“May you live in interesting times.”
This curse of disputed origin could very well apply to the reality in which we find ourselves today.
Indeed, having lived through a number of major disasters and other traumatic events, I could not recall a point in my lifetime when professional athletics suspended play for an extended period of time due to purely national, much less health, considerations.
For those of us who have long relied upon technology to permit us to work wherever and whenever needed — the computer “road warriors” — the possibility of working from home, whether for social-distancing reasons connected to a mitigation strategy or for mere convenience, is second nature.
Over the last 20 years, I’ve routinely drafted and edited documents while traveling, filed court documents from airport terminals, and worked just about any place where I can open a laptop computer (whether or not the location has power, Wi-Fi, etc.). This approach to working has the added benefit of ensuring readiness for dealing with actual disasters when they occur.
While an increasing number of professionals may be prepared for working in the event of a disaster — make no mistake about it, the present efforts to “flatten the curve” relating to COVID-19 have left many businesses with no alternative but to put their disaster recovery plans into operation — the experience of having to function away from the office is new and even somewhat unsettling for a significant number of professionals.
With schools having transitioned to remote distance learning, it may even be more unsettling to try to work while children attend virtual class from home at the same time that you are trying to work from home.
To make working remotely a more productive and positive experience, consider the following suggestions:
Establish a consistent workplace. Regardless of the field in which you work, work typically requires a certain amount of focus. For some, it takes getting dressed for work and going to the office to achieve the requisite level of focus to work effectively. Since going to the office may no longer be an option, the next best thing is to set aside a consistent space in your house where you can work.
Consider dressing for work as you normally would. A former colleague knew that it was time to work when he put on a suit, and that the day was over when he took the suit off. While it may not be necessary to go as far as putting on a suit for work, those new to working remotely may find it somewhat comforting to put on typical work clothes when working. For those participating in videoconference calls, appearing in work attire may also make you feel more confident when communicating with co-workers and customers.
Establish a regular schedule or regimen. We are creatures of habit. We know when we’re expected at work, and when the day is over. More importantly, many find their daily routine to be comforting, even if they don’t realize that it is until the routine is broken as a result of events beyond our control. Establishing a regular daily schedule can help get you into the right frame of mind for working from home.
Try to minimize distractions. A University of California Irvine study found that shifting attention from one task to another has a significant impact on productivity. The study found that it can take on average 20 minutes to regain our initial momentum on a project following an interruption. That remains true whether the interruption is an email or a child in the next room. If you have children and they are engaging in remote learning, consider scheduling your work time for the same time that the children will be online with teachers or otherwise doing school work.
Try to recreate aspects of your work environment. If you find yourself having difficulty focusing on work, consider trying to adjust your work environment so that it is similar to what you experience at your office. If you routinely work with music playing or with the shades lowered, doing the same at home can often help put you into the same frame of mind.
Resist the urge to work at all hours. Once you have a work computer running at home, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to check and respond to email or to dig into work that would otherwise wait until the next day to be done. Resist the temptation. Our minds need a certain amount of time away from work each day, and while the amount of down time needed may vary from person to person, the fact remains that we need down time to remain effective. The email or other work will still be there tomorrow when you are fresh and ready for another day in this new reality.
Save your work frequently and often. While there have been tremendous advancements in technology supporting those who work remotely, by and large, many of us are still dependent upon accessing systems through the Internet. Unfortunately, as good as our service providers may be, there are still times when connectivity may be inconsistent. Such inconsistencies may cause software to respond in unanticipated ways and may even cause applications to crash. Having learned the lesson the hard way myself, I routinely encourage colleagues to save their work on a regular basis by repeating the mantra “save your work frequently and often.” Doing so may allow them to avoid the nightmare of having an application crash and losing several hours’ worth of work.
Over time, you may find yourself becoming increasingly comfortable with the idea of working remotely, perhaps even achieving the same level of productivity that you do when you work from your office.
However, should you reach a point where you no longer need some of these suggestions to get into the frame of mind for working, you should continue following the last two suggestions, as both of those will help you keep your sanity.
Samuel Lewis is board certified in intellectual property law and the co-chair of the copyright practice at Cozen O’Connor in Miami. Contact him at SLewis@Cozen.com.