This piece was originally written for Connect Macquarie Park & North Ryde and is shared with permission.
Andrea Doney runs a communications and marketing consultancy from her home office on the north shore. A long-term remote worker, here she shares a few strategies and thoughts on making the most of working from home.
“I’ve often admired my colleagues who have high performance jobs and corporate careers. I am deeply in awe of people who can make the impossible seem easy. There’s Ingrid*, who sends me cheery texts from the business class lounge in JFK, on her way to investigate the ethical supply chain of a global corporation. Then there’s Paige*, deferring our coffee date because she was invited to keynote a global conference in Melbourne.
I, on the other hand, run a home-based business. My texts (while still cheery!) are sent from the bathroom between cleaning the cat litter tray and doing the school run. The closest I’ve come to being a keynote speaker is yelling at my children from the top of the stairs. But I don’t think that counts because they don’t listen, take notes or applaud. I’m not sure they even really know what it is that I do here.
So it is a tremendous surprise to discover that world events mean I am suddenly an expert on something the rest of the world is still learning. I run a one-woman corporation, and enjoy long distance running and going to the library. Social distancing is my normal. In between doing the school run while on a conference call in my pyjamas I’ve figured out a bit about what does and doesn’t work, and I’d like to share some of my experiences with you.”
Set goals and intentions every day
I start each morning with a brief mental list of what needs to happen that day.
Goal setting helps me see the future, understand what I want, create a plan, and stay on track to get it done. I set intentions to raise my emotional energy to meet my physical energy, like reminding myself of the need to procrastinate less, be more mindful, demand a little more from myself and so on. I like to write these down – every day gets its own page in my A4 notebook, with ‘to do’ items on the left, and goals and intentions on the right. I check each off as I go, although some days have very few check marks!
One of the biggest mistakes I made early in my work-from-home career was to work more. I felt ‘guilty’ that I was working remotely, and didn’t want my clients to feel they didn’t have my full attention. So in the early days that meant checking emails at the same time as cooking dinner, or getting up at 2am to take overseas calls. The ping of my phone would see me tune out of conversations happening around me.
It’s still a struggle, but I’ve learned the benefits of managing everyone else’s expectations. I used to say yes to every job offered, but now I say things like “that sounds wonderful, and I would love to help, but I don’t have capacity until sometime next week. Does that still work for you?” For you, that might mean letting your boss know each morning what you’re working on, what the likely timelines will be, any challenges you’re facing and what you’re waiting on. Clear communication is vital.
I’ve also learned the benefit of switching off the computer at 5pm.
When you work from home the lines between work and home are very blurred, and it’s been helpful to find ways to keep them as clear as possible.
Maintain a routine
If working from home is new for you, I’d advocate replicating your old routine as much as possible. Start work at nine, finish at five, take your lunch break, keep your exercise routine and so on.
My father ran a business from home when I was growing up. We would tease him when he packed his lunchbox in the kitchen every morning, left the house by the front door and re-entered the house just metres away through a side door. Then he sat at his desk (in the living room!) and worked like a Trojan. Decades later, I truly get it. He had a routine, he had a workspace, he had a work persona and he showed up for these no matter what.
Use video chat
In-person contact is important for many of us because we are able to read social cues. When we work from home, our in-person contact with co-workers disappears.
Try to use the video function of Zoom, MS Teams, and other programs. You’ll feel better for seeing your friends and colleagues and, in turn, it will give the impression that you are still connected.
An unexpected side effect of the video chat feature is that it has forced me to brush my hair. Frankly, Einstein’s a rank amateur in the frizziness stakes compared to me, but if I know I have a video call I make an effort with my appearance. This has the knock-on effect of improving my attitude and my outlook, which means my productivity increases and my mood is much better too.
Social distancing is creating all kinds of anxieties on so many levels. While we can’t meet in person we can still call, write a note, lend a hand and so on. Try to build and connect with your networks daily. Have conversations that go beyond “when can you send me those figures”. See if there is something you can do to lighten someone else’s load – when this is all over, they will remember you for it.
Add light content
A normal work from home day can be dreary, let alone when your news is flooded with illness and catastrophe. Make an effort to laugh, subscribe to a happy feed, watch a silly cat video, or call a friend just to say hi. Managing your mood is important.
Being in the office lends itself to water cooler conversations and coffee runs, along with countless other interruptions to your work flow. You can translate those to your home by stepping outside for a moment, putting a load of laundry on, or making a cup of tea. Breaks are vital and should be guilt-free. Try to ensure they don’t involve a screen!
Make the best of it
There’s no denying these are crazy times. But there is strength to be found in the positive tales, if you know where to find them.
Being house bound might give you time away from your endless commute to read a book, take up a new hobby, or make memories with your kids. It is, after all, what you make of it.
One day, you might want to look back on this chapter and say “I did well there, I’m proud of that.” If that’s what you want, you need to find ways to live now which will write that future story.
The French biologist Louis Pasteur said ‘Discovery is an accident meeting an open mind,’ and he should know.
Previous disasters, challenges and set backs gave us penicillin, x-rays and photography, dynamite, and Teflon. Radio astronomy, vaccines, pacemakers, rubber bands, microwaves and shatterproof glass came to us in challenging times, as did blue jeans, margarine, choc-chip cookies, dry cleaning, champagne… and America.
Our minds work better when they’re not made up. No matter where you are working or what your situation is right now, the biggest asset in your professional toolkit will be your perspective.
*Names have been changed to protect the fabulously glamorous!