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Our Top Tips for Working from Home

In the wake of nationwide stay-at-home orders, many of us have found ourselves in a strange new reality where the distance between work and home is the thickness of an interior door (or less), where cat furniture doubles as a standing desk, and where meetings require coordinating with your housemates as much as attendees. Ready or not, the sudden shift to remote workspaces has been a tremendous adjustment as we face new distractions and inefficiencies, disruptions to the boundaries between work and personal life, and challenges to staying connected despite social distancing.

Nearly two months in, we asked 12 Murraysmith + Quincy staff from all corners of the firm for their tips to adapting to our new environments. As it turns out, there are a lot of benefits to working from home if you know where to look! We hope the following tricks give you some ideas on how to stay healthy and happy while working from home.

1. Be flexible.

“Ironically, the best way to find that work-life balance is to blur the boundaries a bit. Don’t expect that a strict 8-5 schedule will work at home. Break your 8 hours into chunks; if you need to attend to something personal, take some time and do it, then give focused hours to your work, and repeat. So, effectively, stretch your workday longer to get your work hours in over the course of 10-12 hours while balancing other demands. Keep in mind that you are saving a couple of hours of commute every day.”

 – Rizwan Hamid (Planning/Modeling)

2. If you can’t work through a distraction, take a break.

“I find noise cancelling headphones to be especially helpful to keep me focused. If the noise cancelling headphones just don’t cut it, then take a break until the distraction is resolved. Go outside for a walk, or call up a co-worker, friend, or family member to discuss something fun and non-work related.”

 – David Covey (Roadways)

3. Take a walking meeting.

”HR has a daily check-in, and I make these a ‘walk and talk.’ This allows me to get some exercise, some fresh air, and to feel connected to the team all at once.”

 – Carly Husband (Human Resources)

4. Make your space work for you.

“It helps to have everything you need in one place so you’re not feeling scattered. Originally, I was working around different places in my apartment, but once I got my monitor from work, I set up a workspace on the dining room table. It helps to have a space for the monitor, laptop, and mouse, and helps so much to have a ‘home base’ for work.”

 – Victoria Raible (Marketing)

5. Be aware of your impact on others.

“Be aware that us being home and the current situation is also impacting the people around us, and we can’t expect them to accommodate us 100%.

My wife is working on things to help maintain our home, and me being at home is interrupting that. It’s not like my working from home means that everyone else should be quiet and accommodate me. I also need to be respectful of my spouse’s workspace and previous routines. There already is a home environment, and we need to work together to adjust and make our routines work for each other.”

 – John Quincy (Bridges)

6. Maintain routine, but embrace the benefits of being home.

“On trying to maintain balance and separation, I’ve tried to maintain a routine. On a normal work day, I would get up, get some exercise, and then go in to the office. So, I’m still getting up and doing that exercise—that’s what gets me going in the morning.

On the other hand, this actually tore down a boundary for me. Being at home is an opportunity and a positive—my husband calls it pre-retirement. We can take a break in the middle of the day and he’ll remind me, ‘let’s go play a game of pool,’ or ‘grab your laptop, let’s go sit out on the deck.’ There’s lots of things that you can take advantage of for a break, even if it’s only for 15 minutes.”

 – Karen Tatman (Roadways)

7. Build connecting with others into your to-do list.

“First and foremost, maintain a schedule. Keeping a ‘living’ list of tasks and priorities helps keep me focused. I put on my list ‘try to check in with someone.’ It’s easy to forget to connect with people you care about (both in and out of the office), especially when there are all these other things you need to get done. Putting it on your list to reach out to people on your to-do list is a great way to build connecting with others into your daily routine.”

 – Nick McFaddin (CAD)

8. Be proactive about asking for input from teammates.

“Probably the biggest challenge is trying to keep tabs on the people you need to coordinate with. Sometimes I feel like a private detective; I have somebody’s Teams window open, and I’m just waiting for that dot to change color. I’ve tried to circumvent that just by sending proactive messages and leaving a lot of digital post-it notes to get around that inefficiency.”

 – Josh Goodall (Bridges)

9. Communicate your needs with the people near you.

“We have a neighbor with dogs that bark outside sometimes, and they’re close to the room where I work. I have a good relationship with my neighbor, so I’ll send her a little text message that I’ll be having a meeting (for example, a client kick-off with 15 people for a 2-hour meeting!), and would it be possible to bring the dogs inside? I only have to do that a few times a week.”

 – John Thayer (Water Resources)

10. Stick to your schedule.

“The first couple of weeks, I’m not gonna lie, it was rough (chuckles)! The whole house had to get accustomed to me being at home and being on a conference call, or trying to read a report, or number crunching (when I’m doing invoicing). I had to set boundaries and say, ‘Look, this is the time that I’m going to be working – please don’t bother me.’ You kind of have to make a new routine. Set a new schedule and stick to it. At lunchtime I’ll take a break to check in with the family and make lunch, and then I’ll take another break in the afternoon to check in with the family and start dinner early. Then, it’s really quiet in the house after dinner, so I can get in more time to work uninterrupted.”

 – Desiree Acol (Finance)

11. Have something to look forward to.

“There’s a lot we can’t do right now, but that just means we have a lot more time to do something we’re passionate about or learn new skills. People have more time now to reflect on what they want to accomplish. I’m a gardener, so now that I have a lot more free time, I’ve been spending more time outside working on my yard.”

 – Heather Pina (Water Resources)

12. Be gentle on yourself.

“Everyone feels like they have to be extra productive because we have all this time right now, but that pressure on yourself can be destructive. You don’t have to become fluent in French right now. Don’t feel like you have to push yourself to be extra productive and extra creative. Focus on taking care of yourself. My favorite thing to do for self-care right now is to go Burgerville and buy a chocolate hazelnut shake. It’s the best.”

 – Tyese Solmes (Admin)