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Tips for Working from Home (With and Without Kids)

By, Stephanie Mitton

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to spread, many of us are being forced to work from home. As someone who usually works from home full time, I wanted to share tips for success.

At the non-profit I work for, the experience of working from home is a successful one all round—so much so that it’s a wonder to me how often hesitations are still held about this modern way of working.

According to research done by Airtasker (an Australian online and mobile marketplace that helps users outsource everyday tasks), people who work from home are 10% more productive (even if they take more breaks) and take less days off a month (1.4) than their office-based counterparts.

Technology has come along way with tools like the Cloud, Dropbox and Slack that eliminate many barriers to successfully working from home. You can even share screens with each other through tools like Zoom! In my current experience, there is NOTHING that we have needed to do that we have not been able to do remotely for the organization.

Tip for working from home:

1. Take breaks - When I first started working from home I was exhausted because of the increased productivity. There are not as many distractions (e.g. unnecessary meetings and watercooler conversations) at home and with the increased productivity, by the end of the day I was spent. I found that over time, you regulate. Also, don’t shy away from throwing something in the oven, doing some dishes or changing laundry. Your productivity is high, you can take the time—it doesn't even remotely make up for colleagues stopping in your office just to chat. 10 minutes from your work day is FINE, just don’t go overboard. At the same time, if you are not able to set limits for yourself, then don’t start!

2. Be social - Regardless of if you are extroverted or introverted, you will need to be more intentional about being social than you did previously.

3. Set boundaries - You are STILL working. That means that you don't have time to work and run the whole household by yourself—family members still need to contribute. It also means that you still need after school care, you can’t go shopping with friends, and they can’t just drop by to visit. You need to get good at saying NO and setting boundaries.

4. Keep your office clean – If you are like me, it’s hard to work in a messy house AND it’s a distraction. New habits will have to be developed and reasonable expectations set.

5. Set office hours – I tend to keep general “office hours”; it doesn't mean that I won’t put in extra time, but on a regular day it provides structure, accountability and balance to my day. It’s easy to just keep working when you are at home.

6. Get dressed and ready daily – It is easy to stay in your PJs all day but getting dressed makes me feel refreshed. That way if an external meeting comes up I am ready to go and there are less barriers to get out the door!

7. Dedicated work space - I have an office and most days I spend 8 hours (give or take) in that office. I don’t migrate around the house; this keeps me focused. It may not be the right approach for everyone, but it’s a lot easier to ignore a messy kitchen if you are not working in it!

8. Get outside - You are at home and inside ALL of the time. You need to get fresh air, so walk a few blocks on a short break to get your daily vitamin B.

9. Exercise - You are no longer walking to public transit or your car; you are going to need to move more to stay healthy. Make exercise a priority and schedule it into your day.

10. Listen to something - Music, radio and podcasts (depending on the type of work you do) can help you feel less isolated and remove the silence of your work space.

11. Stay connected - Connecting with colleagues and contacts is important to avoid social isolation, but also to continue to feel part of your team and your work.

Working at home with kids:

We are in the middle of a pandemic, and in many provinces in Canada, children are out of school for an unexpected break of several weeks.

I also want to note that many of my suggestions will depend on your child’s age—my kids are 6 and 9.

1. Create a list of rules - Work with your kids to make a list of rules that they agree to follow. Have them help write them and display them somewhere they have access to.

2. Create a bored list - A bored list is a list of things that your kids can do if they get bored. Post it somewhere accessible. Anytime they are bored they can get an idea from the list.

If you are working at home with your kids for a long period of time (e.g. pandemic), I would work with them to have an agreed upon daily schedule that integrates, fitness, breaks, school work, reading time, play time, etc.

3. Communicate with your kids - Let them know when they can come in your office and when they can’t. This is where having a dedicated workspace, even a makeshift one, is important. If you are joining a very important call, let the kids know, and remind them right before, this may be a good time for their TV time (just saying). I have also used a stop light on my door; and I would change it depending on if the kids could come in the office or not, they helped make it too. Green = come in, Red = don’t come in and Yellow = come in quietly.

4. Let people know your kids are at home - If you are on a call let them know you have kids at home and you have instructed them not to interrupt, but it could happen. I find it easier to call it out ahead of time rather than explain after they barge in. Plus it’s a pandemic—desperate times call for desperate measures.

5. Headphones - Noise cancelling headphones are self explanatory. You NEED them: mine have 100% contributed to my success. However, good old-fashioned ear plugs would also do the trick.

I hope these tips help you successfully work from home. If you have other tips, please leave a comment - we’d love to hear from you!

“...whatever life throws at us, our individual responses will be all the stronger for working together and sharing the load.” – Queen Elizabeth II

Finally, this is a pandemic: do your best (for where you are at), it IS enough.

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