COVID-19: 10 Essential Tips For Working at Home & Being Productive as an HR Pro

Along with staying healthy, tips #1, 2 and #6 are essential.

by Alan Collins

With growing concerns about the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, more companies are telling employees to work from home to prevent possible infections from spreading in the workplace.

Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft are among the hundreds of organizations doing this.

Perhaps your organization has too and you might be faced with working from home for an extended period for the FIRST TIME. If so, this article is for you.   

Working remotely is a new and different experience. And since I’m guessing you don’t have a handbook to help you maximize your productivity while working from home, consider this your guide.

With that in mind, here are 10 best practices I’ve learned from my own experiences working from home for the last ten years – and those of other HR folks I know that of others that do it effectively:

Tip #1:
Create a dedicated work space.

Because of COVID-19, if you’re working from home for weeks or perhaps longer, you’ll soon find out that using your kitchen counter as your primary work space won’t cut it!

You should have at least one dedicated work area that’s free from distraction and offers a semblance of privacy from your home life.  

If possible, find a room in your home that is not used for other purposes, and turn that into your office.

Ideally, you should have a comfortable chair and desk, both cozy enough to use for several hours.

You’ll need it for privacy when you’re on important phone calls, conference call meetings and working on priority projects. Just try not to make it near a bed or a TV.

However, don’t hesitate to switch things up by moving your dedicated work space to a different location once in a while!  

For example, instead of sitting inside in your designated office or work space working on lower priority activities — move to your yard or to a different room every couple of hours.

Moving around is going to help to re-energize you, make you more productive and you won’t be bored by looking at the same surroundings all the time.

Great point, but how do
you increase your work
space mobility? 

The one to the left is made by iSkelter and it’s popular original design has been copied heavily over the years. 

It can  accommodate a mouse, phone and other items in an upright position as it sits on your lap.

There are lots of lap desk options and styles to choose from, including those with short legs and different organization areas.

I’ve stuck with the original, and prefer the Comfy Lite, which can handle a left- or right-handed mouse, includes a wrist pad, and has a groove in the back for a range of tablets or phones.

The added benefit of an averaged sized lap desk is being able to store it in a closet or under the bed when you’re not using it. 

Most should be portable and light enough to carry from room to room throughout the day.

That said, let’s move on to…

Tip #2:
Do
n’t skimp on the equipment,
technology and tools you need.

If you’re working at home for an extended period, beyond obvious things like your laptop, mobile phone and work space, you’ll also need the following:

A headset for video conferencing.  Specifically a noise-cancelling headset with a mute button.  The last thing you want is to be in an online meeting with your HR team or your boss and have the doorbell ring or police sirens blaring the background.

Video conferencing capability. Skype, LiveMeeting, Webex or Zoom are excellent to use for meetings. Zoom in particular has the added bonus of split-screen video conferencing so you can see everyone at once, much like an in-person meeting.

If your company provides equipment. request even more support to make remote work easier.   For example, don’t hesitate to ask for a scanner, printer, copier…and most importantly support from your IT department.

If you do have IT support, schedule a coaching call with them so they can guide you on the work-related plugs, software and connections you’ll need.  For example, if you haven’t already, you’ll want to know how to set up and access your company’s virtual private network (VPN) and any HR-specific proprietary software or platforms.

Those are the basics.

Tip #3:
Get dressed.

A lot of people who are new to working at home think that being able to work in their jammies is a dream come true.

Not so.

Successful folks that telecommute get dressed before they begin working.

When you sit around in pajamas with blankets and pillows, it is all too easy to end up getting lazy and not getting anything done because you are too comfy.

Plus, if you do have to meet face to face with your team or clients outside of your home, you will be all dressed and ready to go, even if you are only given a moment’s notice.

It will also help to boost your self-esteem when you look good, even if you are the only person to see it.

Tip #4:
Have a plan for your day.

In the morning, follow the same routine you would before going into the office.  Example: Make a cup of coffee, shower and change out of your pajamas to help you transition into your work mode.

Make sure to create a time slot for each of the day’s activities, just like you do at work.  This helps with communicating to others when your work-time and play-time is.

If you have small children at home, you may need to schedule your work around their naps or another caregiver’s schedule, so that you can have a good chunk of time to work uninterrupted.

Never underestimate the gravitational pull of the fridge and your comfy bed.

Pets, TV and family members are just a few other distractions you’ll encounter when you start working at home, planning ahead will be key.

Meal planning is more important also.  An HR director I know eats a small breakfast on their way to the office. But when he works from home, he’s tempted to have a bigger breakfast.  But he found it slows him down when he attends his early morning conference call at home.  So he plans a smaller breakfast now.

Tip #5:
Communicate your work schedule
to friends and family. 

