"7 tips for staying productive when working at home"
As more people are being asked to work from home, many find that staying focused and continuing to deliver results requires a new set of skills and tools. Remote work takes a bit of effort and planning to make it, well, work.
Here are seven ways that you can rethink your time spent working from home so you can stay productive and make the most of your newfound work/life overlap.
1. Rethink your commute
Even though you may not have to slog through traffic or ride the bus into work, keep the same routine you used to when you went into the office. Instead of rolling out of bed to your laptop, build in a "commute" buffer to let yourself ease into — or out of — your workday. Go for a walk before you begin working and once you stop your work day. This serves as your commute and can help you get into the right mindset to jump into — or decompress from — your day. Also, if you listen to music or podcasts during your normal commute to stay informed or just to be entertained, consider using this time to keep listening to your favorites.
2. Dress for success (and for video conferencing!)
In addition to maintaining your "commute," keep to your normal workday routine as much as possible. Get up at the same time, shower, and get dressed. While the idea of working from home in yoga pants and a top bun may appeal to some, getting dressed for work can get you in the right mindset by creating a mental boundary between "home" and "work." And some research indicates that how you dress can even change the way you perform.
Once you're ready, take the time to set up an optimal video conferencing shot. This is your public face when you're working from home and worth spending a little time on. Adjust your background, light sources, and camera angle accordingly. (Some video conferencing software even lets you change your background.)
3. Set expectations for communication
Communication and collaboration look different when everyone's working from home. You lose that water-cooler effect of brainstorming, and you can't just stop by someone's desk to chat informally. Getting the information you need to move work forward might require different tools.
Be clear about how you plan to communicate with your team and which channels and tools you plan to use to get a hold of them throughout the day. Use video conferencing to add a more personal dimension to your calls. Share cell numbers as appropriate for quick phone calls. Start a chat thread with a message to your team of the game plan for the day, what you'll be working on, and what to expect. Consider a collaborative work management tool to help facilitate the collaboration and transparency you need to stay connected across your team and your organization.
You may also want to set up regular one-on-ones with your team, even above and beyond your regular meetings with your manager. Even if it's just a 15-minute chat, once a week, you can gain back some of that comradery and relaxed idea generation you might miss when you're not in the office together. Some video conferencing software offers whiteboard capabilities to help you keep brainstorming with your team over video chat.
4. Stay accountable to your team
When you're working from home, your team no longer has the visual cues they're used to in an office to tell them whether or not you're available. While your schedule at home may need to be a bit more flexible, don't just log off if you need to take care of personal or family needs. Let your boss and your team know where you are or are going to be.
Schedule your start and end times, as well as your lunch breaks or workout times on your calendar. And if something unexpected comes up, chat your team to let them know you'll need to step away from your computer for a while. If your circumstances require a more flexible schedule, communicate your flexible work hours as needed to your manager and team members.
5. Take breaks — away from your computer
It's easy to just sit at your computer all day, but the reality is you won't be as productive unless you allow for natural breaks in your work. Set a timer or a calendar reminder for yourself to take a break in between focused periods of work.
Also, be sure that your break time includes physically getting up from your computer to move around. You get up from your desk at work, right? Make sure to do the same at home. A quick brisk walk around your neighborhood might do the trick (bonus if you have a dog who can enjoy the walk with you — or if you're more of a cat person, get up and give your resident feline a pat). You might also take the opportunity of being at home to do some stretches, practice yoga, or get a quick workout routine in during one of your breaks.
Another good break is to take a few minutes to give your eyes a rest. Pick a favorite playlist (check out our #SheetMusic Spotify playlists) to listen to with your eyes closed or try out a meditation app. You'll return to your work refreshed and rejuvenated.
If you are working with children at home, consider including them in your breaks. Or let them come up with a five or ten minute activity to do together during your time away from the computer.
6. Stay social
Just because you're not gathering together, doesn't mean you can't stay connected on a personal level as well as a professional level. Use the technology at hand to socialize with your co-workers. Try a virtual team happy hour, virtual coffee dates or "water cooler" chats, or schedule an open video conferencing channel for people to be on while they're working to simulate more spontaneous conversations.
You might also take some time — during your commute time or otherwise — to nurture your network. Reach out to people you used to work with and see how they're working from home, or make a virtual coffee date with a colleague you don't work with regularly.
7. Stay focused
Staying focused while working from home can be challenging. You may have children or other loved ones seeking your attention, or find yourself distracted by your home to-do list. The news can even be an unwelcome distraction, even as you try to keep up with what's happening.
Taking breaks can actually help you stay focused. Use calendaring to break up your tasks — and schedule breaks so you'll know when you can stop working to check in with your kids or read the latest headlines.
As you work from home, pay attention to what's distracting you and plan around it. When you log off for the day, clean up your home environment so it's not a distraction. Pack your lunch every morning (or the night before) so you don't have to figure it out on your lunch break. And if your interruptions come from a barking dog, put a sign on your door telling delivery workers not to ring the doorbell. (Likewise if you have children napping.)
Working from home may require a new set of skills and some unique considerations, but with planning and persistence, you can keep work on track and continue to deliver results from home.
It's been six years since Sarah Cooper graced us with her 10 Tricks to Appear Smart in Meetings. But how on earth can we appear smart in our new virtual world, in which for many of us, going to work is just sitting in one long series of probably-not-necessary Zoom meetings?
