Baylor's Sara Perry Shares Tips on
Making the Most of Working from Home
March 25, 2020
international response to the COVID-19 public health crisis has led
millions of workers to make home their new office as communities and
organizations promote social distancing to slow the spread of the virus.
For many individuals, this spring marks the first time they will have
worked from home for a substantial amount of time.
Sara Perry, Ph.D., assistant professor of management in Baylor
University’s Hankamer School of Business, an internationally-recognized
remote work researcher and author of a 2018 study published in the
European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, offers tips in
five key areas for employees to consider as they make the most of
working from home.
“Research has given us some good empirical evidence of key areas that
will help remote work be more successful,” Perry said.
Ph.D., assistant professor of management in Baylor University’s Hankamer
School of Business
Create a physical workspace.
Perry: If it’s possible, we have to have a separate working space,
especially if you can close the door to focus. This would be ideal, but
if you can't do that, try setting up different workspaces around your
home that are well-defined and that you can “close” at the end of the
day to help maintain a balance in terms of your family and your work.
Now, if you have kids in the mix as well, then I think we need to set up
a workstation for them as well. It can be the kitchen table or the bar.
Younger kids can have stations of their own, too – like the stations
they would have in preschool. Some people even talk about making a
standing desk with books, to be able to move your position throughout
the day. Everyone in the family might even like to rotate around
throughout the day, sharing the different workspaces. Think about how
you can work outside, too, weather permitting.
Adhere to a work schedule – and take breaks.
Perry: We aren't going to have clear boundaries of time. We're going to
have to make them. The best thing to do is to start with a schedule
similar to what you would already be doing if you went to work. If you
can try to stick close to the same schedule, you're going to find the
transition easier. Don't start sleeping in and doing things completely
differently — that will make the adjustment a lot harder.
Take breaks. Research by my colleagues Emily Hunter and Cindy Wu found
that optimal breaks come mid-morning, and it can set you up for the rest
of the day. It’s important to get up and move away from the screen
periodically. A short break can help preserve your focus and attention
resources for the rest of the day.
For your further wellbeing, you will need to turn work off at the end of
the day, because no one is going to shut it off for you. Pick a way that
you're going to do that, whether it's to put your stuff away, or by
planning some sort of transition time that would replace what your
commute would have done. Some people will call someone or listen to a
podcast. For others, or a walk around the neighborhood provides
something to transition and decompress. Think about what you would
normally do (or want to do) and see if you can work that in for your own
transition from work to family time.
Connect with others.
Perry: The change in physical environment is going to be a big change
even for people who are used to working remotely. At work, you may feel
a sense of connection to people even if you don’t even talk to them. You
at least have their presence, and we’re going to miss that in the coming
weeks. One of the biggest concerns in the remote work literature is
isolation, and while individuals who have families at home might not
feel isolated from people in general, we might feel isolated from our
professional lives and identity.
We’ll have to be more proactive about using technology in a way to stay
connected while still remaining productive. We don’t want to have
virtual meetings for the sake of meetings, but we might want to have
some for the sake of connection. For leaders, check in and make sure
people have resources and that they are doing okay as we all adapt to a
virtual workspace. Try to be proactive about it. Maybe we have a video
call simply to check in for 30 minutes at the end of the day or
whenever, just try to stay connected.
Help children and family adjust.
Perry: With my children, I’m thinking about how to create some type of
structure, taking lessons from our homeschool friends about how they set
up their day. I’ve found that my children and my friends’ children get
excited about reconstructing their own schedule from school at home. So,
let them have some input about what their day should look like, and try
to work your schedule in tandem or in parallel with that.
Scheduling loose blocks of time for tasks throughout the day can help
with this, too. Blocking off time can help you communicate, “for the
next 30 minutes or the next hour, we’re all going to work on this
activity at our separate stations, then meet and redirect. We know it's
possible because a lot of schools have a model where students are
self-directed. You give them direction and then they go do it. However,
we also don’t want to over-schedule, or over-do anything. We need to
enjoy the time that we have with them, and be grateful for that, and
practice gratitude daily as we try to manage all of this.”
In light of everything that we're facing, it’s important to stay
flexible. That’s true for leaders—really try to have flexibility and
allow your employees to figure out how remote work best works for them.
We can't micromanage from afar. We can check in, make sure everyone has
resources, make sure people are doing OK. Some people need a little more
of that than others, but we really need to just adapt and be flexible.
It’s important that everyone should try to be realistic, be clear with
expectations, but also try to be realistic about what's actually going
to happen over the next several weeks. All of us are under a lot of
stress, more stress than normal. So, we just have to have realistic
expectations and recognize that all of us, and our leaders, are
experiencing a learning curve. We need to think about the big picture as
we roll this out, and really keep employee wellbeing as the number one