The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak has reached nearly every country across the globe and is heavily affecting international businesses and economies. The viral illness is taking a toll on businesses in the Gulf, where employers are now scrambling to figure out how to keep the workflow going.
With more businesses in the region implementing rules and strategies for employees to safely work from home, we thought it would be a good idea to share a few tips from women who have been doing so long before the virus' outbreak.
It might seem like hell to the extrovert who goes over to the neighboring desk every five minutes, but a few tips and tricks will get you going in no time.
1. Set up a specific area designated solely as an at-home office
This is the one key piece of advice given by every single one of the Arab women featured in this article. Just like at an office, you need to get into the habit of establishing one specific area where you will be spending the vast majority of your time.
"One of the first things I did when I found out I was going to be working from [home] was buy myself a proper work desk," Reina El Turk, a Lebanese content writer who's been working exclusively from home for almost three years, told us.
"I do sit in an open area where my family can interact with me, but I always work from my desk and never on the couch (unless I'm sick or really tired)," she continued.
Zeinab Saidoun, a content creator and social media manager (amongst other things) who's been working from home for a year and half, spoke of a similar truth.
"If your desk is in your bedroom, do your bed and work at your desk. This will help you get into the right mental space," Saidoun advised.
2. Figure out the right background noise that works best for you
Some people need to have their headphones on while working at an office or any crowded space; others can easily concentrate while chatting with their colleagues. If you aren't sure what type of person you are, take a few days to focus and reflect on what kind of surrounding works best in your favor.
For El Turk, an open area with her earphones in works best. "Sometimes having the TV on in the background helps me maintain focus," she says. "White noise and such."
After weeks of experimenting, I, too, realized absolute silence would slowly drive me crazy. I now resort to white noise from an almost mute TV, a washing machine in the nearby kitchen, or simply lofi hip hop beats on YouTube.
3. Routine, routine, routine
One of the most common things office employees take for granted is an established schedule. The typical 9-5 with an hour lunch break seems realistic and doable, though it often takes a while for at-home workers to find a routine they can actually stick to.
El Turk treats it like an office job. "I usually get up and wash up, make coffee and breakfast, and then I eat that while I'm going through my mails. I'm usually on my desk by 9-9:30."
Other people (like me), might find it impossible to concentrate without getting a few household chores out of the way. I have to make my bed, clean up the room, and make breakfast; I'm committed to never spending more than 30 minutes in total before I officially get started on work. You might also find out with time that you're a night owl who gets a creative surge of energy at night after everything has settled down.
"After trying different ways, I found that I'm most productive working within working hours and setting a schedule for myself to religiously stick to," Rayana Khalaf, a former StepFeed contributor, told us.
"Since I work in the creative industry, there are always certain days where I can't get myself to produce much during the day versus feeling a sudden strike of inspiration during the night. So for me, it's all about understanding myself and accommodating my less organized habits, and keeping a balance between embracing the flexibility of my job on one hand and maintaining discipline on the other hand," Khalaf, who's been working from home for almost four years, added.
So again, it's all about knowing the type of work you're doing and figuring out how to successfully spread it out during the day without burning out.
4. Plan your meals ahead of time
You never want to acknowledge it but you spend a significant amount of time thinking about food. And if you've been wanting to follow a healthier approach to your food intake, there's never been a better time. With the proper time management skills, you'll be able to take adequate breaks that allow you to cook fast and easy meals throughout the day.
And if that sounds like something you won't be able to do, you can allocate a specific day of the week to plan and prep your meals for the upcoming days. Either way, do not underestimate your body's needs for proper nourishment, three times a day.
"I make my food at home because it helps me maintain a healthier diet and I keep a bottle of water and a coffee or tea at hand at all times to avoid snacking or overeating," El Turk commented.
5. Be your own boss
Like it or not, you're going to have to discipline yourself from here on out — and sometimes even others around you.
Some family members may still find the idea of working from home strange (hello Arab moms) and maybe even a bit silly, but you have to remind the people around you that you're doing actual work when you're on your computer.
As Saidoun puts it, people at home are often sources of distraction but they need to understand that just because you're physically here does not mean you mentally are too.
And that is what you need to remind yourself of as well. Being at home doesn't mean you can do a load of laundry or have your neighbor over for coffee — you too have to pretend you aren't physically in the house.
6. Get dressed for the day
You might find it funny and unnecessary at first but being in sweatpants all day everyday eventually takes a toll on you, and you'll hear that from everyone who's been working from home for a while.
"Sweat pants are acceptable as long as they're not the ones you sleep in. Getting dressed helps you feel more prepared for the work day," Saidoun told StepFeed.
Similarly, El Turk makes it a habit to actually get dressed everyday. "The perks of working from home is that instead of a uniform or stiff attire, you get to hang in your hoodie and sweatpants, but taking off my pjs and actually putting clothes on helps me refresh and start the day," she said.
Maybe you'll have to put on a favorite pair of jeans or your most worn yoga pants, whatever it is, do not make the mistake of working in your PJs. Trust us on this.
7. Figure out how you're going to make up for the lost social interaction
It's been a few weeks in quarantine and a lot of us are already starting to lose it. Can you imagine what it's like for someone who always works from home?
"Working from home has actually also encouraged me to go out more. When I used to work on location, I would always be too tired to go anywhere after, but now I crave going out and seeing my friends," said El Turk. "I've had friends all over the world for a long time, so I'm used to maintaining long-distance relationships. You just watch the same series at the same time from the ends of the world and react on whatsapp [sic] instead of doing it face to face."
FaceTime your friends and/or family, go out for a walk to get coffee from the nearby café, or watch a movie together - but apart - on Netflix. There are hundreds of things you can do to keep the social interaction going even in times of quarantine, just remember to allocate time in the day to do them.
8. And finally, some random tips from all of us
- If you have instant messaging apps on your laptop (i.e. WhatsApp) turn off your notifications at least at first till you get in the zone.
- Set an alarm to avoid accidentally oversleeping.
- Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that you cannot possibly be productive every second of every day.
- Understand that just because you're doing it from home doesn't make the job any less competitive or stressful.
- Take time to truly understand yourself and your patterns.
- Ask for assessment from your boss or higher-up; this will help you stay sharp.