Don’t be afraid to defend your work time.

Some friends and family will think that since you work at home, you can do whatever you like.

So, let your loved ones know that you’re working from home and ask them to respect your working hours and to not to call you unless it is urgent.

If your kids are also at home, consider how you might create a home school, distraction-free environment for the kids to study and complete work. Much like a classroom has different learning zones, set up areas for homework, reading and fun.

You’ll definitely need to set digital ground rules for the day.

And remember, if you are doing a Skype call and you have small children in the house, make sure your toddler can’t reach the door handle.

Tip #6:
Stay connected and over-communicate
with your clients, colleagues and the boss.

Make sure that you’re readily available via e-mail, phone, text, instant message, Skype and/or conference call.

When in doubt, over-communicate until told otherwise.

Make the extra effort to keep your colleagues and clients looped in about your progress on your HR projects and assignments and your schedule in general.

Don’t forget that your lack of presence can be a negative if your boss is in the dark about what you’re up to — so take extra steps to be vocal about your activities and achievements to him/her.

Tip #7:
Prepare ahead for group meetings
via conference call.

Group meetings in-person can be difficult.  But if you’re not used to doing them when you’re the only person in the room, it can be absolute chaos.

Without any visual cues to signal where attention is focused, participants on group calls can end up speaking over each other for minutes on end.

This can be compounded by any lag on the line which amplifies misunderstandings about who is speaking and who is listening.

It is absolutely vital that someone is leading the meeting.

This person needs to determine the speaking order and call people to speak, as well as pick up again when the speaking is finished.

Ideally the call can be done using software which allows people to signal to the chair that they would like to speak without interrupting someone else, but if that isn’t the case then the chair needs to set up a system to let people ask to speak without the line descending into chaos – asking people who want to speak to state their names and then calling on them to talk afterwards is a good tactic.

All of the other participants need to join the call at the right time, and most crucially – their phones need to be on mute when they’re not talking.

Again, the basics.

Tip #8:
Group your meetings to
maximize your productivity.

If you have daily meetings with your team or clients, try to make sure that you try to schedule everything to take place back-to-back, within the same time block — if you can.

That way, you don’t have to stop and start what you are doing to go from one meeting to another.

And it allows you to get them all done all at once, and get back to any HR projects you’re working on without having to worry about further interruptions.

If you have other appointments, you can schedule them in the same manner so you can get things done faster and be more productively.

Tip #9:
Plan to have some
social interaction.

Working from home can be lonely and isolating.

All those brief, informal conversations that normally happen in the break room or after a meeting disappear.

Unfortunately, this one of the worst aspects of telecommuting, especially if you’re a raving extrovert.

One of the tactics to avoid loneliness (although many HR folks crave it) is to set up a video call with a colleague you’re working with on a shared project.

You might also put on your calendar some calls with fellow team members where you not only catch up on the projects you’re working on but also can share some tips on how you’re getting on with remote working.

When working from home — for your sanity — it’s even more important to be sure to connect with coworkers frequently by email, phone, video chat or web chat. That means having an up-to-date contact list on hand, in case you have trouble accessing your company network or email from home.

Tip #10:
Take breaks.

When making your schedule, you might want to consider working in smaller spurts, and allowing yourself time to get up from the computer to stretch.

This will really help you both physically and mentally.

Without a water cooler, the break room and co-workers around, you may forget to take time away from your desk.

When you take breaks, you’ll operate most efficiently.

Bonus Tip #11:
If you’re an an HR Leader,
trust your team — but
have guidelines.

Don’t be shy about setting availability expectations with your team.

Many organizations are reluctant to embrace working from home because there’s an uncertainty about whether or not the work will get completed at the same level as if they were in the office.

To combat this belief, as an HR leader, set up work-from-home guidelines, such as emails must be responded to within 24 hours, use text for urgent matters, and no calls between certain hours to make sure teammates are not working around the clock.

All of this will help the team stay productive and efficient.

What should you do now?

Do this…

Review these tips to max out your own personal productivity.

Share these tips with your HR colleagues. Get other ideas from them.

Follow the guidance from the experts on COVID-19 here:
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
Information for HR pros on COVID-19 – published by SHRM

Keep stay safe and stay well.

Got additional suggestions, questions or insights?

Post them in the comments below by clicking HERE.

Let’s help each other out!

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About the author: Alan Collins is Founder of Success in HR, Inc. and the author of a variety of best selling books for HR professionals including WINNING BIG IN HR. and THE NEW HR LEADER’S FIRST 100 DAYS.  He was formerly Vice President – Human Resources at PepsiCo where he led HR initiatives for their Quaker Oats, Gatorade and Tropicana businesses.

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