WORK FROM HOME It’s a crazy, crazy time to be alive.

I spent six days of last week completely running on adrenaline and responding to client’s needs as things changed pretty much every hour.

I finally slept on Sunday—for a full nine hours and got a 40 mile bike ride in, too. Now I feel like a new woman!

What’s happening in our world feels eerily similar to 9/11.

Of course, we didn’t have warning back then and I didn’t run a business nor have people’s livelihoods dependent on me.

But the eerie feeling of everything stopping is very much the same.

I remember, a few days after the terrorist attacks, looking up in the sky and not seeing a single plane.

It was bizarrely quiet—and so unsettling.

If you were working during that time, you know what I’m talking about.

And you know how similar this feels.

As of this recording, many states have closed schools for at least three weeks, if not longer. In Illinois, everything but grocery stores and pharmacies are closed. 

The school closings come at a time when most families were planning to be off for spring break, but now trips have been canceled, camps have been closed…and we’re staring down weeks of homeschooling and working full-time, while figuring out how to do both without leaving our homes.

If you don’t know how to work at home, let alone with kids around, we’re going to spend today talking about how to do it, how to make your life easier, and what to do when, as a friend who is quarantined in Rome put it, your cognitive energy is taxed.

Work from Home Is Already a Trend

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 29 percent of Americans can work from home, including one in 20 service workers and more than half of information workers.

So while servers are still manning the restaurants—at least in the majority of U.S. states, as of this writing—the technology sector has effectively gone remote.

Even before the pandemic struck, remote work was accelerating in the U.S.

The share of the labor force that works from home tripled in the past 15 years, according to the Federal Reserve.

Two of the accelerants are obvious: living costs in metros with the highest density of knowledge workers, and technology, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, that moves collaboration and gossip online.

My team and I—both on the agency and Spin Sucks sides—have been working remotely since 2011.

Trendsetters, to be certain, but we’ve also found it allows us to be far more productive and have a healthier work/life balance.

I know that seems odd—you now work from home so work interests with life and life intersects with work.

Yes. It can absolutely do that.

But it doesn’t have to.

Set Aside Dedicated Space For Your “Office”

My kid’s school sent a bunch of stuff home to “help” us homeschool.

Included in that packet of information was a list of apps they use at school that can be downloaded at home to help with their learning (and hopefully give us parents an hour here and there to work without interruption).

That list also came with a warning.

It said they do not want kids staring at a computer or tablet for seven or eight hours a day.

They recommend starting the day at 9:00 and ending at 3:00, just like they do in school.

They also recommend setting up a spot (not in the child’s room) for them to do schoolwork.

And, just like they have social interaction and recess at school, they should at home, too.

Now apply that to your work-from-home self.

Do you have a designated spot from which you can work?

A place where you can turn your computer on in the morning and off each evening?

Somewhere that is not your bedroom or on the couch, in front of the TV?

Set up a spot at the dining room table or kitchen island.

Of course, if you have an extra bedroom or a home office, that’s ideal, but not necessary.

For the next few weeks, where you set up shop will be your office and you’ll use it ONLY for that. 

Be Vigilant About Work and Life Separation

Let’s say, for argument’s sake, you start your day at 9 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.

I know, I know. Not all of us have that schedule, but I’m going to use it as an example.

Get up at your normal time, shower, brush your teeth and hair, and get dressed. Eat breakfast. Get your kids ready. Do whatever it is you normally do.

The good news is you no longer have a commute so if the stats are true, you just gained at least an extra 27 minutes in your morning.

Use that time for self-care: walk the dog, hang out with your kids for a bit longer, exercise, do some pushups, meditate, paint your fingernails (that may not apply to all of you), read a couple of chapters in a book, or watch an episode of your latest binge. 

When it’s time to start work, turn your computer on.

Just like you do in the office, allow for interruptions.

You may have to create them by opening Slack or whatever collaboration tool your office is using, but make sure you log in and check things out every couple of hours.

At lunchtime, get up and walk away from your computer.

Though it won’t take you an hour to eat at home, take that time to exercise (I have the Peloton at home and it’s going to get a TON of use these next few weeks), go for a walk, or call your mom.

Then spend your afternoon just like you did your morning.

Work, allow for interruptions, try to get some social interaction, albeit online, and get your work done.

Once you realize you don’t have to do the laundry or clean out the kitchen cupboards or look in the fridge again to see if anything has changed, you’ll find you’re far more productive than you are in the office.

At the end of your day, shut down your computer and walk away.

This is challenging—especially for those of us who take work home with us every day.

But this is probably one of the most important things you can do during this time.

It’s not a normal work from home situation, which means we have to be extra vigilant about shutting it down.

Then walk away and be present with your family or your friends, even if it means it’s on FaceTime or Skype or Zoom.

Increase Your Productivity

Now let’s talk about tools you can use to increase your productivity, the guidelines to set for yourself and/or your team, and what else you can expect from your weeks in isolation.

