Telework has exploded recently as businesses adjust to the realities of COVID-19. From Mid-March to early April 2020, the number of Americans who were teleworking doubled – increasing from 31% in mid-March to a staggering 62% by the beginning of April. This means that millions of Americans are working from home (WFH) for the first time ever, attempting to organize conference calls and answer emails while juggling the demands of family, pets, meals, exercise, and more.
While at first the primary concern was the internet’s ability to support the massive shift to telework, America’s broadband networks have proven to be up to the task. And with many of the nation’s internet service providers pledging to “Keep Americans Connected” during the pandemic, one of the major telework concerns is off the table.
But working from home isn’t an easy feat for many in the American workforce. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, you’re not alone. But fear not! For this post, we reached out to a number of WFH veterans to ask for their telework survival tips. Follow along to learn what they recommend to make working from home manageable – for short and long periods of time.
1. Create a Designated Work Space
Just because you’re at home doesn’t mean you can’t have a work space – ideally, one that’s set apart from the rest of the household. In choosing a space, “try to identify environmental elements that help you feel happy and productive,” says Shawn Taylor Kaminski, executive director of the national nonprofit DirectWomen. “For example: background noise, silence, natural daylight, or a house plant.”
It’s also important to make the separation between work space and home space physical and psychological. “When you’re in your office space, work. When you’re not there – stop working,” advises Eric Rardin, senior vice president of global strategic partnerships at Care2.
2. Invest in the Right Tools
First and foremost, this means a good internet connection. With high-speed broadband service, you can ensure that your emails send promptly, your cloud files are always available, and your face doesn’t freeze on the screen during that crucial conference. And with internet providers opening extra, free, Wi-Fi hotspots all over the country, you can even take your work outside if you feel the walls starting to close in.
And then there are some basic tools of the trade: Slack for group work, Zoom for videoconferences, and Google Docs for sharing documents. “Please let the days of sending a Word attachment for a group edit be dead,” says Rardin, with a laugh.
3. Set a Schedule and Maintain Boundaries
“Keep to a regular schedule,” recommends Emily Gentile, who has been working virtually for a large financial institution for over 15 years. “That means logging in at the same time every morning and not making excuses for getting online too early or late because you can. Plan to take a regular lunch and schedule time for a walk or a short workout. This will add structure to your work-from-home days and also allow you to dedicate time to family and other activities while you’re not working.”
Structure and schedule can also help you maintain a work-life balance while adjusting to a telework situation.
“Boundaries are difficult to see when you work from home, which makes them all the more important to delineate and respect,” says Anni Rodgers, general manager of New Hope Media. Rodgers deliberately removed her work email and Slack from her phone. That way, “When my computer is shut, the office does not follow me around in my back pocket.”
4. Move Around and Create Family Time
Since movement can fall to the wayside when you work from home, and you’re no longer going out for lunch, it’s important to get up and, when possible, get out. “Stand up and move around when you need to,” advises David McNerney, who has been working remotely for a cloud software firm based in the Denver, CO area. “If you invest in a good, noise-cancelling Bluetooth headset, you can even wander a bit and stay connected to calls.”
With some careful planning, those breaks can even include valuable family time.
5. Build Communication and Trust
Another way to break through the stress is to reach out to coworkers, many of whom are experiencing similar situations. “Instead of sending an email, pick up the phone and have a conversation,” says Kaminski. “Also, make a point to talk about things other than work. This is a stressful time for all, and it’s helpful to have informal conversations with people.”
Good communication also allows trust to develop – a key for strong remote-working relationships. “Trust that your coworkers will do their work, and trust they know you’re doing your best,” says Will Chamberlain, founder of the digital marketing consultancy Westlyme. “If you can get rid of that unneeded stress, everyone will be happier and more productive.”
The Great Telework Experiment
As companies adjust to the new normal, it’s hard to predict what the business world will look like, post-pandemic. A recent poll of new teleworkers found that the majority (59%) would prefer to continue working remotely as much as possible. And with the broadband infrastructure holding up well to this latest test, it’s possible that many workers will be allowed to telework, permanently.
With multiple family members at home and online at the same time, our at-home Wi-Fi networks are being put to the test. To find out more about how to maximize your Wi-Fi performance while working from home, check out our blog post on home Wi-Fi hacks.