Neal & Harwell attorney Bill Ramsey and LOGICFORCE founder Phil Hampton share tips on how to work from home during a “Stay at Home” order.
Now that this whole “Stay at Home” thing has been in full swing for a month or so, we thought we would share our thoughts on how best to work at home and remain productive – maybe even more productive than you are at the office. We have distilled our thoughts on “best practices” from tips we have received from others, as well as our personal experiences on what works best for us. But, this is only a guide; we encourage each of you to learn how you work best. We must confess – we have enjoyed working from home. We believe we have maintained (approximately) our levels of productivity while working from home, but we do miss interaction with our colleagues. (They probably do not miss us, especially Bill and his hallway singing performances!)
Everyone agrees that it is important to establish a daily routine for working from home. Of course, that will require a certain amount of self-discipline (which is tough for non-disciplined Bill). Working from home does allow a certain amount of flexibility, but you need to set a regular schedule and stick with it.
First, set a morning routine. We think the best routine is to stick with the routine you use for going to work at the office. Get up, make your coffee (or whatever), get some exercise, take your shower, and get dressed. (Some people like to work in their pajamas, but we think that is a bad idea.) Do your morning thing, get dressed, and start working. For most people, you are at your best in the morning, so take advantage of that early morning energy. However, you know yourself better than anyone else, so learn when you are the most productive and take advantage of that time of the day.
It is also a good idea to plan your agenda ahead of time. It is best to end each day by setting a schedule and agenda for the next day. Of course, each day will bring new chores and challenges; but you can be better prepared by planning your agenda for the day ahead of time. In addition, based on your experience during the day, you may want to vary your next day’s schedule from the one you used that day. Remember, you are your own boss at home. Keep your good habits and lose your bad ones.
II. AVOID DISTRACTIONS WHILE YOU ARE WORKING
Turn off the TV; use your phone only when necessary; don’t surf the web (except, perhaps on breaks); wear headphones if you need to drown out noise (but it is better to pick a quiet place for working)—set ground rules for folks in your house. If you have children at home, make clear rules for them to follow. And stay off social media.
Speaking of distractions, nothing is more distracting than a spill of food or liquids on your computer. Be careful and avoiding spills onto your laptop or keyboard.
Another key to avoiding distractions is to have a dedicated home office (or at least a designated space) for your telecommuting work. At least work on stable surfaces so your computer or other equipment won’t fall and break. It is best to at least find a place where you are alone and away from noise and distractions. Also, you need to keep confidential conversations totally private by talking in a place where no one can hear.
Above all, find a workspace that is comfortable and not stressful.
III. MAINTAIN REGULAR HOURS, BUT TAKE BREAKS
Remember, you are at work. Put in the time and keep a regular schedule and regular hours as if you were at work. Set short terms goals during the day to build confidence and momentum so you can reach your long-term goals for the day. Be disciplined.
Stay focused on the task at hand, and then, at a stopping point, take a break. In fact, take regular breaks. Phillip is a big believer in the Pomodoro technique. The technique requires periods of focusing on one thing for about 20 minutes and then taking a break for short periods between focus sessions. (Look it up, if you are interested.)
Don’t forget to stand up now and then, especially if you do not have a stand-up desk or stand-up workspace. Get out of the house now and then (if you can) and walk around. A little exercise will make you feel better and be more productive.
IV. MAKE SURE YOU HAVE EQUIPMENT THAT WORKS FOR YOU
You can’t work efficiently if you don’t have the proper equipment. Do you use a desktop, a laptop, or a tablet? Do you have everything you need installed on the device? Do you need an external monitor and a printer or scanner? Do you have all the software you need to do your work? Do you know all your passwords, or have a password manager so you can access the software you need? If you participate in videoconferences, make sure you have a camera and a microphone, or a computer or tablet that has both. We highly recommend video calls during this time, especially when communicating with co-workers or longstanding clients. Jumping on a video call will force you to be presentable and will also mitigate feelings of isolation while working remotely. Make sure your cellphone has a good signal or set it up to use WiFi calling. Keep your cellphone charged.
Speaking of WiFi, make sure you have a WiFi or hard-wired broadband connection that works and has sufficient speed to handle the work you have to do. Know how to fix it if you lose a connection.
V. VIEW WORKING AT HOME AS AN OPPORTUNITY
Many folks who work at home are amazed at the amount of work they can get done outside an office environment. In fact, working at home can provide you with chances to learn new skills. Take the opportunity to learn a new piece of software. Upgrade your computer skills. Learn how to electronically file pleadings, compress files, unzip files, use ShareFile or OneDrive. Learn some new tricks in Excel, Word, Outlook, or Adobe. YouTube has plenty of tutorials on just about any topic or skill, so take advantage of the extra time to learn something new. Remember those projects you have been putting off? Stop procrastinating and get them done. Clean out your email inbox. There are so many things you can get done without being bogged down in the office.
VI. TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF
First, stay out of the public as much as you can. Practice social distancing. You need to stay healthy so you can remain productive. Sit in a chair at the proper height. You should be able to put your hands flat on the table. You may need back support, such as a chair with lumbar support. Make sure you can put your feet on the floor. You may need to set your laptop or monitor higher (at eye level) to avoid neck strain. You need to sit in a chair so you can see the screen while leaning back slightly. Make sure the lighting you have is good. An external keyboard and mouse are preferable.
Don’t drink too much coffee or caffeinated beverages. Drink water. Eat breakfast and lunch. Get exercise every day.
And don’t forget your mental health. Call and email your colleagues at work so you can stay in touch and stay sane. Stay upbeat about yourself and others. Don’t skip phone calls or videoconferences, even if they are optional. It will give you a chance to interact with others. Accentuate the positive. Eliminate the negative.
When the day is over, stop working and spend quality time with your friends and family. Set an “end of the day” routine, to signal to yourself that the day is over, and it is time to stop working. As Abraham Lincoln said (quoting Persian poets), “This too shall pass.” Or, as George Harrison said, “All Things Must Pass.”