1. Dial in.<p>Dialing in rather than joining via the link instantly boosts your credibility. Who calls into Zoom meetings? People who are still busy and important enough to be leaving their houses! But you needn't actually be one of those people, or even more than a foot away from your computer to pull off this maneuver. (Remember, this article is called *seeming* smart, not being smart.)</p><p><strong></strong><em>Bonus: </em>If it's a large meeting at which attendance will be taken, the person running the meeting will inevitably ask, "Who's calling in from 443-322-2121?" That's when you raise your metaphorical hand, jump off mute, and say "[Your name] here. Really looking forward to hearing your perspective on [meeting topic]." And voila! You've stolen the meeting spotlight.</p>
2. Don't come on camera—ever.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODU5OS9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNjMwNjI3OX0.4fLyq2CvkZAJ7n_03esZepY37mOdyGdDdTEUYt5XEU0/img.png?width=980" id="bc7e6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fbbf21cc5d8c863b30654ae6993b04f5" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>Much like the "dial in," this technique works because it makes you appear aloof. If <em>The Crown has </em>taught me anything, it's that the key to maintaining a sense of mystique and prestige is to keep people at arm's length—and if you absolutely <em>must</em> touch them, wear a glove.</p>
3. Only communicate via chat.<p>Once you've mastered the art of staying off camera, you can level up by communicating exclusively via the chat box. Don't come off mute at all, even if the speaker asks your opinion. You are the elusive chatter and you will not be forced into actually participating in said meeting.</p>
4. Ask to share your screen.<p>Being aloof is great, but it's all about balance. Sprinkling in some active participation will really shock and impress your colleagues if you catch them off guard, so save this technique for when you've strategically <em>not </em>participated in a string of meetings.</p><p>Spend a few minutes prior to the meeting prepping a few inspirational slides with words like "synergy," "optimization," and "redefining 'culture'", or spend a few minutes poking around in Google Analytics. </p><p>Then wait for the opportune moment to say, "Can I just share my screen for a moment? I have some really interesting data I'd like to share...." and BAM — brilliance established.</p>
5. Show off your Zoom-saviness.<p>Try saying, "You know you can mute people, right?" to the host when they beg whoever's got the lawn mower and crying baby in the background to put themselves on mute for the nth time.<br></p>
6. Create an alter ego.<p>This tactic requires commitment, but the pay off is certainly worth it. Join the Zoom meeting from your normal account + name, and then join it again on a second device from an alias. Have your alter-ego ask some probing or stat-based questions in the chat and have the answers ready ahead of time. It should work something like this:</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Your alter ego Charlene</strong><strong>:</strong> "Does anyone know what percentage conversion rates increased by in Q2?"</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;"><strong>Real you</strong>: *doesn't miss a beat* "It looks like Charlene has a question in the chat. That would be 36%."</p><div>Never mind that no one on your team knows who Charlene is or why she's at this meeting, they'll be too blown away by your brilliance to notice. (Bonus points if you use this strategy in conjunction with techniques 1, 2, 3 or 4!)</div>
7. Place an obscure object in your background that exudes intelligence.<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzQ0ODYxOC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYwNzk5Njg2Mn0.V9_-3Ij3v_QndseqlrXRt5Nn39EJ97-itjls5zzYPf8/img.png?width=980" id="a369d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="604a2f04b53c2e3bc801bfa5256f367b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p><br></p><p>We're talking a telescope, or perhaps a hardcover copy of <em>War & Peace </em>(no one need know that its only purpose in your life is as a makeshift yoga block).</p><p>If you don't have any suitable props at your disposal, do not despair: download some screenshots of Sheldon's apartment from <em>Big Bang Theory </em>or the chalkboard in <em>Good Will Hunting </em>and use those as a virtual background.</p>
8. Ask "Is this really the best course of action given the current climate?"<p>Economic collapse, COVID, racism… No need to specify whether you're referring to one or all of the above; just sit back and watch your boss squirm amidst the ambiguity.</p><p>This strategy pairs very well with techniques 2 and 3. You can prep additional vague-but-probing questions ahead of time and pepper them into the chat box throughout the meeting:</p><ul><li>How will this scale?</li><li>Do we really have the bandwidth for this right now?</li><li>What's the value-add here?</li></ul>
9. Remind everyone that you have a paid Zoom account.<p>"Oh, it looks like we're getting the 40-minute warning. I have a paid account, do you want to switch to my room?" It's helpful, with just a touch of condescension. Everyone knows condescending people are smart. And everyone knows that people with paid Zoom accounts are super important.</p>
10. Tell everyone you have a hard stop.<p>When pressed for details, share your philosophy on "work-from-home" balance and how committed you are to getting up once an hour to walk to your refrigerator.</p>
11. Ask the screensharer/host to "pull something up" for everyone.<p>Ask the presenter to navigate to a screen that only you know how to navigate well. Laugh maniacally while they suffer from crippling performance anxiety. Let them struggle for as long as is tolerable before saying, "Oh you know what? I can just share my screen if you want. That would probably be easier." BAM you're the hero. Don't worry, no one will even pause to consider that you could have proposed this course of action from the start.</p>
12. Say Zoom fatigue as many times as possible.<p>If you're too tired to employ any of the other strategies, just say "I know everyone is experiencing a lot of Zoom fatigue, so we can keep this meeting short." Then hang up as quickly as possible. Meeting averted! </p><p>After all, there's no better way to demonstrate your intelligence in a virtual meeting than to demonstrate why it wasn't really necessary in the first place. </p>
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