Tips for those who are new to the scene
This is the first in a series of posts where we will discuss the various aspects of working from home. For anyone who cannot work from home: we are so grateful for everything you are doing to keep us safe, fed, operational, and healthy. We hope that by staying out of your way as much as possible, we can contribute in turn to your safety and health.
The coronavirus pandemic is introducing many people to the sometimes wonderful, sometimes malodorous world of telecommuting. If you are fortunate enough to be able to work from home, you know by now that you must. Not just for yourselves and for your families, but for the many, many people who still need to physically go in to work to keep the rest of us safe and fed. The emptier public spaces are, the safer they will be for the nurses, doctors, grocery clerks, animal caretakers, etc. who are required to venture out into them.
But for some of those who are new to working from home, the prospect is daunting. Where will the motivation come from? How will work get done with the thousand comforting distractions available at home? Why bother showering? In order to help, here are tips for staying sane and productive, from a work-from-home veteran.
Be kind to yourself
It seems simple, but it can be the hardest task on this list. If you thrive in an office setting, you might find the transition difficult. Do what you can, communicate with your manager if you are having trouble, and ask about prioritization if the workload becomes overwhelming. More specific tips are below.
The same goes for your off-hours. Some of your friends might be posting on social media about using their evenings to learn a new language or take up a new hobby or write a great novel while you are just catching up on Star Trek. Both attitudes are fine, and Star Trek is a great show. Give yourself a break.
Keep to a routine
Most experts advise you to shower in the morning, get dressed, and get ready for your workday as if it was just like any other day (though I would add that you can absolutely skip wearing your office gear if you want to). This is great advice for people who are new to working from home, because your brain has trained itself to prepare for “work time.” If you are able, it is also a good idea to go for a walk (staying a safe, 6-foot, social distance from people!) around your neighborhood to simulate commuting, or at least to stretch your legs before heading into the “office.”
Eventually, your routine might evolve. For example, you might decide you prefer to shower at lunchtime instead of in the morning. This is fine, just check in with yourself that your new routine is not slipping into distraction territory.
Set up a “workspace”
This is very dependent on your home situation, but the most important aspect of it is: DO NOT WORK IN BED. You need to get out of bed. Even if you are stuck working in your bedroom, it is better to sit on a chair next to the bed than to sit in the bed. Working in bed can lead to insomnia, since it will be harder to shut off your brain when you lay down to sleep at the end of the day.
A dedicated workspace is best when possible – even if it is just “this couch cushion is my work couch cushion, the other cushion is for macramé.” If you are cohabitating with roommates, partners, or older kids, this can also help them learn not to bug you when you are in your “work chair.”
If you are quarantined with young children – I admire you and I know you are doing the best you can.
Keep in touch
If you like and miss your coworkers, consider arranging weekly meetings just to chat. Little interactions in the office that we take for granted can be socially important, and a Skype or Zoom gab session can really make a difference for feelings of isolation.
On the work side, it is vital to stay connected with your manager in order to ensure you are aligned on work. It is too easy from home to get sidetracked on one project, when they think you should be working on something else. Furthermore, a good manager will understand that these are stressful times, and that even normally productive employees can sometimes feel paralyzed by the enormity of what is happening. Keep them updated and refer back to the first tip.
Maintain work-life balance
When working from home, it can be too easy to lose any semblance of balance. You start working when you wake up, and answer emails until you go to bed. This may work for a few days, but soon enough you’ll start to feel burnt out. Try and set reasonable limits for yourself, like turning off your computer at 5pm, or turning off push notifications for your email. Small steps like these can help regain a sense of balance to your day.
Above all else, remember that it is okay for there to be a learning curve as you become a work-from-home pro. The world is stressful right now, and adding in a new work environment just compounds that. Do yoga. Watch a sitcom. Eat a brownie. Video chat a friend. Taking care of yourself during this time should be your first priority, and the rest will fall into place.