How I've adjusted my work-from-home habits

WFH newbs and veterans alike have to adjust to self-quarantine; here's how to maintain some balance.
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Oatmeal and a laptop.

I've been a remote worker during various chapters in my career, and have tried to carry those lessons into each new remote work experience. At the end of last year, I switched to a job that lets me work from home. Fast forward to the COVID-19 outbreak; even though I was no WFH novice, I found myself having to adapt just like the many other workers who've been suddenly thrust into remote work.

In hopes of easing that transition, here are some healthy remote work habits to adapt during a pandemic.

Keep exercising even if your gym is closed

I watched the crowd in my gym dwindle the week before my state government issued its stay at home orders. Whether I've been working in an office or at home, going to the gym helps me vent stress, plus it acts as a logical break in my daily routine because I put down my phone and keyboard to clear my head.

Fortunately, my gym put some training activities online that I plan to use. I already have a stability ball and Bosu ball in my home office that I began using on day three after the pandemic closed all the offices, schools, and later gyms in my local area. As I write this article, I'm entering week 4 of COVID-19-mandated remote work, and I'm still trying to get back to the exercise dedication and momentum I had before this all happened.

Dress (and groom) yourself for work

I've worked from home on and off during my career. When I started my new job, I decided not to repeat some mistakes I made during the last time I worked from home. One mistake I made was not shaving every day. I also stopped getting dressed for work.

When you dress and groom yourself for work every day, it can help put you in focus for work. You don't have to be too strict; it is a pandemic after all. I'm still debating on sweatpants Fridays during this crisis.

Eat meals away from your desk

It's too easy to just eat meals at your desk when you work at home. Many even do it at the office. I recommend as you get through your COVID-19-enforced remote working that you use eating as a natural break in the ebbs and flows of your day. For example, unless a deadline was calling, I would go out to lunch to break up my remote working days. These days I get up from my desk, walk outside to get a breath of fresh air and have lunch in my living room.

Keep a schedule and track your progress

It's easy to sleep in when you don't have to go to the office. I recommend trying to keep to your regular schedule as much as possible. It's admittedly easy for me to say that because I live alone. If you're home with children, work with your employer to time-shift your schedule to accommodate the added responsibilities and other challenges you're facing right now. It may take a few iterations to get the right schedule, but you'll appreciate the consistency.

Another word about keeping a schedule—you might add important work meetings to your personal calendar or as reminders on your mobile device, so you have another reminder as you adjust to the new normal of COVID-19.

The open source community has a lot of great scheduling and project management tools that you can use to track your own time and progress. There are project management tools for agile development teams. You can also find open source alternatives to Google Calendar available on Android.

Put backup communications channels in place

Even companies with robust telework programs may see some communications outages. It may not even be their CIO's fault, such as the Microsoft Teams outage that happened in Europe early on during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having problems dialing into a conference bridge or your employer's group chat having sporadic issues will surprise nobody right now; most understand that workers are in a period of transition, and not everything will run smoothly. However, you still need to have backup channels in place to make that communication happen, even if it's just coworkers exchanging cell numbers so they can text or call each other as needed.

There are some fully-featured open source Slack alternatives available that are worth exploring if your organization is lacking in chat applications or if you want to give your team a backup channel to your official corporate application. (Whether you do it with the approval of your corporate IT department is up to you).

You should also consider installing implementing MediaWiki or Twiki to improve collaboration or to give your team an accessible document repository.

Pivot on communications when needed

Every company where I've been an employee or contractor has had its own communications style. Remote working at scale during the COVID-19 epidemic will challenge those communication styles.

Be prepared to shake up your communication style, whether you're a newb or long term remote worker. That could mean writing more detailed emails instead of the terse ones you normally send to becoming more of a power user with your company's group chat tool. There are also the open source wikis I mentioned earlier that can provide you a centralized platform for any long-form writing you need to do to help communicate project requirements and changes.

I also extend this advice to your personal communications during the workday. For example, a friend and I video conference during the day. We never did that pre-COVID-19.

Final thoughts

Lots of people will evolve and rethink their remote work habits. It's only healthy that you prepare yourself for adjusting your own remote working habits. What worked for me pre-COVID-19 doesn't necessarily work right now, so I'm adjusting my remote work habits weekly as I see fit so I can maximize my productivity during the current crisis.

How are you adjusting your remote work habits during self-quarantine?

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Will Kelly is a product marketer and writer. His career has been spent writing bylined articles, white papers, marketing collateral, and technical content about the cloud and DevOps., TechTarget, InfoQ, and others have published his articles about DevOps and the cloud. He lives and works in the Northern Virginia area. Follow him on Twitter:@willkelly.

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