As many of you can relate, the COVID-19 crisis has totally disrupted the somewhat-reliable rhythm of my life. My kids, ages 3 and 9, are now at home and my work with Propel Women has hit a fever pitch in the last two weeks as our team has worked tirelessly to adjust to this new reality.
But there’s one aspect of my life that hasn’t shifted. For over a year, I’ve been working from home. When I began, I studied up on what I could do to best support my team from afar while also fending off cabin fever. Some of the information I found was helpful, while other advice didn’t acknowledge the challenges of finding both productivity and happiness while working from home.
Here are the real, unfiltered strategies I’ve found to make a difference when working from home:
We all have it: work mode and home mode. One involves deodorant and pants, the other one… not so much.
I totally understand how great it is to take it easy and eliminate all the seemingly superfluous activities of your morning. You know what I mean: rolling out of bed, reveling in the knowledge that there are no coworkers to shock with your bedhead and unbrushed teeth. It feels like a fun cheat at first (Yay! I’m working from home!) but over time, it can also inhibit your confidence, productivity, and creativity.
Here’s the secret: when working from home for an extended period of time, you’re not getting dressed and groomed for the people in your Zoom meetings. You’re actually doing it for yourself.
If you’ve always felt like getting showered, dressed, and doing your hair was an act put on for other people, working from home can be an opportunity to finally do it for yourself, first and foremost. It affirms that YES you are worth the added effort, creating a psychological signal each time you pass a mirror or see your face reflected back to yourself while video conferencing that you are bringing your personal best into your professional life.
Over time, this will help to energize your work and your creativity.
This, of course, looks different from person to person. My A-game involves eyeliner and an outfit that makes me feel like Katharine Hepburn (don’t judge me). In her book Big Magic, author Elizabeth Gilbert revealed that she puts on lipstick at home just for the purpose of writing—even when no other person will see her wear it. She shows up for her work, and we can too.
Consider what your personal “A-game” looks like. For you, it may mean a fresh manicure or a trimmed beard. It may mean choosing a button-down shirt instead of the hoodie from the pile on the floor that—if you’re honest with yourself—sorta smells like pizza. You are absolutely worth the added effort.
Working from home taught me that each morning, I was getting ready to present myself—my worthiness, my potential, my enthusiasm—to myself for that day. And that awareness has transformed my work for the better.
The space around you will also have an effect on your ability to bring your best self to work each day. If you wouldn’t leave last night’s dinner, Uno cards, and five empty coffee cups strewn across your desk at the office, you probably shouldn’t leave them in your home working space. At first, their presence may represent freedom from the judgment or expectations of others; however, over time, it can subtly signal to your brain that something isn’t right.
Our homes don’t need to be Martha Stewart-clean, but when clutter is proactively managed, you’ll be better equipped to keep the momentum of working from home continuing in a positive, forward direction.
This is something we remote workers have known for a long time: when you don’t get to see your team face-to-face on a daily basis, communication is key. Video conferencing, Facetimes, phone calls, Slack, and text messaging become your professional lifelines.
I know you’re new to this “working from home” thing, but allow me to let you in on a little secret: collaboration with people who aren’t in the same room is possible.
But it does require intentionality.
Once you get into the rhythm of remote communications, you’ll find that deadlines can still be met, organizational objectives can still be reached, and team camaraderie can still exist—and even grow—all while working from home.
Zoom often? When video conferencing, make sure your team can see your face clearly. This is less about vanity and more about making your nonverbal cues visible. This includes your facial expressions, gestures, and eye contact.
Find a sunny window or a desk lamp that lights your face so that your team can see everything that you’re communicating to them. This sets the stage for the best communication—both verbal and nonverbal—that you possibly can bring to a virtual space.
Let’s be honest. Working from home provides more opportunities to slack off. After all, who’s going to know that you took a five-episode Golden Girls break?
Sometimes, it’ll be a challenge to motivate yourself to get work done (and done well). But you can be one step ahead of these days by preparing for them before they happen.
One way to overcome a lack of motivation is through strategic time management. The Pomodoro Technique is one of my favorites. It involves using a timer to break work down into 25-minute intervals, separated by short breaks. Breaking your day down into bite-sized chunks can make your workload more manageable. It is only 25 minutes, after all.
Also, I highly recommend keeping a playlist on hand for the days when it’s hard to focus on the work in front of you. For me, it's “Mozart: Classical Music for Studying” on Spotify. Find the music that works for you.
And remember that sleep, eating well, and exercising regularly will also help to maintain your motivation and focus over the long haul. Motivation will inevitably wane if these things aren’t prioritized. So take care of yourself, y’all!
Waking up ready to seize the day is a great feeling. However, you’ll need to pace yourself to avoid burnout.
Sometimes, when the lines between work life and personal life are blurred, it can become easy to never stop working: bringing the laptop to the dinner table, continuing a project through the entire weekend, developing a new revenue stream concept at midnight…. After all, in this season of social isolation, what else are you going to do anyway?
However, this is a marathon—not a sprint. You’ll be setting yourself and your team up for success if you’re able to clearly delineate between personal time and work time. Knowing when to stop working is just as important for some people as it is for others to muster the motivation to start. Don’t forget to practice Sabbath, schedule time for play, enjoy a leisurely meal, be intentional about screen-free time, and prioritize connection with your family and loved ones.
If you have kids, you already know what a challenge this can be. During this time, we need to give ourselves the grace to relax house rules as needed. Mealtime might look different, laundry might pile up, and family outings might be replaced with impromptu dance parties in the kitchen.
For many of us, this will be the first time our kids see the daily ebb and flow of our professional lives. That gives us the opportunity to model for our children what it means to have a sense of purpose and pride in work. We can help to develop the same spirit in them by cheering them on in their schoolwork and victories, no matter how small.
And for the babies and toddlers who have no idea what’s going on, it’s okay for us to keep a sense of humor in the inevitable chaos and surprises that will come our way.
With so many people working on the frontline in healthcare and other essential services, and so many others being laid off, working from home is a comparatively privileged position. We can’t take it for granted. Even as the COVID-19 crisis changes many things—the way we live, how we work, and how we relate to one another—my hope for you is that you find glimmers of resilience and creativity in yourself that you never knew existed. That you won’t just make “working from home” work, but you’ll find ways to grow and possibly even thrive.
Jacqueline Staph Jones is the Project Manager for Propel Women. She lives in Wilmington, North Carolina with her two daughters.