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working from home best practices

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Working from home used to be something many dreamed of, but now the pandemic has made it part of a waking nightmare we’re all battling. While some once hoped to work from home only sometimes, or eventually, many Americans were forced to start working from home full-time, quite suddenly, starting in March of 2020. Research finds that in early March, 31 percent of individuals switched from going into a brick-and-mortar location to working from home. Not everyone had that choice, as the same study found that over 60 percent of U.S. jobs simply cannot be performed from home. Those who leave their homes to work face obvious risks. But those working from home may be tackling a different issue: challenges to productivity.

Some professionals who once resented the commute to work and the office space may now realize the benefits of that environment. Maybe we’re not supposed to be in our little nest, near our loved ones, when trying to focus on business. But how things should be and how they are, are quite different. If you’re done resisting the change and prepared to accept the new normal of working from home, it’s time to discover how you thrive in that environment. We spoke with Watchen Nyanue, CEO of I Choose the Ladder, about how to improve the process of working from home. She’ll be putting on a virtual career summit called The Climb on September 26th that will cover matters like networking, branding, and Black women’s mental health in corporate America.

Watchen Nyanue

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How to separate work life from home life

Nyanue says it’s important to have a designated place where you work. Maybe that’s a corner of the living room, or a second bedroom, or the kitchen table. “Work happens at a certain place in your house and living happens in the other places.” We have tips on how to make your home office feel like a commercial one, here.

working from home best practices

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The living space is just for living

That second part – living happens in another place – is also important. Don’t drag work into those relaxation areas. “Otherwise, you find yourself not comfortable anywhere, and working all the time,” says Nyanue. “Have a rule like, I don’t work in my bed. The bed is for sleeping.” If the couch is where you like to unwind and shut off your brain, don’t work there. “Otherwise you sit on the couch and can’t relax because your brain thinks ‘We work from the couch.’ If it’s not where you want to work, don’t train your mind to think that’s a workspace.”

working from home best practices

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Become disciplined

“Stick to your calendar. If you are someone who is disciplined, or not, you’re seeing that now,” says Nyanue. “It’s very easy to not turn off.” Nyanue says it’s common to stop work, during work hours, to do one life admin task, believing it won’t take long. “Suddenly you’re working at 9pm because you did these errands during the day. Try as best as you can to decide what your workday is. It doesn’t have to be traditional. But you do need to decide when are your work hours, and when do you turn off.”

working from home best practices

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Stick to your “office hours”

Nyanue recommends asking yourself, “When do you get up and work in the morning? You decide that hour. Train your mind that my workday starts at this time. So you don’t take a call before that.” She says you should also determine at what time your workday ends. After that time, you switch your mind off.

working from home best practices

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Find that EOD signal

Because there is no separation between work and home now, we need to create that separation. Nyanue recommends developing a routine – finding some activity that signals to your brain “The workday is done.” Maybe that’s exercising or having a glass of wine. Also have those signals that say “The workday is starting.” That could be having a cup of coffee or reading a trade magazine. These simple activities are what separates home life from work life.

working from home best practices

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Each family member should have their space

“Make sure others in the home know where your workspace is. If you have kids, where is their workspace?” says Nyanue. Her virtual event The Climb will host a number of workshops for Black women climbing the corporate ladder. One of the tools attendees will receive is a “Do not disturb sign,” to put up when they’re working from home.

working from home best practices

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Coordinate with your partner

“Have a family calendar [that says] these are times mom and dad are in meetings,” suggests Nyanue. “I won’t lie – it’s hard. Kids don’t care about your conference call. If they need help, they need help…Set up boundaries that, as best you can, you can stick to.” Nyanue also urges parents not to double book. They shouldn’t have overlapping meetings. There should always be one parent available to the kids, should they need them.

working from home best practices

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Use online resources to stay motivated

Being surrounded by like-minded professionals and having access to that in-person network at work can be motivating, but right now we don’t have it. Nyanue encourages people to turn to online resources. “Use MeetUp groups. During Covid, they’ve become virtual. They have lots of virtual events. You can meet people from all over the country. You don’t have to limit your network to a city.” She adds that there are industry groups who are hosting virtual corporate events now, too.

working from home best practices

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Take the chance to build your skillset

“If you’re thinking about development, there are tons of webinars,” said Nyanue, mentioning Linkedin Learning, which offers video courses taught by industry experts in several areas from software to business skills. Nyanue also likes Coursera, an online platform developed by Stanford University professors that offers specialization courses, degrees, master track, and professional courses.

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