Many have been thrown into the virtual working world, possibly without much direction, due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Working from home can seem like it translates easily from working in an office setting. But there are distinct differences, and being aware of those can make the transition easier.
When I started working from home, my fourth child was a baby. I worked very part time and it was flexible enough that I could work while my baby napped and while his sisters were at school. Since then, I’ve worked in various capacities, but all of my roles have been virtual. I was determined to ‘have the best of both worlds’, as a single mom and in the workforce. It’s been a huge blessing to me and my family, and I love helping others find success in virtual work. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way.
Multi-tasking is a myth. Just because you have twelve browser windows open doesn’t mean you are being more productive or accomplishing 12 tasks simultaneously. I’ve fallen into that trap and spent more time than I’d like to admit trying to increase productivity by multi-tasking. But I’ve seen that it can actually have the opposite effect–distracting you from accomplishing anything.
When you aren’t giving the task at hand your full attention, you probably aren’t doing your best work. Yes, you may be able to check that item off your list, but what was sacrificed by not focusing completely on that one thing?
When you’re a parent who also has responsibilities with children at home (an additional curveball thrown to many with the COVID-19 impact), this becomes even more difficult. Not only does your work deserve your undivided attention, but so do your kids. When you get stuck in the cycle of those two worlds constantly competing (which is very common when you work at home), the overwhelm and feelings of defeat creep in.
There are ways to minimize this effect. Separating your ‘work’ from your home/family responsibilities is key. Set aside certain time blocks to focus on each one. You may need to work while your kids are sleeping (nap times, early bedtimes, or waking up before them). My situation was easier when my kids were in school and I had that window of time to devote completely to my job. With schools closed now due to COVID-19, this is even more challenging. Scheduling structured, independent activities for your kids, providing crafts or learning activities to occupy their time, or having older kids watch or entertain younger ones are ways to find time to focus on work. And don’t overlook the contributions kids can make if they’re old enough. Having them take on some household responsibilities can teach them skills and lessen your load.
The benefit of scheduling your time into focused blocks is that you can also give your kids the undivided attention they need, without always feeling like you should be doing something else. It may require adjustments, even on a daily basis, but will reduce the strain of you having to constantly switch roles and struggle to get anything done. From my experience, it works better for everyone involved.
Virtual work does have some disadvantages. The work is always there…you don’t get to go home and be done. This can lead toward workaholic tendencies. Setting boundaries helps, whether it be following a certain schedule or having a separate space where you work, and outside of that you are ‘off the clock’. It becomes draining to never have a break, so make time specifically for yourself and your family. Get out of the house, if possible. A change of scenery can be refreshing, and becomes a necessary way to create separation.
Time management becomes more of a challenge when you work from home. When you work in an office, you are ‘on the clock’ from when you show up until you leave. Virtual work is usually less structured, although some companies do require a set schedule. Early on as a virtual worker, I got in the habit of tracking and documenting my time in 5 minute increments. Failure to start that habit, whether or not your company requires it, can have negative repercussions. You may look back at the end of a day and not even remember where the time was spent.
Many companies are hesitant to allow employees or contractors to work virtually because they don’t trust them to stay on task with the distractions that are inherent with being in a home environment. Accounting for your time can alleviate any concerns as to how you’re spending it and what you’re accomplishing. You also gain clarity into how long certain tasks take, how much time you are actually working (versus how much time you think you are working), and insights into when you are most productive.
There are great free tools for time tracking. A spreadsheet can work great. I used one for years. Toggl is a free software that makes it easy to track & get reporting on your time. And there are systems such as Trello and Asana that can help with task and project management. We’ve helped many clients find the right combination of online tools to support their business. Please reach out if you need assistance in this area.
Many have found that working from home can seem lonely. This is compounded by social distancing measures being enacted. You have to seek out ways to find connection–complete isolation can be unhealthy! Virtual communities aren’t limited to geographical areas and can be a source of support. Picking up the phone and catching up with family or friends is a way to combat loneliness. Texting and social media can also help you feel connected.
With the challenges we are facing in the world now, it is easy to become overwhelmed. The uncertainty and changes to our lifestyles can seem daunting. The keys to getting through it are focusing on what you can control, being flexible as things change, and taking things a day at a time (or less if necessary).
If you are in a situation where you’re now working from home, parenting kids during school closures, providing for a family, and hoping to make ends meet until things go back to normal, you are not alone. Reach out for help. We at A Squared have many years of experience working from home and supporting virtual businesses, so please let us know if we can assist you in any way!