Working-from-home tips for the newbies and the experienced

By Mark G. Auerbach

The “working from home” workforce has just increased multifold. Some of us have done it for years, and have the routine down. But even for us, that routine may have changed, because now the kids are home from school, and maybe your spouse/partner is also working from home for the interim. So the routine has been shaken up.

For those who have been working from home already, establish a routine that allows you to remain work-focused to continue, while accommodating your new work hours company. While your office may be off-limits for a good portion of the day, turn another space of the house into daycare. If your kids are using your computer for their homework, order (or rent) one for them, so they can do their work. Set volume controls, so their TV watching and music playing and general noise levels works for you, yet doesn’t inhibit them. They’ll learn a great lesson in learning to share and learning to work within a new community.

If you’ve never worked from home before, the freedom may be overwhelming. You’re free from wasted time chatting with colleagues; meetings with little purpose, and constant interruptions. You’re also free from a morning and evening commute, a dress code, a strict lunch break, and more. But this freedom may actually ruin your productivity if you don’t take these simple steps:

-Set a schedule (and keep to it). If you normally work an eight-hour day, with an hour for lunch, be in work mode for that time. If you work on a project basis, schedule and prioritize what your routine will be.

-If possible, put your workspace in a room with a door. You may have times during the day when you need complete quiet, such as if you’re conducting a Skype call or FaceTime session with your work team or you’ve got a piece of work that requires your full concentration. Working in a room with a door that can be closed will help. And having a do not disturb sign can also be a good idea. My colleague and founder of this blog, Jeanne Yocum, reports that years ago she bought a funny sign from Amazon that says “Do Not Disturb: Genius at Work” she uses when she really needs to concentrate on her writing. Her husband, who is retired and at home full-time, laughs at it, but it works. But no need to buy one; you can make your own!

-Watch out for distractions. Social media is a big one. A quick glance at Facebook can turn into an hour of wasted time. Your friends and acquaintances, who are also working at home, may become distractions, over-posting, over-sharing, and using Messenger in enhanced mode. And, even if you’re work-motivated, the constant notifications and pings will distract. Your spouse and kids may be home, and they’re distractions. One of the biggest distractions is the pet. (My late cat Butch loved the fax machine. When an incoming fax occurred, he’d pounce the machine and often rip to shreds the fax).

-Let people know that you’re working from home (and that the kids are home), and that your work hours are X AM to X PM. That way, you don’t get calls outside of your work time. Put an away message on your office extension saying that you’re working from home and will return their message as soon as possible. Encourage them to email you or text you. An unanswered call indicates something wrong. I’ve put an away message on my email as well. “I’m away from my desk and am working from home. I’ll respond to your email as soon as possible. If it’s urgent, text me, and include your name, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.”

-Use the flexibility. Do your necessary errands at times when stores aren’t likely to be crowded. Instead of a coffee break or lunch break at your desk, take a walk. You’ll need the change of scene. Use the commute time to hang out with your kids, watch a program that you’ve wanted to see. Take a webinar or listen to a podcast that betters your ability to better yourself.

-Keep connected. Touch base with your clients and colleagues. Let them know how you’re progressing. Let everyone know your adjusted business hours, and who they can contact about re-scheduling events, refunds and exchanges, and other alterations to general business. Be proactive about it, so your community feels like you’re in touch.

-Too much time on your hands? Update your mailing list. Clean up your database. File things that are piled up. When things return to normal, and they eventually will, you’ll be up to date. And, keep active. In the workplace, you’re on your feet. You’re walking during your commute, even if it’s from parking lot to office. Don’t let yourself become sedentary now that you’re working from home. And avoid frequent snacking.

-Don’t apologize. Self-quarantining and social distancing is a good way to protect yourself and the people around you. Apologize for the disruptions it’s causing everyone, but don’t apologize for your participation. Make your clients and contacts know that it’s “business as usual” with some unusual business. And, show some concern and kindness to them, because their lives are in a similar uproar. Remember, succeeding in small business works because you have built a community. You must respect that community and its connections.

People don’t take to change easily. The excitement of “no school” will quickly wear off on the kids. Instead of having the home-office to yourself, your new reality may be overcrowded with family. When there’s a lot of “new” in the routine, tempers can get short. Let’s ride out this difficult time showing our humanity and concern, and by putting our best faces forward.


Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn. Mark also produces ArtsBeat in print in The Westfield News, on radio for Pioneer Valley Radio and on radio/TV on 89.5fm/WSKB, and WCPC15.

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