Ericka Alston Buck (Photo Credit: Jermaine Gibbs/Out The Box Photography)

By Ericka Alston Buck

As some of us venture into our second week with our children out of school and many professionals unprepared yet transition into working from home for the first time; we realize that there were no instructions given on how to actually do any of this successfully. Initially we were only asked to wash our hands and not touch our face, then suddenly schools were closed, restaurants and bars, then the gyms, nearly everything shut down and people found themselves either out of work, an essential employee who must continue to show up daily and practice social distancing as best they can and you, mandated to work from home. 

No one asked if you had done this before, whether or not you have everything that you need to work from home successfully? No, just go, work from home now and be productive!

You’re here now. You’ve joined the work from home team and have found yourself quite clueless when it comes to how you are expected to maintain a reasonable level of productivity, meet deadlines and actually get work done – now in your pajamas with full-time access to some pretty bad (meaning good) reality TV on DEMAND and just a few feet from the kitchen filled with all of the quarantine snacks you’ve stocked up on to survive.

For some this is unchartered waters and for others, we’ve always worked from home and have been successfully navigating the world of getting professionally dressed from the waist up for video conference calls for years and are here to help.  Allow me to offer up my seven – proven tips to make working from home feel like a cat walk. 

  • Get Up! Get Dressed! 

No, I’m not expecting you to wake up at 5 a.m. and pull out your gray suit, stiff white shirt and brown loafers but I am suggesting that you get up fairly early, shower and make a reasonable attempt at looking almost human. You’re more apt to lounge around on the sofa all day if you opt to stay in your favorite comfy PJs.  Trust me on this one. 

Bonus – if going to the gym before work was your thing – find a YouTube workout and convert the space between your coffee table and TV into your very own cross fit, yoga, pilates studio and have at it. 

  • Create an Office Space. 

If you do not have a home office, I suggest you create a dedicated work space. Sure a lot of your work could be done on the sofa with your laptop literally in your lap but, there’s that whole TV distraction thing again. 

It is going to be very important to be able to separate work from home during this transition and you must maintain a healthy balance; you owe it to yourself.  A dedicated work space also helps those of us with children who need 127 cups of water and a husband who can’t find his socks – “This is mommy’s office, when you see me here – I am not mommy, I am the lady that works here and she has a lot of stuff to do,”  – pointing to the open planner, sticky notes stuck to the table and the kitchen chair with the wobbly leg. Your new office! 

Those of you without the obstacle of interruptions from others will also find that having a dedicated work space allows you to turn work off and home life on.  Create a dedicated work space and welcome the opportunity to “close the door” behind you with a promise that you’ll be back tomorrow – it’s 5 p.m. somewhere! 

  • To Do List. 

Structure your work day just as you would if you were going into your actual office. Create a list each day of every task you need to complete.  The more detailed and specific the better. Don’t just list “send emails” be specific, who are you sending the email to? What is the email about? What other tasks need to be assigned based on this email? Write that down TOO! I’m a paper planner, hand written list kind of girl; it gives me the perk of being able to physically put a line thru each task that I complete.  For me, any task that I was unable to complete today becomes the first entry on my to do list for tomorrow. If you’re a more tech savvy, digital work-from-homer, there are a ton of online applications that allow you to create lists, manage projects and keep track of your work day hour-by-hour, these are helpful for those of us with accountability factors and/or who bill by the hour. Apps like  Hubstaff, HoursTracker and TrackingTime are a few of the most popular time management apps to consider. Create your to do list the night before each work day. 

  • Don’t Forget Lunch

Sign off! Step away from the laptop and eat. 

Having a set lunch break incorporated into your work from home schedule can in many ways give you something to look forward to, depending on how you spend this very important hour. Perhaps this is when you head to the sofa. Turn on the national news and catch up on what is happening in the world around us. This is also a great time to check into your virtual life across your social media platforms – you’ve been doing a great job so far not spending more time there now that you have access to it all “at work.” Perhaps this is when you “go to the gym?”  

Practice meditation, call and check on family and friends, your favorite co-worker now that you’re not physically glued to their hip for 8-hours anymore.  For me, it is also a time where I can prep for the night’s dinner, prepare lunch for the kids you have at home, read a book to your toddler. Whatever it is you choose to do – do something other than work for that full hour.  

  • Stay Engaged

While working from home no one can see that you are at your “desk” accomplishing everything you’ve set out to get done today. There are no coworkers stopping by your desk and your manager certainly can’t see you as they look out of their door across the office. Without micromanaging yourself, check in from time to time, let coworkers, managers or clients know where you are and what you’re working on when you can.  They’ll appreciate the updates and you’ll still feel a part of a team and not out on an island alone fending for yourself. Consider picking up the phone instead of shooting an email or a text.

Ask for additional work if you can handle it, prove yourself reliable and dependable, unsupervised.  Right now, everyone has a lot on their plates; many are navigating each day fearful as there is such a level of uncertainty around everything that is happening; your manager or client will appreciate your checking in and also checking on them.  Stay engaged and let those on your team know you’re there even though they can’t see it physically right now. 

  • Don’t Waste Time on Social Media or the Internet

You wouldn’t sit at your desk and work on Facebook all day – so don’t do it from home. Manage yourself and your social media usage with the same level of professionalism you would in the office. We all know that social media and surfing the internet are our biggest productivity thieves.  You start by searching just one thing, and it could very well start out as a “business” search – what is the time difference between here and Denver – and three hours later you have learned the state bird, how it got its name and the first woman to ice skate with her hair in a ponytail! 

If you must, please designate specific times on your to do list for when you’ll check in on social media. 

  • Stop.  End your Work Day. 

This is the most important tip of them all. Stop. Determine what time your work day ends and be absolutely intentional about stopping at that same time each day. During this crisis, many are in 24-hour mode and will call, text, email from dusk to dawn. It is your responsibility to create boundaries around when you are available for work.  The tone and expectation that you set now, will be what’s expected from you moving forward. Thus, if you are responding to text messages and emails at 2 a.m. – you’re sending the clear message that you are available to work at anytime during the day or night. This practice is not good for you, your family or your job as you’ll quickly grow tired and angry for the assumption that you’re always available.  Our families need us as much or more than our jobs do and bigger than that YOU need you more than any job ever could. 

Be mindful to stop work each day and transition back into home life and work hard at maintaining a healthy balance. 

Ericka Alston Buck, known as the PR Chick, is the CEO and chief strategist for EAB Strategy & IMPACT (https://erickaalstonbuck.com/), a Baltimore based public relations firm. She writes and speaks often on the topics of self-care and home work life balance.