The coronavirus has changed almost every individual facet of how we live our daily lives. But for many people, the most obvious change is working from home.

While many of us dreamed of rolling out of bed in our pajamas to take a five-minute stroll (er, commute) to work (a.k.a. the laptop), the reality of working from home is…not quite as peachy as it seemed at first blush. Not because working from home is less effective than office work, but rather because most of us are not accustomed to managing our workday within our own homes.

Whether you’re homebound with the pandemic or freshly working from home for other reasons, here are a few critical tips to help you become a master work-from-home professional.

Establish Structure

For many, the biggest adjustment in working from home lies in structure–or rather, the lack thereof.

In an office, the structure is imposed on you, both directly and indirectly. You get up to go to work at the same time, you complete certain tasks at certain times, you eat lunch at the same time, you get dragged into meetings and phone calls.

Even if your day doesn’t progress with the rigidity of a military drill, your daily structure is carved out for you simply by the nature of available time. You may grab lunch, for example, at any time in the middle of the day when you’re not bouncing between meetings and projects. Plus, your manager lurking in the periphery is a powerful motivator.

At home, you’re your own manager, and you don’t have the push of other people working around you. Without structure, you can quickly burn out and lose focus. The best way to counteract this is to impose structure as if you’re going to the office. Schedule your time religiously–and abide by your schedule.

Take Breaks

And speaking of scheduling, carving out your own calendar means you can (and should) budget your time for breaks.

In the U.K., we’re currently allowed out for one exercise session per day–take advantage of it. Exercise is one of the healthiest ways to relieve stress, getting your blood moving and releasing endorphins that boost your mood.

Plus, it gets you a short but essential look at the world outside your own four walls, which is essential for counteracting cabin fever.

Equally important are lunch breaks. Whatever lunch breaks you took at the office, schedule them in at home.

And if you didn’t take lunch breaks at work, no time like the present! Taking a break (especially a lunch break) is vital for boosting your concentration. It gives your brain a chance to reset, refresh, and return to your projects with fresh eyes.

Establish Communication

If you’re on your own, communication with the outside world is essential to keeping your sanity. Even if you’re not alone, communication with someone other than your roommates/significant other/children/relatives is still essential.

Even outside of pandemic times, remote work lives and dies by the power of communication. Think about it: in an office, you can pop down the hall to ask your boss a question, or spark a random conversation in the break room, or just say hello in the hall.

At home, the only communication you have is the communication you initiate.

For this reason, the most successful remote teams are those who communicate deliberately. These are also the teams that are most successful in counteracting the feelings of isolation and loneliness that often accompany telework.

Don’t be afraid to communicate, even if you’re just saying hello to a work friend. When you’re communicating for professional reasons, make sure to overcommunicate–our communication is around 55% body language, which means that the absence of nonverbal cues makes it easy to misunderstand.

Free Communication Tools

The best way to encourage communication is to invest in communication tools for your team. Fortunately, there are several free tools available that can do the job nicely.

Since our communication is mostly nonverbal, a video tool is a critical investment for meetings. Skype is a classic, the benefit being that everyone knows it and more or less knows how to use it.

Zoom has also become wildly popular, particularly in the last two months. The main selling point? It offers free 40-minute conference calls with up to 100 attendees, and you don’t need a login to use it.

That said, don’t neglect the power of written communication. To recreate the effect of stream-of-consciousness office conversations, Slack is the tool to beat–think of it like Facebook Messenger for businesses. Businesses can create multiple channels based on specific focus areas. The tech team, for example, might have their own Slack channel, while the team developing your latest video marketing campaign can set up their own.

Separate Work and Home

Last but not least, you have to separate work from home. We know that sounds counterintuitive, since you’re working from home, but it’s a lot simpler than you think.

We’re not talking about leaving home to go to work, which is how most people separate work and home. We’re talking about having a specific space at home where you do work and nothing else.

This imitates the effect of going into the office by teaching your brain to associate this space with work, much like you associate your bed with sleep. It also makes it easier to switch off your work brain and unwind when you leave that space at the end of the workday.

If you have a home office, that’s a perfect choice, but even if you don’t, you can still separate work and home. All you really need is a designated workspace. Maybe that’s a spot at the dining room table.

Maybe it’s your couch. Maybe it’s a pillow fort in the attic. Whatever it is, carve out your space and designate it solely for work purposes.

We’re All in This Together

The coronavirus outbreak has challenged all of us to adapt to conditions we never imagined. As hard as it is to imagine the world returning to normal, it’s important to remember that, at the end of the day, we’re all in this together.

Even if the outside world seems far away, you can find ways to close the barriers between you and your colleagues, even if you’re not having them over for tea. If you can hold onto that togetherness, working from home will become that much easier.

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