Coronavirus Outbreak: How to effectively work from home during a pandemic?

Changes in the physical space, communication, boundary-setting, maintaining routine will help make for a conducive work environment.


As the streets lay bare, chirping birds are heard in the distance and trees are glowing in full glory. The complete lockdown has visibly impacted upon the outdoors in positive ways. But what’s the impact of this lockdown on the man directed to work from his own dwelling?

The majority of firms in India have responded to the COVID-19 outbreak in line with the WHO recommendations, mandating their employees to work from home (WFH). Several employees may be working from home for the first time rendering them un-equipped. Adapting to a new routine overnight can push employees out of their comfort zones, leading to increased stress levels.

 Coronavirus Outbreak: How to effectively work from home during a pandemic?

As you WFH, family members may misconstrue this as your work being less busy or important. Highlight to those at home that you are still working and not on holiday

Although a WFH set-up may not be the preference for many of us, we must find ways to work effectively from our own homes. Small shifts around your physical space, effective communication, boundary-setting and maintaining routine all lend themselves to producing a more conducive work environment- and prevent us from flying off the handle!

Managing Professional Boundaries

With remote work, managing professional boundaries can be onerous. Here are a few ways to manage professional boundaries as you WFH:

1) Set up goals

The key to working efficiently from home is having clear communication with your manager, discussing what is expected from you on a daily basis as well as the focus and aims for the day. This can be done through a quick 10-minute call as you log into work or an e-mail detailing the plan for the day. Take initiative here, as managers may not know what your needs are.

2) Arrange regular meetings

To avoid falling into the “out of sight, out of mind” trap, communicate with your manager and colleagues on a regular basis. In addition to morning check-ins, arrange a weekly meeting to report back. It is also good practice to produce an End of Day report for your manager, either via e-mail or call as you wrap up for the day.

3) Maintain professional conduct

Although WFH entails a virtual presence, handle work matters professionally, using work-appropriate language. If you are connecting over the video, ensure that you are dressed up to the part. As with any job, professional conduct is fundamental even when working outside of your usual workspace.

4) Go the extra mile

Small-talk with colleagues at your workplace is natural, and this needn’t change. Continue to cultivate your relationships with colleagues virtually. Coordinate your breaks together, like grabbing coffee or tea and having a quick chat online before you return to work. If you’re technically sound and have teammates finding it challenging to navigate online, send them guidelines and suggestions on this technology use. Also, reach out to colleagues who live alone and are prone to feeling isolated- they may find this reassuring.

Household Responsibilities

As you WFH, family members may misconstrue this as your work being less busy or important. Highlight to those at home that you are still working and not on holiday:

1) Having children/parents at home

With children off school, they may continuously seek your attention. Create a schedule for children that matches the routine of a regular school day. This will keep them occupied while you work. Explain to them that you are still working, and cannot always be available. Similarly, be transparent with your parents about your work schedule, your role and what is expected of you. Set times to partake in activities with them and help out with household chores outside of your work hours.

2) House errands

Be mindful of how much you can take on and share this with your family members. Taking on too much may show that you are available and willing, and your productivity may suffer. Moreover, avoid tackling domestic chores and working simultaneously as this will divide your attention; multi-tasking becomes counter-productive in this case.

3) Make necessary adjustments

With limited/no help due to the lockdown, you may have to attend to household duties such as cleaning the house, cooking or caring for children. In this case, have a collaborative discussion with your manager to agree on what adjustments need to be made so that your domiciliary responsibilities are not impeding on your professional work.

Follow a schedule with consistent log in and log out times for work, and maintain the same hours as a regular workday.

Follow a schedule with consistent log in and log out times for work, and maintain the same hours as a regular workday.

Work-life Harmony

We strive towards achieving a work-life balance in general, but may not know what it looks like in our current contexts. Here are some tips to find balance at home:

1) Communicate that you are at work

With WFH, it is essential to communicate your routine to those at home to better manage their expectations. This includes sharing you work hours, your break and meal times, and any important meetings that are going to place. You can have a sign to inform others that you’re in work mode. It may be as simple as placing a do not disturb sign on your door or putting on headphones to avoid external conversations.

2) Set a schedule, stick to it

Follow a schedule with consistent log in and log out times for work, and maintain the same hours as a regular workday. It is easy to derail from your work routine as we are not entering and leaving a physical office, and our boundaries for the workday become blurred. Create “psychological segues” that can help you mark these boundaries- like making a cup of coffee before work or going for a walk once you finish work.

3) Create a designated work environment

If you don’t have a home office: No problem. Convert a space at home into a work-station for your PC and office supplies. Ensure that this workspace is quiet so you can focus on your work, and commit to this space for your workday. Avoid working from your bed or in a communal area, as you can risk lowering your productivity.

4) Socialise

Build a way to stay socially connected outside of work as this is important for your emotional wellbeing. Arrange virtual events: Pizza parties, coffee dates or even gym sessions. This is key to motivate one another and keep each going!

Adapting to a WFH routine need not be jarring. Working remotely can prove to be fulfilling if you nurture your professional relationships, work with boundaries in place and maintain a healthy work-life harmony.

The author is a Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower - The Centre, Mumbai


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