Today, March 11, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the disease called by the corona virus, COVID-19, a pandemic. More than 1,000 people in the U.S. and more than 100,000 people around the world are known to have been infected.
With this new virus spreading so rapidly, companies are starting to ask their employees to work from home. It’s one thing to decide, at your own pace and in your own time, that you’re going to set up a home office and start working there. It’s another thing to suddenly have to become a remote worker.
As president and owner of Catena Creations, I’ve been working from home for nearly 12 years now. It’s an adjustment to leave an environment where you can pop up and ask a co-worker a question vs. waiting for a message or email from them. And where all office equipment and supplies are just a few steps to a closet away.
But you probably already have much of what you need to work at home. You may need to move things around a bit to make it work. Here are my suggestions for short-term working at home.
Set up a secure work area
Security is a top priority for me. I manage and store so much client data on my computers, in my emails and in my files. I owe it to them to keep all that data safe. To do this for your company:
Carve out office space. Set up an area where you can connect your laptop or computer and sit down to work, and where your kids, pets and guests can’t access your work equipment and paperwork. This may be a small table in the corner of your bedroom, or you may take over the desk in the family office.
Secure your computer. If you’ll be using the family computer, create a separate login for yourself to do work. Set up a separate storage area for files that need to be kept on your hard drive (if that’s allowed by your company.) Protect this area with a password so other family members can’t access it.
Back up your files. Maybe backups aren’t important for your family computers. But if you’re doing company work on them, backups will be a priority. Check with your company’s security procedures to determine the best software, hardware and methods.
Secure your internet. Make sure you have a password for wifi access. If your router allows you to set up separate networks, set one up for work access only. For the highest security, connect your computer to the internet with an ethernet cable.
Again, check with your company for security standards for connecting online. One of my previous clients set up a VPN for me, and I could connect only through Windows.
Manage paperwork. Lock up work documents in a file cabinet. Don’t leave them out on your desk where others can see them, spill on them, write/color on them or lose them.
Track your expenses. Your company may give you a work-at-home allowance to get things set up for the short term. If not, keep track of any money you spend on office supplies and equipment. If your short-term stay becomes a long-term one, you may be able to deduct these expenses on your taxes if they’re not reimbursed.
Stick to your work habits
Since we’re hoping that your time working at home will be a short, temporary period, it’s best to stick to your office work schedule as much as possible. You’ll need to keep this schedule when you head back to the office. And your co-workers will need to know when you’re available.
Take kids to daycare (if it’s open). You can’t work at home with distractions from little ones. If your children are young enough for daycare and it’s still open, they need to stay there. If not, are there friends or family nearby who are also at home who could watch your children for a few hours while you work?
Use the same distraction blockers you used at the office. If you put in your earbuds every day to shut out the office buzz, keep listening to your music or podcasts. Leave the TV off unless the background noise won’t distract you.
Keep housework to a minimum. Continue to share housework duties with your spouse and children or roommates. It’s easy to get caught up in putting every single dish away right away, doing laundry, and taking care of small tasks because they take just a few minutes. But string them together, and those “few minutes” can add up to a lot of time during the day.
If your work-at-home time becomes extended, talk with your partner, spouse or roommates about expectations. One of the hardest things work-at-homers face is the people who wonder why the house isn’t perfectly clean and dinner isn’t ready at the end of the work day. We are not getting paid to do those things. We are getting paid to work for our clients/companies, and they deserve to have us work for them free of distractions.
Know when to close the office. Just as housework can creep into working at home, so work can creep into home time. Know when to put away the laptop, shut off the phone, and enjoy your family and friends.
Take care of yourself
When I decided to work at home, I made some rules for myself that may also help you keep yourself healthy and sane.
Get dressed. Yes, we’ve all heard the stories about the guy who put on a shirt and tie for the video conference call — while wearing his boxers or jammies. Go ahead and wear your comfy clothes at home. After all, that’s one of the great benefits of working at home! But take a shower and get fully dressed every day. If you have a video call or conference, shave or put on makeup like you would if you were going to the office.
My rule is that I have to accomplish this by noon every day. I made this rule after a few times of being so immersed in my work that I looked up and discovered it was 2 p.m., I was still in my jammies, I hadn’t eaten or even moved from my desk. Now I move.
Keep moving. One of the first things you’ll notice is that you move a lot less when you work at home. You don’t have to walk from the parking lot to the office. It takes just a few short steps to use the restroom or grab a snack. You won’t be getting up to have a conversation with a co-worker.
Make sure movement — even if it’s just a short walk at lunch time or after dinner — is part of your routine. Get up and stretch frequently.
Enjoy your furry friends. My dog and #FreelancersFriend, Juno, provides company and entertainment while I’m here. She’s also an excellent watch dog, alerting me to movement outside.
Get out of the house. You may be working at home to prevent contamination. But unless you’re quarantined, you don’t have to lock yourself up.
One of my rules has been that I have to leave the house every day I work. On some days, that just meant driving my son to school in the morning and picking him up at night. I make exceptions for sick days and days when it’s too cold or stormy to go out. (I love snow days where I don’t have to drive!)
Keep networking. If you belonged to networking groups for work and they’re still meeting, go to those meetings. Or meet online. Meet colleagues for coffee if possible. Stay in touch with your friends in the business world.
Eat well. Plan for good lunches. Keep healthy drinks and snacks on hand. Keep using your water bottle.
If you or your company need help in setting up a work-at-home plan, please contact me. I’d be happy to share my experience with you.