I was in school, and part of a contingent ready for the mandatory Republic Day march past, when the 2001 Gujarat earthquake happened. The ground shook and the trees swayed that early morning, and we were quickly packed into school buses and auto-rickshaws and sent back home.
The panic didn’t get to us as kids—we were just happy to get the day off. We understood the aftermath only later, when we saw other towns and districts levelled to the ground.
That was then. Fast forward to 2020: The coronavirus pandemic is probably for the first time in our lifetimes, that many Indian employers are encouraging staff to work from home. Yay! (Mumbai people will understand the magnanimity, having waded through knee-high water to get to work every year during the monsoons). But with freedom, especially from your boss, comes responsibility.
Working from home may seem like a cake-walk—and it can be if you set a few rules for yourself—but you can also quickly spiral into complacency if you’re not careful.
I started working from home full time in September 2018 when I shifted to New Delhi, while still working with Forbes India. Having lived in Mumbai for nine years and spending close to 3-4 hours travelling to and from work every day, this decision suddenly added 3-4 extra hours to my day. Voila! I suddenly had time for hobbies and to exercise—something that was easy to overlook in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai life.
I have also never been more productive. Working from home meant no chai-coffee breaks, no chit-chat with co-workers, no elaborate lunch hours, and no birthday cake-cuttings. It meant I had few excuses to not deliver to my fullest potential.
So, I think I may have a few tricks and tips that could help you.
Get a desk: One of the biggest mistakes I made in the first few months was working without a desk. Even as a child, I would study while in bed or on the floor, rather than at a desk, much to my mother’s dismay. Out of habit, that’s how I started; but it soon took a toll on my back and also on my productivity. It is also not a good idea to work in the same room that you sleep in.
So, get a desk, go stationery shopping, get lots of planners, a calendar, a comfortable chair (very important!) and get to work. I also got myself a printer and scanner so that I don’t have to run out every time I need either of them.
Keep your work out of the bedroom: I cannot stress this enough. The room that you work in should be separate from your bedroom. There is a significant difference in my efficiency if I work in the 'study room', which now doubles up as my office. Dedicate areas for work and home, and don’t let the twain meet. It’s easy to feel lethargic when the bed is right in front of your eyes, alluring you to be lazy.
Get lots of healthy snacks: One of my favourite things about working from home is that I can just walk to my kitchen to fix a snack. That, and the fact that I no longer need to rely on the machine coffee (little pleasures!). So, while you should stock up on your favourite coffee or teas, make sure you cut down on chips and biscuits in the house. It’s easy to overeat when no one is watching, especially on busy days. Replace that with cucumbers, carrots, celery, sprouts, fruit, yogurt, etc. I always keep a big bowl of salad or fruits, or even raita, in the fridge, to gorge on when feeling peckish.
Meet Deadlines: Remember this: Just because you’re allowed to work from home, doesn’t mean deadlines are not important. In fact, there could be more pressure to meet your deadlines. Work from home is a two-way street. Once you have the permission and the freedom to work from home, it’s important to ensure you don’t give your co-workers, managers and your boss a reason to regret their decision.
An easy way to meet your deadlines is to create a task list every morning. Strike off things as you go. This really helps me. Also, making a note of my deadlines on the calendar (the way you would at work too), is a good way to stay on top of things. Daily or weekly calls with the team are as important, especially if the team is working remotely, to plan projects and discuss targets.
Communicate and collaborate: A team only works together if it communicates well. If your team doesn’t have established digital channels to communicate (not WhatsApp groups) set one up immediately. Slack has worked wonders for us, but there are many others that you can pick from. Remember to be active and responsive on these communication channels. When used correctly, it can iron out the workflow and make things smoother for everyone.
Transparency may be the most important aspect of working from home. It’s important to be transparent with everyone in your workflow matrix, about any issues that you may have. Need a personal day? Not feeling well? Communicate, communicate, communicate. Do not disappear on your team.
Setting break times: I’ll be honest, I haven’t perfected this. The only break I take in the day, if at all, is a lunch break, which is about 10 minutes. But it is important to take short breaks every few hours and a longer lunch break. Go take a walk, read or watch something (only for 10 minutes) and get back to work. Watch the occasional show or Facebook or YouTube, if you must, on days that aren’t very busy.
Mental health and self care: As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, I had no idea initially if working from home was going to work for me. As it turns out, my biggest challenge was to get up in the morning and get ready to face the world, every day. Working from home took care of that.
The transition would be different for everyone. If you’re seeking help, I’d suggest, tell your therapist and he/ she can equip you to deal with this change. If you have trouble sitting alone at home for long hours, opt for working with one other co-worker or a friend. Go for walks, meet friends often.
Get out of the house: If you’re successful in the work from home transition, it’s very easy to get comfortable and put your social life on hold. But to stay efficient, you need both work and play. Make sure you make some time to meet your friends, even if it’s just for a coffee or a quick drink, movies or lunches on weekends.
Set boundaries: One of the biggest challenges of working from home is to switch off and go offline. Make sure you take on only as much work as you can, and remember to sign off on time. It’s important and alright to convey your limitations and to stand up for your cut-off time. Don’t be willing to go past your daily routine unless absolutely imperative or urgent.
If working from home is new for you, it could be for your manager or boss too. Give it time for the process to become smooth. Working from home also means your boss or co-workers don’t actually see you work. I always wonder if ‘I’m doing enough; if my co-workers and boss think I’m doing enough’. It keeps me on my toes.
Coronavirus or not, flexi-work and remote employees are the future of work; it will do you good to learn the tricks too.