during a video conference call, it can sometimes be a struggle to remain focused and ignore background distractions.  This is another reason it’s important to have a designated work zone.  Let family members know that zone is off limits during work hours.  When you see those dishes needing washing in the kitchen, remind yourself that you’re ‘at work’ and the dishes will have to wait.   I allow myself to address some household chores during my coffee and lunch breaks. For example, I will put in a load of laundry before work in the morning, switch it over to the dryer during my mid-morning coffee break and sometimes I’ll even fold it and put it away during lunch break.   However, I couldn’t do this when I was first working from home.   Those first few years I could easily get sucked down a rabbit hole of housework, even if I only meant to switch over the laundry during a coffee break.  If you can do a small task during breaks and then get back to work, feel free. But if you find yourself suddenly cleaning the house instead of doing work, save the chores for after work hours.

Accountability.

This is the one that most employers considering remote work options are the most concerned about.  They worry that without having co-workers and supervisors in the same room or building that a remote employee won’t have any accountability for getting work done.  While there may be a few individuals out there who have a problem with self-accountability, I’ve found that most people tend to be more committed to getting their work done when working from home.  In fact many studies show that those who work from home are more productive at home than they are in an office setting.

A daily schedule example:

Below is an example of what one of my daily schedules may look like. Everyone’s schedule will look a little different, but it can give you an idea of just how working from home works.

7:30 am to 9:00 am:  I generally get up between 6:30 and 7:30 am, get dressed in something comfortable, yet suitable for work and grab a cup of coffee.   With that first cup of coffee I skim through my email inbox, marking items for responses.  I’ll then grab breakfast and another cup of coffee, check out the news and get ready to start my workday.

9:00 am to 11:00 am:  My workday begins with responding to those emails I’ve marked while drinking that first cup of coffee.  Some days it takes me an hour, others it may only be 30 minutes.   Once the inbox is under control, I’ll move on to my to do list for clients for the day.  Some of these projects may include:

  • Creating graphics for client’s social media
  • Scheduling said posts
  • Setting up client blog post(s)
  • Creating graphics for client website
  • Working on redesign of client website
  • Doing WordPress updates for clients
  • Creating slideshow for a client presentation

11:00 am to 12:30 pm:  I usually grab a coffee at 11 am.  This is also a time when I tend to schedule calls, particularly on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  If by chance no calls are scheduled, I’ll return to client projects that I have on my to do list.

12:30pm to 1:30 pm:  Lunch break.  I’ll be honest, sometimes I get caught up in client work and don’t actually get to lunch break until 1 pm, but ideally 12:30 is it.  Occasionally I’ll use this time to do work related errands outside of the house during this time as well.

1:30 pm to 2:00 pm:  Catching up with the email inbox again.  Throughout the morning I will have been reading incoming emails and marking those that need responses.  Right after lunch is generally when I do that.

2:00 pm to 3:30pm:  This is my afternoon time slot for calls. If none are scheduled I will work on any time sensitive client needs during this time frame. 

3:30 pm to 5:00pm:  If I’m going to have an afternoon coffee or tea, this is when I grab it.  This time is generally used for taking care of my own business.  This is when I work on blog posts, updating my invoicing service, working up estimates and service agreements for new clients, etc. 

5:00 pm : Shut down the computer and walk away.  If there’s one all important thing I’ve learned over the past 13 years it’s that you need to set boundaries. One of those boundaries is sticking to a quitting time.  Another is being sure to take off weekends and holidays.

Not every day looks exactly like this: 

Like I said earlier, flexibility is important.  Some days I get a blog post inspiration in the morning, so I move client work to later in the afternoon. Some days I may have more calls to take…or less.  Some days I may even visit a local client to help with a project. That said, generally they are very similar, and it allows me to be consistent with the work I get accomplished both for my clients and for my own business.

Working from home works great if you plan correctly. No, it may not mean you get to binge watch Netflix, but it does mean you don’t have to worry about a long commute and it allows you to socially isolate due to Covid-19

TMarieHilton

Tina Marie Hilton provides online technology services to forward thinking businesses. She writes on her Tips from T.Marie business blog to share insight and information with other small businesses and entrepreneurs. It also makes her feel like that certificate in creative writing isn't going to waste completely.

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