Many of us who usually work in an office environment might have envisioned working from home as a day spent in comfy clothes, in front of a laptop on the couch with the dog for company, but now, most of us who have been sent home are finding that it’s anything but relaxing.

While the comfy clothes still make sense, there’s more than a few ways to make your new working conditions comfortable but useful for the long term. Several of Maine’s biggest employers have ideas. Here’s a few:

MEETINGS

You’ve all heard the joke that we’re discovering just which meetings really could have been an email, but the reality is you’ll probably still need to have them even when no one’s in the office. In fact you’re probably going to need to have more meetings now. Find a way that works, whether it’s via Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts, GoTo Meeting or Skype. Just seeing familiar faces, even if they’re on your screen, can help you feel connected to work and the outside world.

At Stonewall Kitchen, employees use GoTo Meeting for their regular check-ins, said Janine Somers, vice president of marketing and sales.

“Just today one of my favorite IT guys helped me set up my second monitor via Facetime and our weekly Director Meeting was held on video through GoTo. Both instances allowed for some light hearted moments, which is so needed right now,” Somers writes.

To ensure continuity and keep everyone apprised of all developments, let people know if you’re going to be away from your desk, writes Rob Gould, director of public relations at Wex. “Attend your scheduled meetings remotely, just as if you were in the office,” he writes.

It’s important for managers to do a daily check-in with their staff, even if it’s just to see how they’re doing, writes VIA’s CEO Leeann Leahy.

She suggests group chats: Create one for your team and make sure people check in each morning as a formal start to the day. Try to save them so people can read them later. And keep calendars up to date so everyone knows where everyone else is.

“It is tempting to just default to email to get things done, but the conversations matter and remember what gets lost in text,” she writes. “Do more meetings, but keep them short and on point (30 min or so).”

Make sure everyone in a meeting has access to shared documents and a way to contribute to the meeting, whether by phone, chat or video, writes Kelly Spencer, who heads corporate communications at Unum. “This way of working is new for a lot of people, and some may need a nudge from you to speak up and engage in the conversation,” she adds.

“Be consciously inclusive. Appreciate that the best ideas can come from anyone, irrespective of their function, level, location, or diversity factors. This also means not relying on the same “go-to” individuals out of familiarity and comfort. Take extra care to make sure your team members don’t feel excluded,” she writes.

And don’t forget to respect people’s other obligations, such as religious commitments. “Do not use this time to substitute for time away from work,” Spencer writes.

Clear communication is key, writes Amanda Hannah of L.L. Bean. “When you work remotely, you need to be purposeful with your communication,” she writes. “You can’t depend on talking across the wall or seeing someone in the hallway. Reach out regularly to your teammates and leader so they know what you’re working on.”

YOUR WORK DAYS

It’s important, early in the working-from-home process, to set the parameters for how your workday will look, from your work space to the hours.

Set up a physical work space first. You can’t work from bed or the couch forever. Ask yourself some questions when you set it up: Will other people be at home with you? Get a headset for your laptop and another for your phone. Will you need a mouse or monitor if you currently work on a laptop? “The more real it feels, the easier it will be to transition,” Leahy writes.

Set yourself a daily calendar – you shouldn’t be working all day. Work a similar structure and hours to how you would at the office. It might be easy to be “always on” but you should set boundaries because “always on” is unsustainable, especially if we may have to all work from home for months. If you have a hard time balancing personal and work-related tasks, color code your meetings on your calendar so you can tell right away what’s important and what you need to do each day.

Email will be even more important now that you’re at home, Leahy writes. You’ll need to check it more often, so make use of filters and labels to sort what’s really ASAP and what can wait. “It also makes email on your phone a lot easier and more manageable,” she writes.

Pretend you’re going into the office, Spencer writes. “The mental association you make between work and an office can make you more productive, and there’s no reason that feeling should be lost when telecommuting,” she writes.

That means doing everything you can to prepare for the day as you would if you were leaving the house to go to work. Set your alarm. Get your coffee. Put on work clothes.

“Pajamas are tempting, but not a great idea if you want to be at your best,” she writes.

It might be useful to set some tasks that let you mentally compartmentalize your home life and your work life, even when they’re both taking place in the same space.

When you get up in the morning, for instance, make your bed. It can be a signal that you are about to leave your home life and enter the work space. Similarly, at the end of the workday, engage in an activity that will tell your brain it’s time to switch off the work thinking. It can be a bath, a shower, a walk, reading a book to your children or some meditation time, anything that can physically and mentally separate your workday from home.

