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Working Remotely for HR Professionals

By Alissa Penny of A Better HR

If you’ve been one of the folks recently placed into a remote working environment due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’ve likely discovered what other remote workers have known for ages:  working from home is tough. Being an HR professional on top of working remotely probably feels like a recipe for disaster.

There are constant distractions (all of your favorite things are there!). Your sleep schedule is out the window (who needs a regular sleep schedule anyway?). If you have family members at home with you, they need your attention (who else is going to do chores and feed everyone?). There’s no privacy and the emails and phone calls are almost constantly bombarding you. So how can you go about getting some of your sanity back?

Firstly:  If you haven’t set a daily working schedule for yourself, you should do that now. Not having a consistent schedule can work against you and will cause confusion about your availability to your organization and your employees. It can also cause you to have loose boundaries regarding when you start and stop work.

One of the biggest struggles with working remotely is resisting the temptation to work at all hours of the day. You’re at home, so that means you’re accessible 24/7 right? Not at all - unless you work in an on-call capacity, but even then there should be boundaries in place for times you’re not on-call. 

You might find yourself sneaking a peek at your cell phone or laptop “just to check emails” telling yourself that you’ll “just take a quick look” so that you know what you’ll have to work on in the morning. Unless there’s an emergency or some urgent reason you need to be checking email, don’t do it. You’ll get the urge to respond and then the emailer will feel that same need to respond and you’ll find yourself working until 10 p.m. when there’s no need to do so.

HR professionals all know that there is ALWAYS work to do, so train yourself to recognize the work that has to be done today and what can be left for tomorrow. Establish a regular quitting time that falls within your organization’s regular schedule and do your best to stick to it. Encourage employees that you see responding to emails at all hours of the night to do the same. They need to see you modeling positive boundaries and they’ll need gentle reminding that it’s ok for them to do the same!

Second:  Set expectations on when you’ll get back to people. If your organization has the option available, try setting up auto emails so that you don’t have to respond right away. It’ll give you a little bit of time to get through responses and will set clear expectations with folks right off the bat with the added bonus of automation. Few things are better than automations when you’re low on energy, so take full advantage of them where you can!

Third:  Keep your work in a specific section of your house. It may be tempting to try and work from the kitchen table, the couch, the bedroom, your office, etc. but I’d caution you against it. You’ll find yourself floating around from room to room feeling like you “can just get a little more work done if I move over here….” This is a way that your body is trying to trick you into not getting any actual work done and can make you feel tired. You’ve spent all day moving around but have nothing to show for it! That takes a toll on you.

Instead, make a dedicated workspace, preferably somewhere that has a door or something you can use to signify, to yourself or others at home, that you’re at work now. No interruptions, please! It’ll help set the mood for your work day and for any family members lucky enough to be at home with you during the day. 

I work from home and have a spouse who has been temporarily working from home with me. We often make the mistake of interrupting each other when we’re trying to get things done - we miss people! But that essentially means that neither of us is getting done what we need to and feeling guilty that we’ve not worked as hard as we feel we should (I’ll touch on that in a bit!). 

By establishing separate areas for each of us to work, we’re able to signal to each other that “hey, I’m working, please help me stay focused by not interrupting.” I do this by lighting a favorite candle and shutting the door to my office, my spouse does this by putting in earbuds and facing a window while sitting at the kitchen table. Both ways work for us - finding what works for you will help you stay focused and feel good about your work day.

Fourth:  Be kind to yourself if you don’t get everything done that you wanted to do! Working remotely when you’ve been working in an office for so long is a big adjustment, so remind yourself that it’s ok to take time away from work. Again, feeling like you have to be “on” 24/7 is incredibly draining and doesn’t do the quality of your work any favors. 

Working remotely can feel lonely, but we’re all in this together!