Look, I’m not gonna lie, I am NOT a fan of working from home. We humans are social creatures and we crave human connection. Some of us more than others. Me? I’m a total extrovert and I feel like there is a battery inside me that gets charged up by interacting with people. I genuinely like coming into the office and seeing my co-workers. So, when the pandemic hit, I didn’t exactly handle being isolated with grace, understanding or acceptance at first. Initially, upon being told back in March that we were going to a ‘remote work environment’ I admit – I panicked. Was I losing my job? What did my future look like? Was our company even going to survive? And further, as a very outgoing person, how was I going to handle only having my dogs to converse with during the day?
These were important questions and I needed answers! But, as we all know now, there WERE no answers. There was no certainty. Heck, maybe the sun would NOT come up tomorrow – nobody knew.
With things still a bit up-in-the-air now, I wanted to throw out some of the ways someone who is a total ‘people person’ handled isolation and having no in-person contact with my co-workers.
Pretend You’re Still ‘Going to the Office’
The first week or two, I rolled out of bed, threw my hair in a bun, brushed my teeth and started a pot of coffee. I’d then let the dogs out, yawn a couple of times, proceed to fire up the computer and begin my work day. I’m an early bird and this was nice – if I started in at 5:30am, I was off earlier in the afternoon. I DID love that part!
But I soon found myself feeling like something was ‘off’. WAY off. That something was my routine. I LOVE a routine. If a routine was a person, we’d be besties. Something had to change. I started setting my alarm and not letting myself get out of bed until it went off. When I got up, I’d shower and dress just like I used to. Put on office clothes – just like I used to. I’d then get in the car and go out to grab my caffeine fix. Going through a drive-thru gave me just a little of that human connection that I desperately missed. After that, I’d head back home and start my work day. I felt like a tiny glimmer of ‘normal’ was back in my life and sticking to this routine really helped with that.
Keep A Work Schedule
Like I said above, it was nice to be off earlier in the day if I started in at 5:30 in the morning. And if that is the schedule you want and it works, then by all means, keep it! But having a routine that is the same every day sets the tone for your week. I was not sticking to a schedule and it really contributed to things not feeling ‘normal’. To add to it, many of my co-workers mainly stuck to the 8:00-5:00 office hours – which meant that if they needed something from me, I wasn’t available after 3:00. I needed to stick to a more acceptable schedule.
To get myself back on track, I began starting in at 7:00 and finishing up by 4:00 – this was a good compromise. Once I set those as my ‘work hours’, I knew exactly what to expect and what I would be doing at certain times. I also got to communicate with my co-workers more and they knew when they could reach me. I love having a set plan and expectations, so this was comforting to someone like me. And who doesn’t need a little extra comfort these days?
Take Clear Breaks
When you’re working from home and have never done that before, the idea of ‘taking a break’ may feel odd. It definitely did to me, anyway. I mean, I’m at home – that can feel like an all-day break. But this is another way that you separate ‘work you’ from ‘free time you’.
Since I wasn’t around my co-workers, I’d use break time to do something that would get me a little human interaction. I would take 10 minutes and call my sister or my best friend, go out to the mailbox and wave to a neighbor or go switch out the laundry (I do miss how clean my house was when I was working from home!). Breaks can improve creativity, boost productivity and help with mental clarity. If you have a job where you are sitting a lot, taking a short 5 minute walk every hour or two is highly recommended by doctors. Taking breaks is definitely beneficial both mentally and physically. It also helps establish the work-day schedule when you keep them at set times.
Explain to Anyone at Home With You That You Don’t Exist During Work Hours
I am married with no kids. So I should have been distraction-free during the day when the hubby was at work, right? Wrong. I have dogs – 2 German Shepherds and a Cairn Terrier. They stick to me like Velcro and if I’m home, they don’t leave my side. I didn’t really ‘explain’ to my dogs that they needed to give me space while I was working. I’m not going to ADMIT to doing that, anyway. But I did carve out my own space and made the dogs stay in their area. Side note: This does not work with cats. Cats do what they want.
If you do have other people living with you that are home while you’re working, they have to know and stick to the rules. As someone who craves human connection, this would be hard for me. You have to set the rules though. Maybe if they see you on your computer with your earbuds in, you are not to be disturbed. Or if it’s during your set work hours, have them assume that you are AT work, just like they would when you are at the office. This is where creating and sticking to the schedule is a big help. If you have the option, just shut the door to your work space. Interruptions are a productivity killer and reducing them as much as possible is crucial to being successful at working from home.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate!
I can’t stress enough how important communication is when working from home. For me, it was a mental life line. Feeling isolated – especially for an extrovert – was just the worst. I don’t know how else to say it. I became anxious, developed mild depression and didn’t have even half of my usual energy. This was NOT the life I had been used to and dealing with it was something I didn’t have a solid plan for. I was stuck at home with my husband being the only person I got to have in-person conversations with. It was rough not being able to see and interact with my co-workers.
My boss began doing daily check-ins and having Zoom meetings. We started utilizing our email like never before. At the start of the day, we would lay out our daily task list and plan our day via email. But we would also communicate one-on-one about how we were feeling and coping and we’d try to help one another out as best we could. A pandemic was something we’d never been through (and hopefully never will again) and there was no road map for navigating it. There were a couple of days where it felt like we were a support group for each other. Most days though, it was a quick morning session and the rest of the day was really productive.
Productivity actually got better during the time we were working from home and I believe this was a direct result of the improved communication between all staff.
Looking back on it now, I realize how all of these things were a huge help in effectively working from home. I wish I’d have known then what I know now so that I could have been more productive in the first week or so before I got things figured out. Should that hurdle ever again present itself again, this particular extrovert will now have a solid plan in place.