With widespread school cancellations and recommended “social distancing,” many families will find themselves cooped up at home for at least the next few weeks. This is great news when it comes to soaking up quality family time, sure… but it’s not so helpful in terms of work productivity.
Maybe you’re already used to working remotely, just not with the kids also at home for weeks at a time. Or perhaps you are brand new to the telework scene and aren’t quite sure how to juggle it all. Whichever category you fall into, though, there are a few steps you can take to better your chances for success, no matter how long this coronavirus situation lasts.
Here are some of our favorite productivity tools and tips for managing work, finances, and the kids when working remotely.
Table of Contents:
1. Get Organized
First off, let me say that telework is not for the faint of heart. Sure, it sounds great to jump onto telecons in your pajamas and write emails from your couch all day. The reality, though, is that a remote working arrangement can only be successful if you’re both organized and disciplined.
This is especially true right now when so many of us are forced to telework with our spouses while our kids are also stuck at home.
Establish dedicated workspaces for everyone, in areas where distractions are limited and you’ll be able to focus on your work. Gather everything you need before you get started–headphones, laptop chargers, paper & pen, and a cup of water–and have your kids do the same with their own school work. Staying on-task when working from home is half the battle.
Getting organized may also involve making a daily schedule for everyone in the house. This allows you to carve out dedicated work time while your kids complete their school work, eat lunch, or enjoy some outdoor play. If your significant other is also working remotely, a solid schedule keeps everyone on track and ensures that both you and your spouse have enough time for important tasks.
A family schedule that allows for work time and school time is easy to make. You can use a simple Google calendar–already loaded onto all of our iPhones–or even create one in a spreadsheet (like we did!).
If you are interested in an app that can help you manage your days, try Cozi. It can be accessed from any mobile device or computer, and helps you manage not only your schedule but also share things like grocery lists and weekly meals.
2. Reduce Distractions
In the decade that I’ve been working remotely, the biggest impediment to my productivity has been my attention span. It’s so easy to get distracted by social media, browsing websites, or simply raiding the pantry every 15 minutes. Before you know it, it’s 3 pm and you’ve gotten nothing done!
Limiting your distraction–or at least, their impact on your work–is key to your success when working from home. Here are some ways you can help yourself stay on-task:
- Install a distraction blocker: Apps like SelfControl keep you from sabotaging yourself by blocking certain websites, limiting your activity during specified times, and setting timers.
- Build in free time: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, right? So be sure to build some fun into your schedule, too! Take a five-minute break each hour to walk outside, play with the dog, or just stretch your legs. If you find yourself unable to concentrate, take a time-out to eat, read a book with the kids, or go for a family walk. Then you can return to your desk with a renewed focus.
- Keep the kids on-task, too: Without a defined schedule, my kids are at my desk every 47 seconds with a new request or question… there’s simply no way to be productive! However, if they have defined schedules for their own days, they’re able to stay focused for up to an hour on their own, and everyone can knock out their obligations.
- Manage your expectations: When it comes to teleworking, it’s all about quality over quantity, especially when the kids are also home. It’s also important to manage your expectations along the way. There will be days when interruptions occur and unavoidable hurdles keep you from your to-do list. Just be sure to give yourself (and your kids) a bit of grace on those days, and simply do the best you can.
3. Automate When Possible
While working from an office has its downsides, there’s no denying that working from home means learning how to juggle everything. There will be days when an important work deadline is impacted by kids who need snacks, a neighbor at the door, a ringing cell phone, and a dog who just puked on the rug… all at the same time.
It’s easy to see then how mundane tasks can get lost in the shuffle, so one key to your success will be automating everything you can. This means:
- Setting up auto-pay on monthly bills
- Scheduling deposits into your savings account each payday
- Opting for auto-delivery of household items like paper goods, printer ink, non-perishables, and dog food
- Setting alerts for your bank account(s) to let you know when certain transactions take place or your balance reaches a specific threshold
Yes, there will still be forgotten tasks and unexpected surprises, especially when working remotely. However, by automating everything you can, you free up your attention for the really important stuff.
4. Remain Connected
Maintaining communication with colleagues, friends, and family is imperative if you are a teleworking employee. With the new social distancing standard due to the coronavirus, remaining connected is more important than ever.
As far as obligations are concerned, maintaining a connection is imperative. For example, you must ensure that you have access to the internet for work, in order to complete tasks, log in for meetings, and access email accounts or company platforms. For your kids, it’s important to log in to school portals in order to access assignments, study new concepts, and review lessons.
To avoid interruption for the whole family–especially with all of your neighbors home doing the same thing–you might want to consider ramping up your internet connection at home, adding a wifi router on another level of your home, or upgrading your mobile hotspot.
Remaining connected on an emotional level is important, too, whether you’re teleworking for a few weeks or forever. Communicate with friends often, even if it’s just to say hello in the middle of your day’s chaos. FaceTime family members and let the kids chat with their classmates online through an app like Zoom.
It’s wonderful to spend extra quality time with family, but teleworking can quickly (and easily) become very isolating. Be sure to maintain those outside connections both for your professional and mental well-being.
5. Watch Your Finances
I am a freelance, remote worker, so no two months ever look the same in terms of workload or earnings. While I enjoy this flexibility, it also creates some unique challenges.
For instance, my paychecks are based on my clients’ accounting processes so I’m never paid on the same day (this is in stark contrast to my husband, who gets a check every 1st and 15th). This means that I have to be very cognizant of my cash flow over the course of each month to ensure that we don’t wind up in a bind with big bills and expenses.
If you’re a remote employee who is working hourly or as a contractor, you’ll face the same challenges. You can use an app like Simplifi to tell you exactly how much money you have left to work with each month and where you stand at any time. You can also track your cash flow with something as simple as Google Docs.
This way, you’ll know if your mortgage payment is set to come out the day before your paycheck hits, and make adjustments accordingly. You’ll also know when it’s safe to move extra funds into savings, and when to leave them in place as a buffer.
If you’re a salaried employee working remotely, you know exactly when you’ll get paid and how much. However, it’s still wise to keep track of your cash flow and your budget so they don’t get away from you. Tools like Quicken and YNAB make it easy to stay on top of your money and work toward your goals.
I’ve been working remotely for about a decade now, and I wouldn’t trade my home office for a fancy desk anywhere. However, I realize that this lifestyle certainly brings with it some unique challenges in terms of balancing home and work life.
Whether you’re interested in working from home permanently or are being forced to make a temporary switch, there are many tools available to ensure your success. These can help you not only stay productive and on-task, but also support your finances and even your emotional health.
Working remotely isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. By staying organized and managing your expectations, though, it can be a fun and fulfilling experience for your entire family.