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5 Work from Home Hacks

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May 21, 2020 | Jennifer Namazi

5 Work from Home Hacks

I’ve been working from home for about 15 years, so when the scenario of a national work-from-home response to COVID-19 surfaced, I wasn’t initially fazed too much.  Then, reality set in. “Wait,” I thought. “I’m working from home, but so is the rest of my family. Yikes!

The idea of working from home and being together 24/7, while quarantined, leads to uncharted territory for many of us.

It’s time to share some of the hacks I’ve learned along the way - tactics that stock plan administrators can implement immediately to better optimize the work-from-home environment for an entire household. All of these hacks (plus a bonus hack), along with some of my personal experiences in using them, are further detailed in the Spring 2020 issue of The NASPP Advisor (see article: “5 Work From Home Hacks.”)

Before I dive in, I want to acknowledge that the term “remote work” means something different to everyone – and now more than ever. Some people are operating from a fully equipped home office. Others may have no dedicated workspace and will need to creatively allocate shared areas of a home for that purpose. In addition, each family situation is different. Empty nesters, for example, may have different remote work challenges from those in households with young children.

These hacks are intended to be adaptable and modified to suit to each person’s unique set of variables. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to creating an ideal home office.

Hack #1: Assign Designated Workspaces (Plural!)

This is especially important for those with multiple people in their at-home work environment. Even if you are home alone, there is still value in establishing a dedicated workspace in aiming to create boundaries between work and home life.

Identify all potential workspaces within your home – even if it’s just the kitchen counter or dining room table. If multiple people are using workspaces, you can assign/claim them.

Give special attention to designating areas for activities that are loud and/or require privacy. Conference calls, webcasts emanating from computer speakers, video meetings, and phone calls all fall into this category. Ideally, space for these tasks would be a room with a door – but even areas without a door can be suitable.
The key to success in designating workspaces is to do this in advance of when the spaces are needed. It’s stressful to realize you have a call in 15 minutes and no quiet place for it.

Hack #2: Establish Work-Free Zones

As essential as it is to identify working spaces, it’s equally important to establish work free zones. This helps to separate work from home life, and aids other family members in predicting where they can routinely engage in nonwork activities. In my home, work free zones are the bedrooms, living room, kitchen, and a section of our basement dedicated to entertainment.

Hack #3: Don’t Overlook Ergonomics

If you typically work onsite in a corporate office, your company likely has furnished your office with a desk, chair, file cabinet and other accessories to complete the office setup. Some of these items may have been contemplated in consideration of ergonomics.

Fast forward to this new reality of working from home – and functional workspace planning may have flown out the window. Are you sitting at a dining table on a hard chair? Or, parking it on the couch with a laptop while the kids are using the kitchen table for online school? Whatever the dynamics, the stress on your body shouldn’t be overlooked. The last thing we want is to emerge from quarantine with exacerbated back and neck problems.

Here are some ways to improve your ergonomics:

Stand more than you sit. Forget about being tethered to a desk all day. Create options that will allow you to move around. One hack that I love is repurposing an ironing board to a stand-up desk. Another is standing and pacing during phone calls.

Schedule breaks. Breaks may not come as naturally when working at home, since there is no organic flow of movement through an office environment. For most of us, productivity comes in bursts, best followed by a short break – and this is not different in the home office.

Commit to incorporating breaks into your work-at-home day.

Hack #4: Master the Art of Time Blocking

We are accustomed to reserving calendar time for things that involve other people – like meetings and appointments. Time blocking expands the allocation of calendar time to include additional priorities like solo and family related tasks.

Time blocking when working from home can be used not just for the work to-do list, but also to incorporate time for breaks, self-care (shower, exercise) and the needs of the at-home family into one daily schedule.  

Hack #5: Establish a Quitting Time

When you work away from home, there is the physical act of leaving the office each day – signifying the transition to whatever is next. When you work at home – and on top of that - in a quarantined environment where you are home-bound 24/7 each day, it’s essential to implement work/home boundaries.

Consider establishing a quitting time. This doesn’t mean that you can’t respond to an email after that time (this can be as flexible or firm a policy as works best for you.) The main goal is to set a routine of transitioning from work tasks to home life.

Final Thoughts

Working from home during a quarantine presents unique challenges. For one thing, there is the monotony of being home 24/7. There are also the nuances of working amidst other family members and juggling multiple priorities at the same time. This new workplace normal requires adaptation and I’m hopeful that some of these hacks will help to evolve your home/work life balance.

Wishing you all the best in your work-from-home adventures.

If you have a great work-from-home hack to share, please send it to me!

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