ERGONOMICS

As soon as you set up your work space, give some thought to the ergonomics of that space and how you occupy it. It may be that this is where you are going to be working for a few months, so it’s important that you are physically supported.

Tony Payne, senior vice president of Memic, said he has several tips he’s passed on to employees about the ergonomics of their new home work space. Here’s a few things to look for:

Are your feet supported? Is the chair too high or the seat pan too deep? (Get a footrest or a shorter seat pan).

If your arms are not at your sides, the desk may be too high or the chair too low, or the keyboard too far away.

Are you sitting properly? Make sure the chair isn’t too big or small, and the lumbar support is in the right place. Mess with the adjustments to get it right (and don’t fear the knobs and buttons).

Are your wrists and hands in the right position? Are the arms on the chair getting in your way? Remove them or adjust them. Is a propped-up keyboard forcing your wrists back? Flatten it. If the mouse is a reach, find a way to move it closer, and make sure it’s on the same plane as the keyboard.

Is your screen forcing your head back? Is your chin too high? Or conversely, if you use reading glasses, do you look at the screen too often with your head tilted forward? Raise or lower the screen to adjust, or use a docking station or books to raise your laptop or monitor. If you look at paperwork often, invest in a document holder so you’re not having to lower your head so much to read papers.

And be aware of your mouse habits, writes L.L. Bean’s Hannah. Don’t squeeze it, try not to use your write to move, but use the weight of a relaxed hand and your larger shoulder muscles to move it.

Try not to hold your fingers above the mouse in anticipation of the next click.

And alternate hands with the mouse to rest your hands, even if it feels awkward.

MENTAL HEALTH

The most important thing to remember is your own well-being. Working from home can be isolating for those of us who haven’t done it regularly, especially with no end date in sight.

Taking frequent breaks, going outside for a walk, playing with the pets or your children, getting exercise, are all important and useful ways to stay grounded.

You can even enlist your fellow solitary coworkers in this. Check in with each other often. Even just sharing a funny video or meme can help lift a mood and remind you you’re all in it together.

“Lots of people are reaching out to each other through all modes of communications – checking in on one another, acknowledging that this tough for everyone, setting the fear and anxiety aside,” writes Stonewall Kitchen’s Somers. “This is a tough one to navigate and naturally causes stress as people trying to work from home are also trying to care for small children that are normally at school or daycare, caring for elders, and sick loved ones.”

She recommends communication and human interaction. “Each day needs to have an hour of exercise and down time with the family – eating meals together, but also just being together without checking email,” she writes.

Wex’s Gould recommends staying connected through daily stand-up meetings, celebrations, deadlines and watercooler conversations on any device. “Without in-person social interaction, it’s easy for hours to pass without taking the same breaks you would in an office,” he writes. “Take regular moments to stretch out your body and connect for virtual coffee chats with team members in between meetings.”

VIA’s Leahy says you shouldn’t hesitate to call people, even to catch up casually the way you would in an office. “Virtual tea is a thing,” she writes.

Unum’s Spencer recommends going outside – carefully. “It’s easy to forget that it’s almost spring, and the weather is ripe for outdoor meetings. Suggest a local park or another scenic, open space where meeting attendees can spread out and be comfortable while contributing to the meeting,” she suggests.

Among her other suggestions:

Don’t wait for a meeting to reach out. Use the phone and frequently check in, even at unexpected times. That can significantly lessen the feeling of distance.

Broaden the circle of coworkers you reach out to. Don’t just check in with your cubicle mate. Think about the people you run into in the hallways or who park near you.

Schedule a virtual lunch, coffee or happy hour. Use videoconferencing for more than just a conference. Share what everyone’s eating or drinking on the screen.

Welcome your kids, your pets or your partner. “Working remotely is a juggling act for many individuals and families. For some, it’s impossible to carve out long periods of uninterrupted time, especially when other family members are also working and learning remotely,” she writes. “When appropriate, introduce your loved ones to your team if they happen to be near you during a virtual meeting. The more, the merrier!”

Prioritize your own time. Commit to activities that let you get up and move. Cook and eat healthy meals, and don’t forget to hydrate.

Try not to get distracted by social media or the cell phone. While social media can help you stay connected and informed, it can also heighten your anxiety if you’re barraged by too much news too often, or distract you from your actual work.

Know when to leave the “office.” It’s easy to keep working till the wee hours, but don’t do that. Set a time to log off, and really do it.

And music can also be a great way to get you inspired and motivated to put some good workplace habits in place even when you’re home and not going anywhere:

Have more questions about how to protect yourself or your loved ones from coronavirus? Send them to [email protected] and we’ll try to answer them.

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