The iCatalyze Guide to Working Remotely

Mar 10, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has forced many employees around the country to work from home. As we try to reduce the amount of people infected with the virus and practice social distancing, we may find ourselves isolated or overwhelmed in dealing with this new reality.

I know there are some workers (whom I greatly admire) that are on the front lines in hospitals and providing essential services such as food, deliveries and sanitation, and they continue their work with increased precautions. For the rest of us, most companies are adapting and finding ways to allow employees to work from home, and this may be new for many. So, here are my five tips to increase your productivity, avoid isolation, and maintain your professionalism while working remotely.

1) Start your day with a morning routine

A good morning routine will wake you up and set your intentions for the day. With your commute being a flight of stairs from your bedroom to the kitchen table, you need to give yourself a way to kick-start those brain cells and start working on your day’s objectives. So, wake up, brush your teeth, take a shower, get dressed, have breakfast, and include a few extra steps and something special just for you.

  • Set your alarm. Wake up at around the same time you used to wake up to go into the office. Decide your work schedule and keep to it. Do not sleep in.
  • Start your morning with something to look forward to. For me, it’s good coffee. That’s it! I pamper myself with buying really good coffee, and the treat gets me excited for Mondays and mornings without fail. Think of something you love to do (or consume) and make it part of your morning routine. It could be working out, reading for 30 minutes, meditating, or showering and dressing up just like you would for the office.
  • Plan your work day before diving into work. Do not open your computer without a plan—the last thing you need is to get sucked into email and social media until lunchtime. Open your planner and take a few minutes to visualize your day and write down the tasks you need to accomplish.

2) Choose a dedicated workspace.

Your boss and colleagues will not be around, so you’ll need to rely on your self-discipline to keep you focused. And at home, the distractions can be endless! One look around your living room will have you picking up cat toys, vacuuming the carpet, or browsing Netflix before you even open a Word document.

To avoid distractions, create a work sanctuary, a space where you can comfortably sit, focus, and work. For me, it’s a desk in a separate room where there is no television. I keep my desk clutter-free and the shelves filled with my favorite books; it’s a space that motivates me and puts me in the right working-mood. If you don’t have a home office, find a space or corner in your home to transform into your desk every morning, just make sure your space is conducive to work.

To focus better, I recommend turning your cell phone to silent and setting it on airplane mode. You can still have it next to you and check it as you wish, but it will be on your own terms and you won’t be constantly interrupted by push notifications and beeping noises.

Updated Note:

Many of us are now working from home WITH the addition of significant others, children and/or other close family members, and this adds an additional level of distraction. For this, I recommend ample communication and teamwork so that everyone knows when you need to separate yourself for an important call or to focus on a project and when you will reconnect with others. You should give yourself a defined time period and share that with others so you can “tag team” with another adult to take care of the children during that time.

We are facing an unprecedented new reality and it will take time to adapt and learn what works for each family, so practice taking turns working. In addition to communicating within your household, you should also communicate with your coworkers and leaders. Most people will be in similar situations as we practice social distancing and will be more understanding, but make sure you communicate goals, expectations and limitations upfront as much as possible.

3) Organize your workday in chunks.

Planning and scheduling each day will keep you disciplined and will set you up for success. My suggestion is to organize your days into chunks by using the Pomodoro technique. It consists of committing your full, undivided attention to a task for a specific period of time, taking a short break, and starting all over again with another task. You can even plan some small reward after you finish a particularly dreadful task! Play around with the work intervals and see what works best for you; the idea is to keep you on schedule, focused, and motivated.

4) Don’t assume you have to work 100% of the time.

Research tells us that there is a limit to the amount of time we can concentrate. In theory, it is four hours. In practice, however, it seems to fluctuate by the quantities of coffee, time of day, and the overall level of enjoyment we are getting from the task at hand. Take short breaks often and maintain a clear and constant start and end to your workday. This is especially true if you are working from home with other family members that are seeking your attention.

  • Take short breaks. It is my pleasure to announce that when you work from home, the quality of your breaks significantly increases. You can do anything! Falling asleep at your desk? Have a 5-minute dance party! Or go to the living room and read while having lunch. In order to feel refreshed, take these breaks away from the computer to give your eyes a break from the screen and allow your blood to circulate.
  • Maintain your work hours. At home, you can easily do laundry while working or tend to your garden during lunch time, but make sure not to blur the lines between work and your personal life. The key is to structure your day, set clear work hours, and commit to a schedule. Schedule your breaks too! While doing the laundry is perfectly fine and can even serve the dual purpose of a timer (laundry challenge: get the project done in an hour before the clothes need to be moved to the dryer!), you do not want to cut into your work hours by running endless errands and house chores. Stay focused, because when work is over and it is “time to go home,” the computer needs to be shut and stowed away for the next day. This will not be easy. Your work is right there next to you and it will be tempting to finish something or other after dinner. Don’t do it.

5) Seek human contact

Working from home can be incredibly isolating if you don’t purposefully seek human contact. Make sure to network with colleagues or people from your industry. Set up video calls with those you would see regularly and also take a moment to check-in with your friends and family and see if they are ok.

These tips all work together to keep you on task and on schedule. As we face a global pandemic and a complex situation that changes by the day and the hour, let’s all play our part for the greater good and stay at home of possible, and wash our hands often.


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