When Patrick Lencioni answered my phone call in his Lafayette, California home, he was already on the hunt for a quiet place to talk.
As he walks into the kitchen, his wife says, “Nope.”
His 13-year-old son Michael is watching the office on the television. On my end of the phone, my cat pounds up and down the narrow hallway of my Harlem apartment. We’re just about to begin our interview when my doorbell rings—a grocery delivery. Lencioni, the CEO of the business consulting firm The Table Group, politely waits on the phone as I haul my roommate’s groceries inside. Finally, we can start our interview, which is about, ironically, how to actually be productive while working from home.
With confirmed cases of the coronavirus in over 100 countries, companies like Chevron, Twitter and Inc Magazine, where I intern, have all transitioned into remote work model with many employees who have never worked from home before. If you’re willingly—or unwillingly—working from home now that the coronavirus is a concern, Lencioni says to embrace these human moments.
“People just need to be upfront about it,” Lencioni said. “It just takes saying, ‘Hey, I know it’s noisy here.’ Let’s just be human—everyone is capable of doing that.”
The First One’s Easy: Be Present
Lencioni is the author of the New York Times bestseller, “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.” To maintain productivity, Lencioni says employees need to be really, really focused. Easier said than done, right? Here are his tips, as well as suggestions from other productivity experts, on how to successfully work from home.
When you’re on a Skype call, it’s tempting to play solitaire or pay a bill or mute your microphone or…you get the idea. But multitasking, Lencioni says, is a dangerous game when there are no coworkers around. Instead, be focused.
“Let’s really sit here and try our best because it’s definitely a disadvantage to not be in the same room,” he says, “You can mitigate that by taking it really seriously.”
Lean In To Territory Battles
If you’re like me, you live with two other people who also need to get work done—and only two real chairs.
Chloe Carmichael, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist practicing in New York City, says this is the moment that all your house meetings have prepared you for. It’s time to communicate.
“Let your roommates know when your breaks are,” Carmichael says, “Give them a chance to support you while you’re also setting boundaries for yourself.”
Housemates working in close quarters can take breaks together for much craved social interaction. If you have limited workspace, sit down and plan your work hours together. And while working in bed may not be the best for your back, you have to do what works for you.
Set The Mood
All though many of us will be on our skype calls dressed business casual on top and pantless on the bottom, creating a productive space makes getting into work mode easier.
Chloe Carmichael, PhD, recommends playing light jazz or classical music to get you in the right headspace. Creating an office vibe at your kitchen table could also be as simple as having everything you need in one place. She recommends peppermint to increase focus if you’re into aromatherapy.
In my little apartment, I’ve created my office around my sofa to write this article. Next to it, a big window gives me natural light, so I really feel like the day has started and the ledge holds my precious coffee.
“Try to form an association between a particular place in the house and working so that the location becomes a cue for doing your work and not a cue for myriad other activities, which would weaken the connection between that location and working,” Selena Snow, a psychologist, says.
For me, that means not watching cute pet videos when I’m there or eating the pasta I worked so hard to find. By doing this, my new desk remains associated with working and I’m learning to connect that location with productive work.
Put Your Game Face On
The same goes for our appearance.
My first day working from home, I wore my favorite, ratty purple robe from sun up to sundown. The results? Less than stellar.
One professor is still waiting on an assignment I was supposed to do that day (Sorry, Daryl.) I had a hard time feeling engaged and focused in my comfortable clothes, especially with my bed so close by.
Snow says there’s a reason stores sell expensive “power suits” and your employer doesn’t let you come to work in pajamas.
“When you dress in a professional manner for work, you are sending yourself a message that you are now focused on work,” Snow said. This helps you stay on track, be productive and feel that you are competent.”
When I’m at least in jeans and a T-shirt, I feel more “on.” Being cooped up in your house can be hard on anyone, but just putting on outside clothes adds a sense of much-needed normalcy.
And Finally, The Hard Part: Staying Focused
Even the most well-intentioned person working from home can find their mind wondering what happened to Meridith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy during their assigned work hours. When you feel this happening, Laura Vanderkam, author of books like “Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done,” says it means something, and not that you’re just obsessed with Netflix.
“Many distractions are actually evidence that your brain needs a break,” Vanderkam says, “If you don’t take a real one, it will take a fake one, such as suddenly feeling the need to organize your bookshelves.”
Avoiding distractions, Vanderkam says, also means not parking yourself next chores you might be tempted to do, like a pile of laundry.
Instead, if you find yourself thinking of household chores during the workday, make a list of them and then tackle them during a break.
And my favorite tip of all—set a quitting time. When you work from home, it’s easy to let your work hours roll over into your personal time. I give myself something to look forward to when I set and end time. We’re all new to working from home, and we don’t know how long we’ll have to do it. Be kind to yourself as much as you can in this continuous transition.