Let’s start with our favorite tools. 

If you’re a consistent reader of this blog, you won’t be surprised to hear Slack is one of our most favorite tools.

The Spin Sucks Community is built with Slack behind it (and if you’re not part of the community, you should definitely check it out during the next few weeks while you work from home).

Slack isn’t just for the Spin Sucks Community, though.

It’ll work wonders for you and your team, as you figure out how to communicate, how to share information, and even just how to gossip (hey, we all need some normalcy!).

Think of it like a private Facebook group. The only difference is it’s a totally separate app so you don’t have to get lost down the Facebook rabbit hole when you go to check out the work group.

Slack saves the day there.

Zoom is our next favorite tool.

I do all of my team and one-to-one meetings with my direct reports on Zoom.

While video chat doesn’t replace the in-person experience, it comes awfully close.

As well, you and your colleagues can all get in a Zoom room and keep it open while you work.

It will almost be like you’re sitting at a table together, working.

This is incredibly important for extroverts. Their cognitive energy will be tested first.

Use Zoom to recreate the in-person experience so they have the social interaction they need to thrive.

You likely already have all of the other tools you need: project management, social media monitoring, marketing automation, and more.

I would focus on recreating as much of the in-person experience as you can with Slack and Zoom. 

Work from Home Guidelines

Now let’s discuss the guidelines and rules that guide us so we don’t fall into introverted, slovenly holes.

Most organizations have a daily scrum meeting where they spend the first 15 minutes of the day collaborating on what’s ahead.

You can still do that.

When Mr. D’s team works from home, they do their scrum meeting on Zoom.

We’ve always “held” ours on Slack.

And I put “held” in quotes because we’re not all together, talking through things.

Instead, we ask that, by 8 a.m. central time, everyone has listed their meeting times and their top three priorities for the day. 

This does two things:

  1. It allows each of us to be mindful when we need something from someone, and they are in a meeting. Their meeting times are listed right there, so if they’re not answering a Slack message, we know why. Even better, we don’t send that message until the person is out of said meeting(s).
  2. It allows us to know if someone has time to throw in a new project, help with something else, or is working on that thing you need from them by day’s end.

When we began doing this, it alleviated a lot of wonder about what people were doing—and it created a new level of trust.

The other thing you’ll find challenging is how and when to provide feedback.

It will be tempting to fire off a direct message in Slack and let the cookie fall where it crumbles (as my kid says).

Do not do it! 

We are communicators.

We know that feedback in writing is the absolute worst way to provide it.

Don’t let your time away from your colleagues make you lazy.

The second best option to providing feedback in person is on video chat.

If you can’t do that, pick up the phone and have a conversation.

Do not be tempted to fire off a direct message. 

Your Weeks In Isolation

The last thing we’ll talk about before I let you soar into your new work from home situation is what else you can expect from your weeks in isolation. 

We already talked about your incredibly short commute time and the importance of still showering and getting dressed every day.

You’ll be tempted to stay in your PJs or work out clothes and work from your bed.

Don’t do it!

You’ll find you’re far more productive if you get dressed and sit down at a proper table to do your work.

You’ll also find your stress level decreases—at least it will as far as work goes.

It may not with what’s happening in the world and we all will need to fill our cognitive energy reserves when this is all said and done.

But the mere fact that you don’t have to commute into an office is going to reduce your stress level.

To boot, your boss and their boss will have to quickly learn to trust the adults they’ve hired.

If you are the boss, you’ll find you suddenly don’t care when your team clocks in and out or what they during their lunch break.

In an office, you can’t help but be aware of those things.

But when you all work from home, suddenly all anyone cares about is results. 

You’ll get things done. You’ll be far more productive. And you’ll get results.

Outside of needing human interaction, I’m willing to bet most organizations will create, at the very least, a flexible work schedule after all of this.

That’s how productive everyone will be.

And, if you follow my advice at the start of this blog post and have start and end times, you’ll find you have time to pursue some things for your personal self-care that you haven’t had the time to do.

Imagine what that life looks like a month from now!

The Spin Sucks Team Is Your Lifeline

And that, as they say, is a wrap.

If you have questions about how to be your most productive self while you work from home, especially if you’re an extrovert and/or have kids and spouses or partners at home, we are here for you!

If you need a virtual happy hour, count us in for that, too!

Find us as Spin Sucks on all of the social networks or you can join the Spin Sucks community, where we hang out daily. 

Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder, CEO, and author of Spin Sucks, host of the Spin Sucks podcast, and author of Spin Sucks (the book). She is the creator of the PESO Model and has crafted a certification for it in partnership with Syracuse University. She has run and grown an agency for the past 15 years. She is co-author of Marketing in the Round, co-host of Inside PR, and co-host of The Agency Leadership podcast.

View all posts by Gini Dietrich