Here you are, sitting at your table or on the couch, working from home. In the time before COVID-19 it’s likely that your organization didn’t allow working from home long-term, but in the blink of a week or so, here we are. It’s a smart policy now to allow (or require) those who can work from home (WFH) to do it.
My team and I have been virtual since Rick came on board in 2005, so we have lots of experience in making working from home work. (We do have an office, but only three of the 21 of us are there usually, and it’s closed now for the foreseeable future).
We thought we’d share with you some tips and tricks that work for us to help your transition be more successful.
If you don’t have a designated office space in your home, create a space that feels “apart.” Even if it’s your kitchen table, set yourself up in the morning, and then close it all down at night. Having a work space separate from your home space make a big difference in keeping your mind at work during work hours, and off of work when you’re “home.”
Initially you might start working on the sofa, but after a day or two of that, your body isn’t going to thank you. Ergonomics are important, so sit at a real desk and chair for the majority of the day.
Stick to a routine. Start at 9:00 (or 8:00 or whenever your day usually starts), and quit at 5:00. It may be tempting to keep on going if you’re on a roll, and doing it once in awhile isn’t a bad thing if your creative juices are propelling you forward. Just don’t make a habit of it or you’ll get burnt out.
Create a ritual that makes you feel like you’re heading off to work. For some, it may simply be brushing your teeth, walking into a different room, or exchanging slippers for shoes. Other folks may need to put on actual “work clothes” to get in a work frame of mind.
Kitchen management is really important. Some of my team pack themselves a lunch at night or in the morning, just as they used to when they worked outside the home. This helps encourage better food choices during the day and prevents them from grazing when lunchtime rolls around.
Keep healthy snacks in the house like pre-cut fruit, baby carrots, and low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese, and avoid buying chips and cookies to keep the “WFH Freshman 15” off of your mid-section. After big-candy holidays, pack up leftovers for your significant other or a family member to take into their office (if it’s still open) so it’s not sitting around tempting you. Have some gum around the house to keep your mouth occupied but not snacking.
Now that the practical matters are out of the way, here are some things that make working from home truly enjoyable for my team while helping us avoid cabin fever.
Follow the sun
One of my colleagues likes to follow the sun around her house by moving her laptop near the sunniest window. It keeps changing up her view, which is an added bonus. Another sets up shop on her deck during the warm summer months. For me, I have a little table on my enclosed front porch that gives me the same indoor-outdoor feel, and I can get a little Gladys Kravitz-ing in at the same time.
If you don’t have a view, consider swapping out pictures on the wall or buy some flowers to add cheer and keep your workspace interesting.
Get up and walk around
Don’t forget to take stretch and eye breaks. You’re not going to be visiting the office kitchen or water cooler, so you probably won’t get as many steps in as you usually do, nor will you change your eye focus from short distance to middle and long distance as much.
Set an alarm to remind you to get up and stretch regularly (Mac folks can try Time Out) and consider taking a walk around the block at lunch or in the afternoon (with your dog if you have one!) on nice days. Fresh air is a great contributor to staying focused.
Other things you can do on a short break or at lunch include throwing a load of laundry in the washer or weeding your garden. You might as well be doubly productive during the day and leave your evenings free for fun!
That being said, avoid procrastination cleaning. And procrastination cat videos. Procrastination just-getting-a-cup-of-coffee-and-oh-look-the-new-magazine-arrived! Promise yourself you’ll look at all of that stuff after 5:00.
Help yourself stay focused
One member of my team who likes to start work early every day showers during their lunch break to recharge for the afternoon.
Another cleans her desk off every Friday, putting papers in files and spraying and wiping the surface down for a fresh start Monday morning. That’s an especially great idea these days!
For folks with young kids who are also home, while it will be distracting to have them in your new office situation, remember that it’s an adjustment for them to get used to being there as well. Try to be patient and grateful for the opportunity to sneak in a hug during a mini-break.
One mom on the team says that it really helps her to take time every evening to prepare a few activities and make a list of things that her child can do the next day so that her child can be directed (or self-direct) a little easier. Also, two parents on the team recommended an amazing, constantly-updated Google doc created by a teacher that outlines free subscriptions your child can access, and there’s another Google doc here with ideas for parents of younger kids.
Don’t eat lunch at your desk
Make a separate space for your work and your lunch break to recharge your mind. I’ll admit that this is probably the hardest one for me, but having a good book or podcast that I’m really excited about is a big help. One tip I learned the hard way is to put any open water glass or tea mug far away from my keyboard where I can still reach it but it won’t do any damage if spilled.
Create a productive atmosphere
If you’re someone who likes to listen to music while you work, play music that motivates you or listen to a radio station that plays great music, educates you, and/or encourages community. Turn off the news when it’s depressing, and put your phone out of reach or in another room so it doesn’t distract you.
I was excited to learn from my colleagues about some apps they use to bring calm and reduce stress in their day. Just because we work from home doesn’t mean we don’t work hard or have tough deadlines, so learning how to manage stress and proactively use tools that help alleviate it are really important for productivity.
Stay connected to other people
Working from home can be isolating, even for the most introverted among us. Here at HBG, we use Zoom’s chat feature to communicate as a whole group, in smaller teams, and also one-to-one. In our group chat we generally have a low-key conversation going on all the time that fluctuates between “work talk” and flat-out laugh-out-loud silliness (especially on Friday afternoons).
One of my colleagues (particularly, but we all do it) likes to drop in random (non-confidential) things he finds in the course of his research that he finds interesting or unusual. As he says, “it’s exactly what you’d do if you were working in an office with other people” and he’s right – it makes for great conversation and contributes to shared team fun. (If he didn’t do that, we all never would have seen the house on Zillow that had a creepy stuffed clown in each photo of every. single. room. of the sale listing. Yeah.)
If a chat room isn’t an option, consider using a video conference instead of a phone call when you talk with co-workers. As the name suggests, FreeConferenceCall.com has one. Or FaceTime with a fundraising friend across town and take a 15-minute coffee break together to catch up. Don’t discount the power of a friendly face to keep isolation at bay.
Join and participate in other groups as well. For work-related activity, there’s always prspct-l or LinkedIn’s Groups to get a conversation going. On the personal side, one of my teammates is part of a Facebook mom’s group that has members from all around the world that has created a great sense of community for her.
Be aware of what’s happening (but don’t let it freak you out)
It’s a thin line between keeping current on COVID-19 and dealing with the anxiety that surrounds that. Fortunately you can easily find reliable sources of information including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, and websites for schools of public health (including Harvard and Johns Hopkins which have been referred by epidemiologists as reliable information sources.)
Practice self-care before you start getting anxious. In the evenings, watch an old sitcom or a favorite silly movie. Read a book that you can’t put down. Take up that new hobby you’ve been putting off trying. FaceTime with a friend.
What tips do you have for others to be successful while working from home? Please share them in the comments for us all to use.