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The Age of the Home Office - Pets, Kids and Fast Commute

This article originally appeared on my LinkedIn page at the beginning of the COVID-19 lockdown in France. Hard to believe now, months later, that we all seemed to get through it in our own unique way. Life is different now, for sure. 

In France, everyone wears masks to the office (if they are going back to the office), and our kids are back in school thriving and adapting (as they do so well). 

I decided to add the article to the Digital-First World series. It is still relevant: companies are either providing a choice to employees; rotating employee office time; or taking the plunge and going fully remote. 

Whatever is your situation, I hope it is working for you.

Life isn't back to what it was pre-COVID-19, nor will it ever be. It's called life. Things change. We change. Life goes on. We get better.

Original Article

"Hey, Dad, what's a commute?"

For many, working from home is a new frontier. For others, it is business as usual. As we struggle to grasp the implications of COVID-19 on our work and family life, staying happy and safe is vital. If you're struggling to understand how you will work from home, it is important to first see all the benefits. 

Sure, isolation is one area most people are fearful of. But with a little effort, you can build your community and find the right tools to stay connected and joyful throughout the day.

Increase Your Productivity by Working from Home

In a time of government-imposed quarantine (do I dare mention COVID-19), employees and employers are scrambling to understand how to manage a remote-work lifestyle.  

First, be positive and brace yourself for its benefits. Sure, it's easy to see a stream of negatives - predominately fear of isolation and reduced productivity - but what you will find is that remote work has many rewards.

As both a freelancer and remote worker, I have learned how to increase my productivity, balance my work and family life, build a community, and increase my wellbeing.  

Before going into the key things to consider as you begin your week as a remote worker, let's talk about benefits. 

Why Remote Work is Beneficial to Both Employees and Employers

  • Gain Time: Zero commute to the office means more time for work, and opens the door to adding physical fitness and family time to your day. 

  • Better Focus: Working in an office usually means continual distractions. When working from home, employees can tackle each task from start to finish faster. Research shows our brains aren't very good at multi-tasking, and continual distractions lower productivity and creativity.

  • Build Community: Remote work shows us how to build a healthy and collaborative work environment without continual face-to-face interaction. Yes, seeing and meeting colleagues in person is nice and should happen, but it's not something required every minute of the day. Remote work pushes us to form and build professional relationships in a world of global connections.

  • Increase Productivity: Employers often worry productivity will go down. Why? Usually, a manager assumes an employee will slack off and take time off. True, some employees need a watchful eye, but the vast majority will put in more hours and better manage their time.  

  • Reduced Stress: When an employee can avoid a lengthy and stressful commute, it provides time for physical activity, focused concentration, and encourages a structured work schedule. These lead to increased productivity, less stress, and higher job satisfaction.

Simple Ways to Transition to a Remote-Work Lifestyle

Map Out Your Week

Remote work can mean a crazy week if you let it. You no longer have to be in the office at a specific time, and you won't be staring at the clock waiting to leave. This is the moment to start a weekly work plan. For some, this will feel awkward. What you want to say to yourself is, 'finally, I'm in control.'

Try not to overthink this one. I've attached a very simple weekly planning sheet I use. It is so simple. I've learned that being too specific in my plan can bring on disappointment and a feeling of 'not getting anything done' syndrome. You want to avoid those feelings.

To reduce any stress and be ready for Monday morning, gurus in productivity advise to map out your week on Sunday evening. Sit back and look at how you envision your week from both work and family tasks and commitments.  

The idea is to block time by task type and merge work, personal, and family on the same weekly calendar. Remember, remote work should provide more flexibility and time within your day for personal fitness, so don't see this as slacking off. Believe me, if you work in personal fitness time, your productivity will go up.  

If you already have a process in place, stay with it. But work in 'you time' as you'll soon see that the time saved by not commuting to the office becomes more work time (a.k.a. sitting time). Remember, your wellbeing is essential. Sitting too long in one position is hard our your body and your mind.

As you'll see in my weekly calendar, I divide my day into four sections, and I use color codes to help me quickly see critical tasks. I also try to keep my morning block for tasks that need more brainpower and leverage the afternoon for administrative things like email, bookkeeping, phone calls, etc. I also include lunchtime and evening. For me, lunch is a great moment to focus on a professional book or a course. It's what I consider my learning time.

