COVID-19 has had the dramatic effect of launching many of us into a remote work environment virtually overnight. But as the pandemic drags on (and on), it can be hard to stay motivated and productive.
At our recent Canadian Employer Outlook virtual conference, Alex Willis, CEO of Leadership Surge, shared some tips to improve your work-from-home experience, based on seven essential skills.
1. Critical thinking
Being constantly available and continually trying to prove yourself can lead to stress and burnout. That’s why you need to plan in advance and stick to a schedule, Willis explained. This includes setting aside work time, breaks—and, as much as possible, a consistent quitting time to help you separate your workday from your personal life.
“If you’re going to be successful with your teams, you’re going to have to be an excellent communicator,” said Willis. Being transparent about when you will and won’t be available—including sharing your daily schedule with your manager, team, family and friends—can help you avoid the pressure to be “on” all the time.
In this environment, you don’t really need to worry about overcommunicating, he added. The focus should be on simplifying your messages and keeping everyone informed.
This skill is particularly valuable now, many months into the pandemic, when you might feel your energy flagging. It’s about taking on the mindset of an entrepreneur, Willis explained: When you don’t have a boss standing over you all day, you have to be able to thrive on your own.
One pro tip is to take advantage of your “peak times”—the times of day when you feel most engaged and productive—to tackle your most important tasks. This strategy helps you focus on the work you really need to do instead of getting mired in your overflowing inbox.
4. Ability to minimize distractions
Clearly, this is a challenge in the current environment, where you might be working in the same space with your spouse, children or pets. Willis advises creating a designated workspace in your home—one that’s separate from your living space. Entering that space signals to your brain that it’s time to get down to business.
If you can’t physically separate yourself, then noise-cancelling headphones can also help reduce distractions and interruptions, he added.
5. Comfort with social isolation
COVID-19 has both created and exacerbated mental health challenges, as many people are struggling with depression, loneliness and feelings of isolation. In fact, a May 2020 Sun Life survey found social isolation is the top contributing factor to COVID-19’s negative impact on mental health.
When you can’t be face to face, chat and video conferencing tools like Zoom, Teams, Skype and Google Hangouts can help you stay connected to your co-workers, noted Willis. Maintaining social connections outside of work with family and friends can also provide much-needed support.
6. Organization and balance
To keep yourself on track, Willis suggested creating a task list for your main tasks. He recommends the Pomodoro technique:
- Identify your most important task
- Set a timer for 25 minutes
- Work on the task for 25 minutes (one Pomodoro session)
- Take a 5-minute break
- After four Pomodoro sessions, take a 15- to 20-minute break.
And don’t forget to balance work with activities you enjoy—whether that means picking up a new hobby, going for a walk or run, or starting a creative project. “Get out and get moving,” Willis added, noting that regular exercise should be part of your routine since we tend to be more sedentary when working from home.
7. Computer savviness
We all got a crash course in virtual meetings during the initial lockdown, but being comfortable with technology is vital in a remote work environment. This includes the chat and videoconferencing tools mentioned earlier, as well as project management software to help ensure that the fine details don’t slip through the cracks.
Finally, don’t be afraid to experiment and make changes if the routine you’ve set isn’t working. “Have grace with yourself and be forgiving,” encouraged Willis—especially during these trying times.
Missed this session? You can still register for the virtual conference and watch it on demand here.
Looking for more tips for remote work during COVID-19? Check out these related posts:
- 5 Ergonomic Tips for Your (New!) Home Office
- How Employers Can Help Working Parents During COVID-19
- Tips for Virtual Trust Meetings
- 5 Tips to Keep Working-From-Home Employees Connected During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Director, Education and Outreach – Canada
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