Working From Home: 19 Tips to Stay Productive

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By Meredith Kavanagh

People around the world are taking precautionary measures to prevent further spreading of COVID-19 (coronavirus) by self-containing, or staying at home, as much as possible. Given that the most helpful thing that everyone, including those who are young and healthy, can do is practice social distancing, many organizations have also asked their employees to work from home.

The transition to working at home, however, isn’t always as seamless as one might think. Humans are creatures of habit and working from your couch, kitchen table, or even home office will have an adjustment period, as well as its own set of challenges.

Your work as a nonprofit professional is needed now more than ever, and it’s important for you to stay focused, even when your sink full of dishes is staring at you. To help you stay productive, we compiled a list of tips for working from home, practices to support yourself and your team in light of COVID-19 (or any global health crisis), and best practices for hosting and attending virtual meetings.

Working From Home During the COVID-19 Outbreak

This is an unsettling time, and it’s normal for you to have a little extra stress. This can be heightened if your organization is encouraging working from home and you’re an individual who feeds off the energy of others. If you are struggling, here are a few things that can help.

1. Talk to your manager and coworkers about how you’re feeling. Everyone handles stressful situations differently, and most people have never dealt with a pandemic or crisis of this scale. You may be feeling scared one minute and calm the next, or you may be feeling completely unsure and overwhelmed. All of these reactions are normal. Keep your manager and coworkers in the loop so that they can provide emotional support and help as you settle into your new working environment.

2. Offer support to your teammates. This is a time when we need to lean into our communities and be there for one another, and that includes your coworkers. When Classy mandated that all employees work from home (WFH) for several weeks, one of our marketing managers sent this message via Slack:

With the mandatory WFH policy, I just wanted to call out a few things. Be patient with finding your groove in your WFH environment (I recognized today there are some changes I need to make to ensure I am just as productive). Also, let your manager or leader know if you need some help settling into the new workflow. This is all new for many so it will be important to communicate! This is a great opportunity to work on some critical-thinking items, explore ways to improve your productivity, etc. with no commute and fewer distractions!

A simple message shows support for your teammates, while also making sure they know it’s okay to ask for help as they get used to working from home. These gestures and intentional communications can help your team be productive and efficient while working remotely.

3. Ask for professional help. If you’re feeling anxious or having trouble sleeping, the first thing you should do is take some time for yourself. If unplugging from social media and everyday self-care such as exercise, fresh air, rest, and meditation aren’t helping to ease your anxiety, then it’s time to ask for professional help. There are many online certified therapists and resources available that you can use via text, phone, or email. A few examples include:

There are also many nonprofits focused on mental health that are organized and ready to support during this time. Below is an email that To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) sent immediately after COVID-19 was characterized as a pandemic and large events and gatherings were cancelled.

screenshot of TWLOHA hope is not cancelled email

If your nonprofit is looking for ways to support organizations on the front lines, check out our running list of live Coronavirus support campaigns here.

4. Check in with friends and family. Just because you’re practicing social distancing doesn’t mean you need to be cut off from the world. Call, text, and video chat with your friends and family to offset feeling isolated while at home. It can be hard to make time for those “just calling to say hi” check-ins with family and friends, but now that you’re saving time by commuting six feet to your computer, take the time to reach out.

General Tips for Working From Home

Thirty percent of people in the U.S. say they work remotely full-time, and only 18% do so one to three times per week. Working from home will be a new experience for the majority of people. Here are a few tips to help you adjust to your new office, maintain work-life balance, and stay productive.

1. Stick to your routine. This includes following your normal working hours, brushing your teeth, and getting dressed. Sticking with your normal morning routine will help you get into the mindset that you are, in fact, working, instead of hanging out at home.

2. Get dressed, or at least put on nicer lounging clothes. It’s tempting to lounge in your pajamas all day long, but wearing your comfiest clothes can send a signal to your brain that it’s time to sleep. You don’t need to put on skinny jeans or a button-up shirt, but you should put on an outfit similar to what you would wear if you were going into the office.

3. Designate a workspace and keep it tidy and organized. Whether it’s your kitchen table or patio, find a place where you can set up your computer and equipment similarly to how it’s set up at work. You may need to get creative if you share common areas with roommates or don’t have a ton of space. Try out a few locations in the first few days of working from home to see what works best for you. Having a separate work area will help you compartmentalize work time and free time. You should aim to be as productive as you are in the office, but just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should be working all of the time.

4. Get some fresh air. If you make your own coffee and meals, you could go days without leaving the house. This is particularly relevant during social distancing where people are encouraged not to leave their homes. Schedule a few brief outdoor walks throughout the day to get fresh air, vitamin D, and natural light—all of which have been proven to relieve stress. Recent studies show that even a 10-minute walk can have an impact on neurological activity and improve memory function.

5. Move around. Even if you sit at a desk at work, you are likely getting up to attend meetings, grab coffee, or stop by a coworker’s desk to chat. At home, set a timer for every 30 minutes to get up and walk around the house, get some water, wash your hands, do a few push-ups, or another simple task that will keep you moving for a few minutes.

6. Observe the “20-20-20” rule. For every 20 minutes spent looking at a screen, look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. The time period is important since it takes about 20 seconds for your eyes to relax. This can help prevent eye strain—symptoms of which include dry, burning, itchy, watery, or irritated eyes—as well as headaches, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, neck and shoulder pain, and difficulty concentrating.

7. Make yourself a nutritious meal. One of the upsides of working from home is that you can make yourself meals or reheat leftovers that won’t stink up your office microwave. A well-balanced meal can help lower stress and improve its negative effects on your body, as well as increase your productivity and focus. Avoid snacking on comfort food all day long and opt for some dark chocolate and nuts instead.

8. Agree on communication guidelines and share tips within your team. When Classy started “work-from-home Wednesdays,” one of our employees put together a Google doc with a list of tips and advice for maintaining a productive and healthy work-from-home routine. Share these types of tips with your team so everyone’s empowered.

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Tips for Holding Virtual Meetings

Technology makes it easy for people to stay connected, but logging into a group video call can take some getting used to. With entire organizations working remotely, your team-wide meetings can get a little chaotic if there aren’t rules set in place.

  1. Make sure to include a link for the video call in your event invites.
  2. Test your audio and video before a call or meeting.
  3. Keep your environment as quiet as possible, and if there is background noise (such as typing, eating, or coughing), mute yourself until you need to speak.
  4. Always enable video conferencing when possible. This helps your team stay connected and improves communication by holding people accountable and engaged. This is where getting dressed and looking presentable will come in handy.
  5. Be cognizant of your verbal acknowledgement of people, particularly if you aren’t on video and they can’t see you nodding your head. However, also be sure to limit your “mmhmm” or agreement sounds to make sure you aren’t distracting from the person speaking.
  6. Be patient and take turns to speak. Since there are no non-verbal cues of when someone has something to say, be hyper-conscious of when it’s a good time to jump in. It can also help to set guidelines at the onset of a meeting, such as asking attendees to wait until the end to ask questions so that they aren’t interrupting others.
  7. Use meetings for productive conversations. Share any updates, documentation, or non-urgent content via emails so that your time in the meeting can be used for conversations and timely topics.

Find Your Groove

Working from home will feel different for everybody, so set realistic expectations on your individual experience and allow yourself time to find your ideal situation. Maybe you start your day in the kitchen, eat lunch on the patio, and go for a walk before settling into the second half of your day on the couch. Or, maybe you have a desk at which you stay happily parked from 9 to 5. However you feel most productive working from home, remember to prioritize your physical and emotional health as well as communication with your team. 

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