When home becomes office: How to stay productive during the COVID-19 pandemic

To help stop the spreading of the COVID-19, we were asked to stay at home and limit our social interactions to an absolute minimum. For DECTRIS, just like for any other company in Switzerland (or in the EU), that means moving operations (if possible) to employees’ homes. However, this does not come without its complications. How do we stay productive? How do we keep a healthy work-life balance? How do we maintain communication? Here are some tips from our team.

Home office can be great: no time wasted on commuting, a chance to work uninterrupted on projects, and a change of environment. However, not having access to physical tools and infrastructure is one obvious challenge. You might struggle even if you have everything you need. It can be hard to stay focused, it can be difficult to separate work from free time, and it can be challenging to maintain relationships. Here are some pointers that have helped the DECTRIS employees during their home office time.

 


Communication
  • Keep your meetings

Organized communication opportunities are more important than ever; now that we have less face-to-face contact we should find other ways to communicate even more often. There are plenty of tools out there (some even free of charge) to conduct teleconferences: Google Hangouts, Zoom, Skype, Slack… Home office is not an excuse to isolate yourself from your team. Meetings are great for maintaining relationships, and they are a good opportunity to apply some peer pressure in case you find it difficult to get things done at home. In fact, some of our teams introduced a daily 15-minute catch-up-meeting in order to briefly share their goals for the day and to check if anyone needs support.

  • Communicate clearly and unambiguously

This is always important, but now it is crucial, as you do not have the option to simply turn to your colleague and clarify something right away. If something needs to be done, ask for it directly and give clear guidelines. If a request comes to multiple team members, let the others know right away if you will pick it up. Agree on the terminology, and stick to it in your discussions. Clear and unambiguous communication will save you a lot of time and spare you the frustration.

  • Keep your calendar up to date

Your colleagues need to know how you organize your time. Keeping your calendar up to date is definitely a good idea. Your scheduled meetings and calls are probably already there, but you might consider adding time blocks for tasks you are working on, especially if you prefer not to be interrupted during that time. That way your team members know what project is currently taking your time. You might also want to mark the time when you are planning to stop working, because many of us adapt a slightly different timetable in home office. This will help you separate work from home.

  • Choose fewer communication channels

Chatting is not as effective as voice/video calls when talking to your colleagues, but if your team is used to it, that is an easy tool to use also during remote work. Just keep in mind that there are a lot of different communication channels and you should set ground rules on which ones to use and how. The more channels you use, the more confusing it will get. During the corona home office period, we do need more communication, but we do not necessarily need more communication channels.

 


Concentration
  • Use productivity apps and methods

If you find it hard to concentrate, try out different productivity apps and methods. In our teams we often use the Pomodoro Technique. To simplify; we use a timer to break down our work into 25-minute intervals, followed by short breaks in between. This helps us stay concentrated on the task.

  • Write a short to-do list and even trim that down

Keeping your tasks organized is extremely helpful, so start your day by listing the goals you want to achieve. Prioritize them and if necessary, move some of them to the next day. A concise to-do list will help you focus on your tasks. It is always possible to start working on postponed tasks once you have reached your goal. Some of us use tools like Google Tasks, others have said good things about Todoist and Trello, some stick to the basics of scrum and use Jira. Whatever your tool is, make sure that polishing your to-to list does not take all your time.

  • Use your team

Check up on your teammates and ask them to check up on you to make sure you stay on track.

 


Counterbalance
  • Set yourself up for work

When your work place is also where you spend your free time, separating the two can be difficult. You should keep in mind that remote work is still work: set an alarm, wear clothes, and arrange yourself a relatively quiet spot (a separate room is ideal, but a luxury not everyone has) where you can sit comfortably through the day. Wear noise-canceling headphones to block out distractions.

  • Nobody canceled breaks and lunch

Having regular coffee and lunch breaks is very important. Use this time to call your colleagues to check up on them and find out how they are doing. Stay social with both your teammates and the people you live with. 

  • Know where to draw the line

When your work is done for the day, switch off your computer. The work will not run away, there is no need to babysit it.

  • Try to keep up with your usual routine

If you used to reading while commuting, allocate some time to read at home. If you are used to getting up early, try to keep up with it. Routine will help you get used to the new situation and allow you to separate your work from home.

 


Conclusion

The current turmoil is not a typical home office situation; many of us have children to look after now that the schools are closed, and we do not necessarily want to go out for a nice, refreshing walk during our lunch break. And do not forget that not everybody can work remotely; many of our DECTRIS colleagues still come to the office – as long as the government allows it and only under very strict safety measures, of course! It is going to take some creativity, flexibility and empathy to make sure we all stay on board and connected. Take care of each other!

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