The old saying “change is slow, except when it’s fast” makes more sense now than ever before. 

As COVID-19 began to hit northern Italy and spread across the rest of the globe, new ways of living and working that have been dismissed by many – like home working – have quickly become the reality for millions of us. 

The public health crisis caused by COVID-19, coupled with the technological advancements of our time, have allowed an enormous shift to take place, and fast. Like companies shifting 70% of their business to online, schools and universities taking their teaching online, and museums, theatres, yoga classes all finding ways to stay present in our lives through online spaces, virtual rooms, classrooms, and studios. 

COVID-19 has shaken our planet like nothing else in our lifetime. A global pandemic is showing us the vulnerability of human beings and how an invisible enemy can jeopardize all we invest so much in building. But at the same time it shows us how adaptive we need to be. 

As uncertainty rises, people, especially those in the positions of authority, are facing the challenge of acknowledging how incompetent they are at this moment, and how the solutions for this crisis don’t come from giving instructions and orders, but rather from engaging people in figuring it out together. 

On the other hand, millions of people are experiencing the need for immediate shifts to the unknown. Even those lucky enough to keep their jobs and shift to home working are still finding the change to be significant. 

In the first week of lockdown I had two phone calls with two great friends of mine, both business women. One is a banker and senior executive in a large international bank, the other a high level official in the Serbian Government. One was talking about working around the clock, finishing only at midnight, and eating only snacks for days on end, while the other was saying how often she gets distracted by family members who constantly need something, with housework that calls for her attention. 

For the last three years I have worked from home and currently lead an international team across multiple time zones. Speaking to my friends made me realise there are some lessons I could share from that experience which could be a helpful resource for many people who are trying to navigate their way through it. 

Here are some tips: 

