Finding the new normal
I spent my professional career getting dressed, usually in business attire, leaving my house and driving to another location – office tower, free-standing building, hospital – to begin my workday. All of that changed late last year when I joined the Business Council of Alabama as regional director, a newly created role in the organization.
One of the best perks (among many) of joining BCA is my ability to work from home. The past four months have been filled with transition and some trial and error. Making the shift from an “office” office to a home office environment can be seamless, but it takes effort, discipline and a healthy dose of humor.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, remote work in the United States was already on the rise. According to the Federal Reserve, the share of the labor force that works from home has tripled in the past 15 years. Prior to the outbreak, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics noted 29% of the American workforce could and did work from home. This has only increased as “social distancing” has become the new normal.
In our current coronavirus reality, hundreds of thousands of workers across multiple disciplines and industries are now joining me in my slippers in front of my computer first thing in the morning. Before I made my transition, I asked friends and colleagues for advice. The overwhelming response was “it’s great; you’ll love it,” quickly followed by “make sure you’re organized; it’s very different.” That advice is 100 % true. It’s great and it’s quite an adjustment. Their advice has never been more pertinent, and I thought it timely to share it with you. Here are my best suggestions for making the transition:
- Have a defined workspace: An actual home office, the dining room table, a set up on the back porch – it’s critical to have a dedicated space where you work that isn’t your bedroom. (Although, an occasional conference call from your bed isn’t the end of the world.)
- Maintain a routine: Wake up at a consistent time, have breakfast, get dressed, spend some time preparing for your day just as you would if you were leaving the house. The same way you use your drive to make calls or ease into your day, do it at home. Same with the end of the day – download the day’s events and prepare for the next day, just as you would before you leave the office. In these very uncertain times, routine not only helps maintain productivity, but it provides a sense of normalcy.
- Have defined work time: This was one of my biggest challenges. It’s so easy to jump into work as soon as you open your eyes and find you are still at it when the 9:00 news is on. Conversely, it’s tempting to do a few loads of laundry or run a quick errand, and the next thing you know, your day is off the rails. It’s important to take breaks (just as you would if you were in an office) but work time is for work.
- Get out of the house: *Disclaimer: this was much easier before COVID-19 became a part of our daily vocabulary* Looking ahead to the day we return to some semblance of normalcy, set appointments outside your home – at a coffee shop, a colleague’s office, etc. For now, take a walk, go to Starbucks drive through – something to break the monotony of being inside all day, every day.
- Be patient with yourself: Working from home requires a different type of discipline than going into the office, especially with kids and others likely in the house also. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow yourself time to adjust to the new routine.
- Stay connected: Communicate with colleagues and peers through the multitude of available outlets – video conference, webinars, conference calls, group chats. This helps maintain the rapport and productive teamwork that exists in the office environment. Connection also benefits our mental and emotional well-being, which we should all pay attention to, especially now.
- Enjoy the perks!: Jeans instead of a business suit – that’s great! If you aren’t going out, wear your cozy slippers or flip flops all day. If the weather is nice, make calls or handle emails from your backyard or patio and get your daily dose of vitamin D. (Multitasking!) There is wonderful flexibility and creativity when working from home. Enjoy it!
Countless tips and strategies to make the work-from-home transition a success are readily accessible. A quick Google search will yield all sorts of articles and helpful hints. My transition to working from home was the right decision for me and my family. Coronavirus made that decision for so many others in the last few weeks. It’s important that you find a strategy that works best for you and your family, and just do it! Good luck and best wishes.
Kellie Hope serves as the regional director for Business Council of Alabama