So your company has wisely instituted a work-from-home policy, and, as a responsible adult, you’re mostly staying holed up, practicing social distancing, and washing your hands incessantly. That’s a good start.
But…you’ve never worked from home, and you’re not sure what the next few weeks are going to look like. Maybe you have kids at home, too. Or your roommate is also working remotely and there is only one kitchen table (but, thankfully, a coffee maker).
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Let me help: I worked from home for three years as a freelance writer before I took a full-time job at 5280, and I learned a few things about schedules, set-ups, and day-to-day existence when you’re mostly by yourself. Here are some tips for the next few weeks.
Set up your workspace. When I was freelancing full time, I didn’t have kids and lived in a two-bedroom apartment with my wife and cat. Our second bedroom was my office first, and a guest room second. I had a desk I’d bought on sale at Design Within Reach, a laptop with an external monitor, filing cabinets, and a couple of nice windows for natural light. This, of course, is ideal. And this kind of home office is also almost impossible to set up in a short period of time, especially when you’re not going to be working from home forever.
Today, I live in a Denver bungalow with my wife, two boys, and two cats. I don’t have a dedicated office at home—far from it. So I keep my files in my backpack. I try to clear the dining room table and work on my laptop there. Or—and this is no joke—one of my favorite places to work is sitting on my bed (fewer interruptions from my boys). If you’ve got a spare bedroom or small office and you have an external monitor, set that up with a Bluetooth mouse. It’s way more comfortable and productive than working solely on a laptop. With that said, the portability laptops can afford you as you figure out where you want to work at your home—the front porch! the couch! the kitchen counter!—is a fair trade-off.
Set some boundaries. With your significant other and/or your children being at home too, a quick conversation about how this situation is different may be in order. Yes, you’re home all day. No, you can’t spend half of it on a home improvement project that you’ve put off for months. And, if you’re suddenly spending more time with that roommate you barely know (or like best when you barely see them), it’s time to talk about schedules, needs, and who is going to brew the next pot of coffee. Put another way, roommates are now coworkers, too.
Figure out the schedule that works for you and your employer. I’m not a morning person. I hate waking up at 6:15 a.m. I’m not a fan of early meetings or phone calls. So part of me loves this WFH thing. When you’re working from home, you can take advantage of the flexibility to create a daily plan that better fits your body’s rhythms (e.g., no 9 a.m. coffee meetings), but you still have to mostly adhere to the standard 9-5 workday.
When I was working from home full time and I wasn’t exercising that morning, (more on this in a moment), I’d get up, head to my home office, check the news, and read emails and messages that had come in overnight or that morning.
Having cleared my inbox, I would grab a small breakfast, shower (showering can be essential for your mental well-being), and get dressed. Otherwise, it’s easy to fall into the not-showering-sweats-wearing-for-days-on-end trap, which may seem liberating for a bit, but will ultimately fail. Trust me. I’ve been there.
Exercise. Look. Even if you don’t exercise regularly, you might want to start now. Just getting up, getting ready for work, and walking to the bus or light rail or hopping in your car gets you moving, if only a little bit. Now your commute is…from your bedroom to your dining room table. Or basement office. Or maybe your commute consists of sitting up in bed and flipping open your laptop. Regardless, with government officials’ guidance being to stay home as much as possible, you’re going to be moving around a lot less than you were before the novel coronavirus upended our lives. Experts say we can still walk or go for runs if we’re following social distancing practices (staying six or more feet apart). This is the best, easiest way to get some fresh air, elevate your heart rate, clear your mind, and stimulate creativity—so take advantage of Denver’s weather and fantastic park system. Beyond those walks and runs, I’ve read mixed advice about going to the gym, because, well, gyms are ideal breeding grounds for viruses and bacteria in the best of times. (Personally, I’m staying away for the time being.) Instead, you can do quick, bodyweight workouts from home that involve no equipment. My favorite is the New York Times’ Scientific 7-Minute Workout. If you haven’t done it and are just getting in shape, you’d be surprised how effective this circuit workout is. If you are in shape, do it two—or three—times.
Your pet is your (best) friend. When you’ve had a ruff day, give your smol pup a hugg and you will be so happ and snug. Same for your kitty, who will love the warmth of your laptop keyboard and try to “help” you by lying down on it. Roll with it, especially if you live alone. It’s OK. You can bounce ideas off them, too. (And, by all means, take pictures and share them with us at #WFH2020.)
Embrace the phone. I only like talking on the phone with three people: my mom, dad, and brother. If you’re not one of those people, I’d generally prefer you send me a text, a Slack, a DM, or an email. Do not call me, because I will not pick up. That is, unless I’m working from home, in which case I’m starved for human contact and will happily talk with you for 45 minutes, even if I barely know you. So, schedule phoners, even if you normally wouldn’t. It’s good to talk to humans—any humans—during what will be quieter-than-normal workdays.
And, if you’re home alone or just missing your normal water-cooler chats, check in with friends and coworkers like you would in the office. Share news stories. Send memes when you need a laugh. Set up video conferences instead of phone calls (after all, you showered and got dressed!).
Naps? Yay or nay? I think offices should have nap rooms, so this is an emphatic “YES!” for me, but, hey, you’re on your own here. If you get up at 7 a.m. and work for two hours, logic would dictate that a post-lunch power nap would be more than warranted.
If you’re not a napper, a few words about breaks. It’s easy to become inert at home. At the office, you get up and chat with your colleagues about anything and everything. That’s not going to be happening for the next few weeks—and you’re not going to be able to, for obvious reasons, talk about sports and what restaurant you went to last night, even via digital channels, so my recommendation is to set up an app on your computer to remind you to take breaks. Here are three worth trying.
Don’t do things you ordinarily wouldn’t because you’d be at the office. For example, snacking all day. Or doing the laundry instead of finishing that work project. Or deep-cleaning the kitchen (okay, maybe you should do that one). Yes, avoiding these things will be difficult because your stocked fridge and pantry is a few short steps from your home work station, and that laundry basket is piled high, right in front of you. Make time at the end of the day for your household chores, just as you would on a normal day. And avoid the potato chips and bite-size chocolates. At the end of this work-at-home stage, your scale will thank you.