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5 keys to effectively work from home during COVID-19

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The corona virus disease (COVID-19) has gripped the world with over 1M confirmed cases and more than 50,000 deaths worldwide, at the time of this writing. Here in the Netherlands, there has been more than 15,000 cases and over 1400 deaths. Those working in behaviour change call it the largest and fastest behaviour change campaign in history. It has forced us to stay inside, work from home, cancel events and physically distance from the people we care about. All in a matter of hours.

When the Dutch government first announced that we would need to stay indoors, I was already staying inside for two weeks because I was ill. I’m not sure if it was Covid-19 for I was not tested. I had all the symptoms of the common flu except for high fever. So I already had some sort of practice for staying and working from home. And honestly, I didn’t really mind staying indoors for a few more weeks because, even though I am a tested extravert, I love the comfort of home.

Still, working from home (WFH) with a toddler poses new challenges than working from home alone. Three weeks into quarantine, I tell my colleagues it works like clockwork. Here are five reasons why:

1. Structure

  • We agreed on a structure early on. Husband and I both work four days a week. As soon as the (semi-)lockdown was announced, we agreed on a structure how to cover our working hours. We work in shifts (I work in the mornings on MWF and in the afternoons of TTh, we work when our son sleeps and sometimes catches up in the evenings). A lot of couples I know work in shifts of 2-3 hours but knowing that longer stretches are more productive, we agreed on a morning-afternoon division. This is also a clearer division for our toddler.
  • Communicate – communicate – communicate. The structure does not exist in a vacuum. We communicated it to colleagues and bosses as soon as WFH was announced. I added my presence and absence in my Outlook calendar and my availability for calls in my email signature. This way, expectations and boundaries are clear. In times of uncertainty, clear expectations and boundaries provide a little bit of comfort.
  • No one messes with the structure. The structure will only work if you keep to it and the schedules you agree on. For example, whatever we’re doing, 12nn is lunch, 1pm is afternoon nap and 6pm is dinner. I know, it sounds like a military schedule but believe me, it does create some sanity when you have a 24-hour-day where you can work or sleep at all times.

2. Tech

  • Internet in The Netherlands is one of the best. Imagine if this pandemic happened before there was internet. How in the world can we work from home? Here in the Netherlands, it’s not just that there is internet, we have one of the best, if not the best, internet connection in the world. It’s true!
  • My organisation is WFH-ready. Internet may be good but if your organisation is not WFH-ready, working from home can be a drag. Luckily, we have good ICT arrangements at work, flexible and all cloud-based. Video and conference calls are not a problem at all. All applications are available web-based as well. Collaboration with colleagues is quite easy with current available apps. So here’s to all ICT teams out there making WFH a walk in the park!
  • I do not allow tech distractions. As much as tech is what makes working from home possible, it can also be a distraction. Physical distance has allowed for more social connection, albeit virtual. Since I receive a lot of messages from family and friends more now than ever, I have learned to put my app reminders from personal connections on silent mode and only check when I’m on breaks.

3. Dedicated workspace

  • A dedicated work space is a good thing. Boundaries are significantly important at this time and having a place we can call ‘the office’ is a relief. It’s where we are not allowed to be disturbed (unless for some servings of coffee), where we receive conference calls and store all materials we need. Suddenly, all that investment on an adjustable standing desk is worth it.
  • No to pyjamas in ‘the office’. I learned early on that you should dress up for work even if you are not physically going to work. So while it is tempting, I do not wear pyjamas in the workspace. This psychologically prepares me to get things done and tick off the items on my list.

4. Nature and nurture

  • We go or look outside. We are still allowed to go out, not in droves and as long as we keep distance from one another, and we take that liberty. It is good to see the sky or just to smell the flowers. I should go out more than I now do and if I don’t, I make sure to look outside. Luckily, we have a neighbour who raises sheep and he puts them out where we can see them from our workspace.
  • We take care of ourselves. While I am not a breakfast person, I am learning to appreciate taking this meal leisurely. Having time to prepare meals in the afternoon has been enjoyable and healthy that our son has a more varied diet nowadays. A current planking challenge with my peers at Lean In | NL has boosted my mood and running around with my son seems to keep flabs at bay.

5. Empathy and hugs

  • Empathy goes a long way. When we were told we are working from home, I was worried about making my hours. But the organisation I work for is clear: “don’t count your hours, agree on realistic goals.” So that’s where we’re working towards. It’s liberating, motivating and gives a lot of headspace to think about what I am doing that I shouldn’t be doing (Note: I am writing this blog on my free time!) and what I am not doing that I should be doing.
  • We pause for some hugs. If you have workaholic tendencies, you almost never take a break while working. I know because I have to schedule my lunch hours at work. Having family or a toddler nearby means pausing for some hugs and kisses once in a while. I make sure I take it as an energy vitamin. And believe me, in this time of corona, they work like magic!

In other words

Structure, tech, workspace, nature and nurture, empathy and hugs. These are the ingredients of a successful WFH arrangement (for me!). It almost reads like a perfect story but it really is not. We’ve had a few meltdowns (from the toddler or the mommy, I’m giving you the freedom to choose) but it is working. What I am afraid of is that when it is time to go back to our previous reality, I might miss having those hug breaks.

How are you working right now? And is working from home working for you?#

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