Working from home during COVID-19? Here is 5 tips to remain productive (free resource)

How quickly things can change...

And in recent weeks, globally, we have taken a turn for the worst.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) surfaced in a Chinese seafood and poultry market late 2019 and has now spread to over 180 countries, claimed the lives of more than 12,000 people and continues to spread amongst hundreds of thousands of people, all in a matter of weeks.

The World Health Organisation has now declared the situation a pandemic.

Following this rapid spread of the virus, we have seen drastic impacts on things like international travel, the closure of country and town borders and a severe loss of jobs across various industries.

We have even seen an effect on the availability of essential items like toilet paper, hand sanitiser and household foods. How bizarre!

We are seeing a growing number of companies suggesting, or even demanding their employees to work from home, indefinitely.

Sure, it'll feel nice to avoid the work commute and experience the freedom of working from your couch with your pets by your side. But this sudden change in routine can take a toll on things like your productivity, morale, mental health and even job security.

In October 2019, a study by LinkedIn found that 82% of employees wished they could work from home. While this isn't surprising, take it from me... it's not as easy as it seems. But we have learnt a lot in the time we have been working as a remote team (seven years), here are our tips;

Home office with blue wallpaper dekstop
Credit: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

1. Set a designated work area

We cannot stress this enough...

Working remotely is a double-edged sword.

If you're not used to working from home, you will realise that this "new normal" will take some getting used to. You will face new challenges that you wouldn't usually encounter in an office environment.

You eliminated the need to commute to work in the mornings, which will free up an hour or so of your time. Naturally, you may skimp on your regular morning routine, sleep in, remain in your pyjama pants and work from your bed for the day with Netflix running in the background.

Well, DON'T!

When it comes to working from home, you need to separate what is work and what is home.

Dedicate an area in your home as your new workspace; this doesn't have to be a room with a door that closes, because everyone's living arrangements differ. It should be an area that mentally puts you in work mode, whether it's a desk in your spare room or your laptop on the kitchen table.

Ideally, it shouldn't be in a place where you would usually go to relax, like your bedroom or couch. And it should be an area where members of your household know is a designated work area for you.

Seriously, if your kids are stuck at home as well, let them know you can not be disrupted between certain times of the day to help settle a juice-box-related spat or engage in chitchat.

Lastly, something I really want you to have a think about here when it comes to working from home is the home office tax deduction. Things like a mortgage or rental repayments, utility bills like electricity and the internet. These are all items you can claim as tax deductions. But, there are rules in place, these differ from country to country so I encourage you to take a moment and do some research.

2. Eliminate distractions in your home

We all have our weaknesses at the best of times.

When you think of some common distractions in the workplace, this is generally those select coworkers who don't understand the concept of personal space or keeping the volume to a dull roar, phones ringing left right and centre and long, drawn-out meetings that could've been an email.

If you're thinking, "I'm going to get so much work done now that I'm home all day." Think again.

You're entering a whole new playing field now.

You have selected a space in your home where you want to make the magic happen. So have a think, what around this space could distract you?

A TV, your mobile phone, anything you can think of, remove them if you can or at the very least turn them off or to silent.

Lastly, your computer itself. How are you communicating with the team, management or even clients? Email, phone, Skype, chat tools...

All of these tools are distractions in themselves and while it is vital to keep up the communication with your coworkers to avoid cabin fever, it's also vital to actually stay on track and make progress.

You need to balance your communication with actually doing work. This is where the pomodoro technique comes in...

Home office with blue wallpaper dekstop
Credit: Photo by Kul Pornmongkolchat on Unsplash

3. The pomodoro technique

The technique is so damn simple, I almost don't even need to explain it but, I will.

The pomodoro technique is a time management framework that has been described as the most effective technique for improving your productivity. It encourages you to work in 25 minute time blocks (called pomodoro sessions), followed by a 5 minute break.

The pomodoro technique is popular with people who work from home because it helps to manage distractions.

Now you're a working-from-home-newbie, you're an ideal candidate for the pomodoro technique.

The rules go like this:

  1. Pick a task to work on
  2. Close your emails, shut down unneeded browsers or programs, switch your phone to flight mode or move it out of sight.
  3. Start a timer (use focus booster) for 25 minutes and get to work.
  4. When the timer is up, you will be notified. Now, take a short 5 minute break to stretch, fill up your water or coffee cup or, attend to any new emails and respond to some messages from your coworkers.
  5. Repeat the last 4 steps.
  6. After your fourth pomodoro session, take a 20-minute break.

Sometimes when you're faced with a larger task or a series of tasks, it can feel daunting to get started or find the motivation. By breaking up your work into 25-minute time blocks, followed by 5-minute breaks, the task begins to feel more manageable and it gets easier to just start.

4. Look after your mental health

The world has now come to terms with the fact that self-isolation may just be our fighting chance against this pandemic.

Beyond the inconvenience of employees having to work from home, avoiding social events or visiting cinemas and restaurants, we also know that social isolation can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health.

We are social creatures. We've evolved to become accustomed to spending time around our colleagues, friends, family members and neighbours. Without realising, we actually crave and rely on human interaction. When it isn't possible, cabin fever sets in.

Whilst physical human interaction is a little hit and miss right now, we also have a wealth of options to stay connected with each other.

Phone rather than text and engage in a proper conversation.

Start a Facebook message group with people on your street.

Try some video chat tools like Slack and Zoom who, right now, are offering their paid services for free during this pandemic.

Our team all work remotely from our own homes and have been for 7 years. Slack has been a key point in keeping our communication a top priority, plus, the early morning banter on stand up calls always help to set the tone for the day.

Lastly, keep an eye out for each other. The elderly, the disabled, people more at risk of contracting COVID-19. Those less tech-savvy could use your assistance, please offer it.

Home office with blue wallpaper dekstop
Credit: PPhoto by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

5. An app to keep you on track and alert throughout the day

Alright, so you're working from home.

Hello, focus booster! It could be your new best mate, and maybe in the future too, if this pandemic doesn't turn into a zombie apocalypse.

focus booster is one of the top pomodoro apps, with a user base of over 240,000. Many of whom were once working-from-home-newbies just like you!

Some of the keywords used to describe focus booster are, "simple" and "easy to use", which is awesome because that's exactly what we were going for!

Focus booster uses the pomodoro technique to keep you focused and allows you to;

  • Track time spent on tasks throughout the day by recording sessions with the timer
  • Receive break reminders at the end of each session
  • Track your time spent on projects or client work
  • Create labels for each task so you can easily identify exactly what you have worked on
  • Lastly, and my favourite feature, visualise your session data in graph form in the way of your most productive day, how much time you are spending on each client/project and the revenue you have accrued per client
  • At the end of the week, export your session data into a spreadsheet and send this through to your manager so they can see exactly how productive you've been!

focus booster comes with a 30-day free trial already but, given the uncertainty of peoples job security in the future, hit us up in the help icon at the bottom of your screen before your trial ends, and we will happily extend it.

In the meantime, if you're not quite ready to sign up yet, we've collected all of our top tips for working from home and pomodoro resources into a guide just for you.

Download the resource or, learn more about working from home.

And hey, if you're already nailing working from home, good for you! Share this with your friends, family or colleagues who could use a bit of guidance during this crazy time.

Stay safe, wash your hands, check in on one another and above all else, stay home. Your health and safety are paramount now, more than ever.