Seven Tips for Working from Home (when you are not used to working from home...)

You may be working from home for the first time. You might be elated by that—then again, maybe you're not so happy. Many people work remote daily and love it. Others, not so much. Our home is our sanctuary and bringing the day job home and into that sanctuary may not be welcome.

A week ago, the non-profit organization I work for instituted working from home due to Covid-19. My co-workers and I just finished our first week working from home together. During several virtual meetings, I heard comments such as being happy to see someone’s face, feeling lonely and isolated, difficulty getting motivated to work, and struggles with juggling pets and kids and maybe a spouse.

We get it. Truly, we all get it. 

I’ve worked remotely for over two years now, setting up my workspace in my home. Prior to that, as a writer, I’ve worked from home off and on over the years. It’s not for everyone, and yet, those who love it, LOVE IT.

The fact remains that our work lives and our home lives are a bit disrupted when the day job moves into the house. But we can adjust. Really.

I’ve pulled together some tips for newby work-at-homers. Maybe they will work for you.

Maintain your routines. Mimic your work routine at home to your work routine at the office. In this Covid-19 environment, however, if you have a significant other working from home too, or if you are homeschooling your children, this suggestion might be easier said than done. But try. For example, if your day at the office started at 8:30 a.m., start your home workday at that time, too. If you routinely took a 30-minute lunch at 11:45 a.m. daily, then do the same at home. If you were used to a 10-minute walk mid-afternoon, keep that up. If securing your morning cup of coffee before work was important, guess what, it still is. Keep your regular hours and habits in place. If not, you’ll find yourself working around the clock, hunched over your computer at 10 p.m. wearing yesterday's jammies.

Carve out your dedicated workspace. When I was a teacher, I often told my students to find a place at home where they could keep their school supplies and do their homework. Maybe every child didn't have a desk, or even their own bedroom, but if they could carve out a spot on a bookshelf, or a milk crate, or maybe even a backpack to store their school things, it was easier to locate their supplies and do their work when it was time. When children get used to doing their homework at 7 p.m. at the kitchen table, they know where their stuff is, and what they are supposed to do there.

My office.
Same thing goes for adults.

You might not be able to devote an entire room to your office like I do. Maybe you are temporarily using the dining room table or your recliner and a side table. Up to you. Carve out your space and claim it. Have the rest of your family do the same, so everyone understands where they work, and when (routine again).

That said, I’ve also found it beneficial to move around from time to time. Even though I may have my home base, I find different spaces juice up my creativity and sharpen my focus. We all need a change of pace sometimes, so if removing yourself from the recliner when that situation is getting old or your lower back is starting to ache, it’s okay to take the laptop to the deck, or the sunroom, or even to the garage if need be. Sometimes a change of scenery is a great mental health break, too.

Take mental health breaks. Speaking of a mental health break…. Get out of the house. Walk the dog. Pick up sticks in the yard. Water the flowers. Take a few 10-minute breaks when you can.

Can’t go outside? Get up from your chair and change out the laundry in the washer and dryer. Empty the dishwasher. Run the vacuum. Fold the laundry.

The thing is, we get up and move around in the office more than we think. We move to another office for a meeting. We get up for coffee or water. We check the mail, deliver something to a co-worker, put a note on someone’s desk, go to the bathroom, run downstairs for a snack. We move around quite a bit.

So, do that at home too. Your brain needs a break as much as your butt. Get up. Move around. Stretch. Bonus: Some of those chores that used to be waiting for you at the end of the day may already be finished!

Equipment yourself. Having what you need at home in order to do your work is important. Did your employer set you up with peripheral work support? Do you have the large monitor like you had in the office? A printer? Headset? Access to IT support?

Do you have the necessary communication tools to keep in touch with co-workers and teams? If your employer didn’t set you up with what you need, ask. It doesn’t hurt to try. If you can hook into some of your personal equipment or tools (say, a monitor or printer) and you don’t mind doing so, it may make your work-at-home life easier.

Don’t have a headset or earbuds but think it may help drown out the background noise in the house?

Try it out and perhaps ask if the company can support you on this, too. If not, maybe some items can be a tax write-off. Not sure. Ask your accountant for your situation.

Nothing is worse than trying to do a good job without the proper equipment. Make sure you set yourself up for success.

Continue coworker contact. You’re remote, yes, but work goes on—it’s just different. That messenger service that you never used in the office? Suddenly it may become important. Learning how to use those Zoom breakout rooms might also serve you well. Have you tried Google Hangouts yet to host a meeting? Can you patch in conference calls on your cell phone? Do you utilize texting and phone and email appropriately? Are you prepared every day to jump on a conference call at 9 a.m.? (In other words, are you dressed, decent, and ready?)

The kinds of contact you will have with your co-workers moving forward are different. Find out what tools your teams are using and learn how to use them well. Your office may have preferred communication tools and strict protocol for how to use—and maybe you’ve never really needed to try them out before. This is the prime time to learn how to use and put them to good use.

Besides, seeing your co-workers faces on a zoom call may mean more to you that you realize, in a couple of weeks.

Deal with distraction. Pets and children and neighbors and significant others—Oh my! Birds tweeting out the window. The Amazon delivery truck. Your spouse mowing the lawn. The phone ringing in the other room. Your mother pinging you on Facebook...

Kids are hungry, hurt, cranky, fighting, wining, and underfoot. Or maybe that is your spouse. Maybe it’s you! Distraction can wreak havoc with your schedule and your day.

Generally, we can’t control some distractions. What we can control, is how we react to them.

Plan for those distractions and consider how you will deal with them when you...well, when you can't.

Have snacks close by (for kids and the dog, cat) so you can toss to them during a conference call.

Walk the dog (and maybe the kid) right before your important meetings so they are properly exercised and maybe a little tired. With any luck, they may take a nap! Remember, exercise is good to clear your brain, too.

Has Fluffy taken up personal residence on your keyboard (or your lap, ankles, research materials, in your snack drawer...)? Try giving Fluffy some attention, then distract with a treat or a favorite toy. If you can safely tuck her into a spare room for a bit, meowing notwithstanding, you might try that.

Chaos suddenly erupting and you have 10 minutes until an important conference call? Remind everyone of their designated work spaces—and kindly request that everyone stay in theirs, preferably working or doing homework, for a period of time. Schedule kids’ quite times at the same time as your conference call.

If all fails, gift yourself with noise-canceling headphones.

As for your significant other? You’ll have to decide what kinds of treats or distractions work best there. 😊

Be Flexible. All the planning in the world and of course, no two days are the same. Drop back and punt and try again.

The best laid plans, they say…

Man plans and God laughs, I’ve been told…

Remember, you can always change the plan—but only if you have a plan to start with.

Enough said.

Be well, all, and have a good work week.