  1. Establish your daily routine – Build a routine and stick to it! We all know how important the daily routine is. Staying at home can easily distract us, so now more than ever you need one. To me, daily routine is as strict as I was going to work and needing to come to my office on time. So, it starts with the exact time when you are waking up, doing all the morning routines, exercise, preparing breakfast, making coffee, dressing up and eventually sitting/standing at your desk ready to kick off the work at the time when your working hours start. 
  2. Define your working hours – Work from home can easily shift into working too much or too little. It is so important to decide when during the day you will work, and how will you distribute that time during the day, and that is really the luxury that work from home offers. For example, you might want to start later, because many of your meetings are happening later in the evening. Or you might want to start very early and do some of the work before averyone else wakes up, but then you want to take a loner brake during the day to support your family members or prepare linch. What is important is to have a shared understanding with your colleagues on when the collaborative work is happening, and when the individual work can prevail. Having a shared calendar with your colleagues helps with this; it also helps your colleagues to know when they can expect you to be at your computer and when they can expect longer time for you to return their calls. Tracking your time is of extreme importance here as well, because sometimes we just get glued to our computer and forget that we worked 15hours that day, and sometimes, it can create a feeling that we are working too much, although we really spent a lot of time on matters that are not work related. A cool app to help you track your time is Toggl App, I also use it to track different areas of work that I spend my time on, so I have an overview of how much time I spend on different areas of work, and that helps me be more strategic and intentional. 
  3. Create a to do list –  It may sound like common sense, and it is, but when working from home a feeling of under efficiency can sometimes overflow us, so it is very important to define your goals for the week, and make sure you are staying on top of it. This is extremely important for teams as well. As we shift to online work, it’s very important that we track what team members are focusing on, and when can we expect different parts of work to happen. Having in mind how interdependent the team is or should be, planning work together and creating to do lists from it is of great value to remote teams. 
  4. Ensure that you have nutrition you need for the day – Oh yes, this can certainly become a large issue. One negative side is that we tend to eat much more than during our regular work at office, the main reason of course is the proximity of our fridge. The other side of the challenge is that someone needs to prepare our lunch as there is no canteen that we can just walk into and buy something healthy. As always, the key is to plan for it, buy groceries in time, prepare the lunch day before, or dedicate some time during the day for it. When it comes to snacks, and making sure you don’t snack infinitely, here are three tips: 1) Self control, 2) Defining time for snacks 3) Having a clear desk that ensures there are no snacks around you. Water or tea will suffice until your next break. 
  5. Book time for a lunch break – It’s crucial to book time for lunch in the calendar and make sure invites that arrive to your calendar and are overlapping with your lunch time get automatically rejected. This might sound easy but it’s not, and it usually leads to back to back meetings without a time for lunch or even a quick break. 
  6. Book appointments with a minimum of 10-15 min break in-between – With physical space you need some time to walk from one conference room to another. You also need time for break, prepare for the next meeting and have bathroom break. Well you need that when working from home too, so make sure you give yourself that time. Book your meetings with 10-15min break between them, or book meetings at 45 instead of 60 min in length. Having these little breaks is important for your focus and sanity; and remember, no one will take care of it if you don’t. 
  7. Create a working space in your apartment – Working from home, especially when your family members are around can be tough, especially for those who don’t have their home office as a separate room. Having your desk, corner, or any spot where you can have quiet time to focus on work will help you be more focused on your work and thus be more efficient. 
  8. Video conferencing – they can still see you – For many of us who transitioned from phone conferencing to video calls, it was a funny shift. Having in mind you are in the online space now, and that is where you can create your visual image. There are a few important things: 1) Your look, including what you wear, your hairstyle and overall look 2) Your background. What is that your colleagues can see behind you? A nice wall, a picture, a library is a good background to have, and leave quite the opposite impression from having the bathroom tiles or bedroom pillows behind you. 3) The position of your camera, how your camera is positioned and what the picture is that your colleagues can see, including how your face looks, is very important. Your camera shouldn’t be either too low, or too high – test how you look before you log in. Also, where you look matters. It’s always the best to look at the eye of your camera, so that it looks closest to looking people in their eyes, but you should also try to have a thumbnail view on screen whenever possible so you can see everyone on the call, their body language and facial expressions. Also, having a window with natural light, or a lamp behind you is not a good idea as it puts your face in the dark. The light should always go into your face. 
  9. Your routine & your family members – More often than not our family members don’t really take our work from home seriously, so they feel free to come in and ask us all questions unrelated to work in the moment when we are focused on writing important emails, policy papers or doing some important calculations. It’s important that we explain to them that we are at work and that it requires focus. I have an agreement with my family members to come and interrupt only when they have a list of questions or ideas to share, not each time when something comes to their mind. Creating small breaks at the top of each hour can help this too, especially if you have little children at home. With home schooling that is taking place right now, some of my friends have also introduced family routine to all family members, and organized it in the way that everyone works at the same time – so kids do their classes, homework and readings at the same time as their parents are working. I think this in particular is a great idea as it introduces responsibilities to kids, and makes them more independent and responsible for their work, while also deepening their understanding of the work responsibility their parents have. 
  10. Make sure there is physical exercise in your daily routine – Before you know it you might get back pain, gain weight, or experience other health related issues caused by the lack of physical activity and walking that you do every day no matter how sedentary your work in general is. I know that it might be that your yoga studio went online and that you shifted to exercising online. However, doing yoga or pilates a few days a week won’t be enough. You need to do more of it to make up for the lack of everyday walking you don’t have anymore. There is a lot of mobile apps offering quick and longer workouts that you might want to add to your everyday routine. I personally use Daily Yoga app that offers great workouts and programs. In my routine I have an hour-long yoga workout every morning, and an hour on my treadmill every afternoon. I use the time on the treadmill to think, reflect, plan, listen to a podcast or a book, or talk with friends and family. In case you don’t have any home equipment, you might take a tour of your building by climbing stairs, or walk around your block. But most importantly, make sure you get yourself on the go at some point in your day. Finally, there are many quick workouts of 10-15 min that you can do during your workday, that will make your body healthy, and won’t take too much time.
  11. Say no to all distractions – Walking passed your living room can make you see that something is not in its place, which will then make you see a little dust, leading to you wanting to clean it, which will take you to a bathroom where you will find something that needs to go in the washing machine, that will take you to realize there is a detergent missing that will take you to… stop it… there are so many distractions, but would you normally do it during your day at work? No. So leave it and go to work. Failing to do so will make you feel inefficient, nervous and at the end of the day unsatisfied and with a bunch of unfinished work. 

So, in the end, it all comes to having your routine (and creating one for your family), discipline, sitting at your desk or however your working corner looks, adjusting your screen when being on a video call, looking at your to-do list and deciding what will make your day/week successful. Book time for lunch on the calendar and spend your lunch with your family so that you can spend some relational time with them and support them and their needs. Track your time, and when it is up, spend time focusing on your physical health. At the end of the day, use this calm time to spend more time with your loved ones or simply in reflection, mediation or with a good book. 

Author: Ana Babovic, Founder & CEO Forward Consulting

Editor: James Sleep