Working at home can be tough. Here are a few pro tips

Posted on March 16, 2020 | Sarah Smellie | 0 Comments

It’s the dream: hanging out in your pyjamas and fuzziest socks, phone tucked into the pocket of your coziest hoodie, and a kitchen full of food just steps away.

Working from home is a boundless paradise, a gift given to us office dwellers by only the most progressive employers — or so many of us think, anyway.

But working from home can be tough. It’s full of distractions, and that kitchen gets hard to avoid.

To stop the spread of COVID-19, public health officials are advising Canadians to practice social distancing (as well as hand washing, coughing into the crook of your elbow, and not travelling internationally). Many businesses are responding by asking employees to work from home.

Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is doing it.

We talked to Atlantic Business Magazine and Natural Resources Magazine contributor Terri Coles, a prolific St. John’s-based freelance writer, about how she makes it work when she’s working from home.

We also asked a few Atlantic Canadian companies which tools are crucial for their remote teams.

Here’s what everybody said.

For the latest in what’s happening with COVID-19 recommendations in the country and in Atlantic Canada, we recommend checking CBC’s national site, as well as its regional sites: CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, CBC Nova Scotia, CBC New Brunswick and CBC Prince Edward Island.

ABM: Terri Coles, expert freelancer, how do you set yourself up for a super productive day working at home?

Working at home, I often need to remove myself from as many distractions as possible. Because that’s one of the downfalls of working at home .. it often seems like the best time to clean, or catch up on Netflix or have a nap. So, I try to take myself out of those situations as best as I can. I have a desk at home … and it faces a window, not my television. And that makes a big difference. I don’t work sitting in my bed, for example, because then I would probably just fall asleep.

If there’s any kind of thing distracting me like, the dishes aren’t done … I try to get those things done first, then sit down to work.

Terri Coles is a freelance journalist and communications professional in St. John’s.

ABM: Do you use any other productivity tools?

Sometimes it’s the removing of tools, like if I have to get some writing done and I’m getting too distracted, I will turn off my WiFi. I will open a browser window with just the one tab. Or you know, if there’s two or three I need as opposed to the 10 or so tabs I have open that distract me because I see them blinking about a notification. I don’t have a lot of notifications on my computer anyway. And the same with my phone, because I find them too distracting.

I have had projects where I’ve had to time track, and I’ll use Toggle for that.

I use Superhuman for email, which is helpful. It’s an email service designed to help you get through your email more quickly. There’s a lot of things you can do with keystrokes, you can split your inboxes, which I find very helpful. Sometimes I do need my email, and I can keep only the inbox for the company I’m doing work for open and ignore the rest of them.

And I use the Pomodoro technique. I’ll set a timer for 25 minutes and for those 25 minutes, I have to work. And then I get a five minute break. And then I have to do another 25 minutes. Then I got a five minute break.

Sometimes it’s just getting into that rhythm, doing that a couple times and it’s fine. It’s starting that’s hard.

ABM: How do you avoid the snacks? How do you avoid eating everything in your kitchen?

Poorly. That is one of the risks. If it’s lunch, I have to have lunch and if it’s supper, I have to have supper, as opposed to just eating popcorn all day. 

ABM: What advice would you have for somebody who is now switching to a home-based office?

Try to keep as much of your office routine intact at home as you can. Have a start time, have an end time, have a lunch time. Have a place where you sit to do work, not just your couch, not just your bed, not just your kitchen table, if you can. Even if it is your kitchen table, have that set aside, like, this is where I do my work.

Because that consistency … helps your brain realize, ‘Oh, it’s work time.’ Without that, it just seeps into everything, and you don’t have any time that is not work time. And you need that downtime, especially if you’re stuck in your house.

If you like to start your day with a coffee, maybe buy a little nicer coffee than you might usually have in your house, just to make things a little bit more tolerable, as much as you can afford to. 

Essential tools for remotely-working teams

The CoLab team does a lot of remote working anyway, says co-founder Adam Keating, so they know the best tools. Their top three:

CoLab — the software. If there are engineering teams trying to collaborate on designs and manage issues and communications, CoLab can help! The CoLab team quietly launched a mobile app that now allows teams manufacturing products anywhere in the world to connect to their design teams in real time. 

Slack — a system that allows teams to create messaging channels and subchannels to organize and compartmentalize project-related information flow. It works for project management and day-to-day office communication. 

Google Suite and Google Hangouts — Google docs and spreadsheets let multiple people collaborate on work, all at the same time, and Google hangouts let them communicate by voice or video. 

Christine Goudie says she and the Granville Biomedical team swear by FaceTime and Zoom for video conferencing and group calls.

Have a remote-working tip? Send it to [email protected].

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