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8 Tips for Government on Working from Home and Staying Sane

For the past decade, my physical office has been split between Austin, Texas, and an airplane flying above the U.S. My public-sector background taught me a lot about remote and distributed work. Here are my top strategies.

Dustin's Desk
Dustin Haisler's work-at-home desk.
Dustin Haisler

1. Keep the morning routine

Keep your normal morning routine just like you are planning on going to your office, including wearing what you would normally wear. There are many conveniences of working from home but keeping your normal routine and dressing for the occasion will help you stay mentally focused on your tasks for the day.

2. Overcommunicate

We’re used to being able to reply to emails or other communication "in-person" when we walk by an office or see someone at a different meeting, but now it’s important to more effectively communicate virtually. This doesn’t mean you should overwhelm someone’s inbox with simple "OK" replies, but for example, if someone requested something from you and you need more time to work on it, reply and say: “Received, will have to you by end-of-day tomorrow.” This is also critical with citizen outreach right now, as many of our constituents are looking for more immediate answers.

3. Have a dedicated office space

If possible, have a dedicated room with a door that can serve as your office — even a closet can do the trick. If it’s not feasible to have a dedicated office, identify and claim a work area. Having a dedicated space is important so that at the end of the day, you can physically leave your work behind — wherever you decide to do it in your home. Anytime you need to engage in work, even if you have to deal with a call after hours, use your claimed space for this to keep the mental separation between work and home.

4. Establish working hours

Although many of you are currently on-call 24/7, try to establish set hours for routine work calls and meetings and do your best to stick to them. It can be easy to continue to stack up calls during the day well into the evening, but you’ll quickly burn out after a few weeks of not having set working hours.

5. Schedule time to actually do work (and breaks)

When you're remote, your calendar can easily be filled with calls so it’s important to schedule blocks of time on your calendar to do your actual work. I try to schedule two times a day (morning and afternoon) to process email and get through my standard workload. You can also extend this scheduling process to breaks if you need to get outside — while maintaining a safe social distance — for 15 minutes or so.

6. Use headphones to focus

We’re all used to external ambience in our offices, so put on a pair of headphones and find some music or coffee shop ambience that will help you feel like you’re physically in the office.

7. Turn on video when you’re conferencing

I know not everyone will agree with me here, but for those of you that followed Step 1 this should be no problem. We’re all learning to use video conferencing and remote communication tools together during this time, so now is the perfect time to learn and become more comfortable with them. Plus, it will help you better connect with your fellow employees when you’re all virtual.

8. Go for walk (even if it’s on your treadmill)

Even when you’re in the office, you get up countless times to get coffee or visit another department, so now that you’re virtual, go for a walk outside (following CDC guidelines) or on your treadmill to provide a mental break and some new stimuli.

Dustin Haisler is the chief innovation officer of Emergency Management’s parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As chief innovation officer, Haisler has a strategic role to help shape the company’s products, services and future direction. Primarily, he leads e.Republic Labs, a market connector created as an ecosystem to educate, accelerate and ultimately scale technology innovation within the public sector.