You’ve been working from home for more than six months now, and most likely some of the novelty has worn off. You may love the absence of a long commute and the need to present a professional appearance. But you are likely missing the easy camaraderie of daily contact with co-workers, the ability to pop into someone’s office and immediately resolve a problem, and the businesslike atmosphere of a formal workplace.
“The world is in the midst of the largest WFH experiment that has ever been done,” observes Annette Wehrli, Director of Leadership and Organization Effectiveness at MRINetwork. “As most companies now have at least part of their workforce working remotely, we’re learning a lot about how it affects productivity, morale, overall satisfaction, and employee engagement.”
So how do you stay positive and focused as WFH becomes ever more firmly entrenched as a common practice? One thing that everyone seems to agree on is the importance of creating the right setting. Though it’s tempting to simply grab your laptop and set up shop on your couch (or even in bed), that can be detrimental both to your work and your ability to relax at the end of the day. “Our brains draw strong connections and patterns between where we work and our places of relaxation,” says Wehrli. “It’s important for us to be intentional about where we work, so that we can create patterns that foster our ability to effectively think and produce at home.”
Having spent her career in the world of professional talent recruitment, Wehrli has seen first-hand which behaviors help people stay focused and productive. “First you need to make sure that you focus on what you can influence or control,” she says. “For many people, managing the responsibilities of home life — particularly child care and education — seems overwhelming. You have to find ways to create a WFH routine that works for you. There is no silver bullet.”
Maintain a healthy work-life balance. You know it’s not a good idea to take your work home with you, but that can be hard when work is already at home. “When the line between work and home becomes blurred, stress starts to build, which can lead to problems with focus, productivity, and relationships — both at home and at the office,” warns Wehrli. “Scheduling times throughout the day to address concerns at home and maintaining a fixed-yet-flexible work schedule can help you avoid unnecessary conflicts.”
It is also essential to be able to turn work off, even though it’s tempting to do one quick task or reply to an email since it’s always available. Avoid this kind of overlap by doing your best to “stay in your lane” — whether it’s work or home life.
Make learning a priority. This is a good time to take on learning new things, even about yourself. Something as small as discovering what hours of the day you work best or where you work best and feel the most motivated can help you develop productive habits to carry forward. Some companies have training programs in place that you can access remotely. If not, ask for what you need. Keeping our brains stimulated with new learning also helps to boost our mood, energy, and thinking capacity while we’re working remotely.
If you’re feeling stumped about which areas of growth you want to pursue, consider the current incentive to hone your technological skills. “The last thing a WFH employee needs is for their internet to be down right before an important virtual meeting, or to be late for a call because they couldn’t figure out how to dial in,” says Wehrli. “No matter your age or tech ability, if you work from home, find creative ways to effectively use and troubleshoot these tools — YouTube is very well-stocked with tutorials.”
Finally, Wehrli suggests asking yourself, “How do I want to emerge from this experience?” “It’s easy to be flexible and positive in the short term, but we all can benefit from choosing who we want to be in the midst of extended times of challenge,” says Wehrli. “Determination and perseverance for the long haul benefit ourselves, our families, and our companies. You just may discover through this uninvited experiment that what you learn about yourself, your work ethic, and your ability to produce will take you beyond what you anticipate — not only in your career, but in other areas of your life as well.”