For my evening block, I map out my sports activities, family functions, and any work items. If you tend to stay up too late, write in your stop time and when you want to be in bed. This will significantly help bring structure to your sleep. We often forget how important sleep is to our overall productivity and wellbeing. Sleep is not a luxury. It is our best medicine for a healthy life. 

Get Up Early

True. Most people hate getting up early. Who doesn't shun their alarm? 

The fact is, an early start is one of the critical drivers of a happy and productive day. There are plenty of very successful entrepreneurs and CEOs to attest to its life-changing benefits. You just need to remember it only works if you manage your sleep time. 

Remember the saying? ... "early to bed, early to rise."

Again, you need to decide for yourself what works for you. I have found that my days are more structured, productive, and happier when I get up super early and spend time on me. This 'me time' not only prepares my body, but it also brings better clarity to my mind and work.

Everyone has to find their morning routine. What works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another. Find your own. I admit I love hearing about people's morning routines; it not only encourages me, but it also gives me ideas. 

The morning routine, which works best for me, is to get up at 5:30 a.m., have a coffee, and workout. I also find a few minutes of reading and journaling to be very beneficial. 

From there, a protein drink and I'm ready for my productive workday.

PJs or Work Clothes?

 I've never worked in my pj's. Now, I will work in sports clothes if I've planned a run or a bike ride in my morning schedule. If not, I put on my standard work outfit. Now, that doesn't mean I'm spending a lot of time getting dressed. It means shower, hair, and casual work clothes (minus the shoes). For women, it implies makeup and jewelry, too. This routine keeps me grounded and mentally gets me geared to a work schedule. 

Remember, the idea is to 'be at work' with all the benefits of being at home. Your remote work schedule means you can build in more flexibility. Still, it doesn't mean mentally not being one-hundred percent present. I feel getting dressed as if it's a casual day at the office is vital. It also means you're ready for any unexpected video calls, too!

Mapping Out Your Day - Before Someone Does It For You

 I've found that keeping to my schedule is where I fail most and the source of lost productivity, which is why a weekly plan is critical. Working from home means kids, house chores, and the assumption that you can stop at any moment to take care of family obligations. Draw the line immediately. Let everyone know, even your pet - that you have a schedule and work to get done.

If you have young kids at home, I recommend making time in your plan for playtime, even if you have a babysitter. Or, if your kids are at school during the day, be sure you plan a break for when they get home. If you work these types of family breaks in your schedule, you'll be fully present in your work and family time.

Phone and video calls can make a considerable dent in your well mapped out schedule. If unexpected calls need to happen, then track the time. Let the person know how much time you have. It's better to be upfront with a colleague or client. For example, if the client says, "hey do you have a minute," say how much time you have. Even for scheduled calls, limit the time. 

Music Music Music

 I can't stress music enough. Isolation can run havoc on some people. Even if you need quiet, music can keep your mind from wandering and help you stay on your task. There are music apps that claim to increase focus. I've tried a few. However, I find Spotify's music mixes for concentration work well.

I also think music is an age thing. Today's youth grew up listening to music, so it's natural. For myself, at first, I felt guilty. Now, I can't work without my favorite mix.  

Blocking Distractions Like FB, Instagram, and Whatever Else (but not your pet!)

If you need a 'break' and can't resist looking at your socials, then limit it to five minutes; if not, you'll end up slipping deep into the rabbit hole. If you can't break yourself away from your phone, then shut off notifications.

I've found my phone and social media (including LinkedIn) to be a big distraction and a source of lost productivity. I would also argue that email is a culprit too.  

The best way to manage email is to add it to your daily schedule. For socials, I only view LinkedIn in the morning, and Slack, I keep the notification mode set to 'on' when used for client projects. That's it. For work-related Facebook groups, I save for evening.

Workout - Make Physical and Mental Fitness Part of Your Work Schedule

I take physical fitness seriously. It's my key to happiness, productivity, and health. It's just as important as checking work-related emails, completing a project, or making a client phone call. You get my point. It's so important I schedule fitness time into my day. 

Your health and wellbeing isn't something you plan when you have time after work. As a remote worker, you've gained time by not commuting. Use the time saved to go for a walk, run, bike, workout, take your dog for a walk, whatever makes you happy and healthy. You'll see the benefits not only in your physical and mental wellness but also in your work.

As you can see, a remote-work lifestyle is beneficial to both the employee and the employer. The tools are there to make remote work possible and productive. The most significant factors are trust and taking control. Use your time wisely, and even when solitude weaves its way into your day, look at your schedule to get yourself back on track.


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