Because of coronavirus many people are now going to be working from home. I realize this is not something that everyone can do, but if your industry and office is encouraging it… welcome to the WFH club. When I quit my job back in 2013, I went from working in an office with a bunch of women, sharing a small space, navigating the office politics and office etiquette to completely working for myself and by myself overnight. It was a huge transition and a night and day difference.
Obviously many people aren’t working for themselves and everyone is going to have a different experience depending on what they actually do for a living. I’m going to try to share what works for me, in the hopes that maybe a tidbit or two helps you make the transition easier.
In full disclosure, today marks a day where my own work-from-home career will look a little different. I’m also having to figure out what this looks like for me in a) a time of crisis and b) with social distancing. My usual schedule is out the window and what my work is going to actually entail is completely up in the air! So I’m also going to be figuring this out even more with you. The typical “go to a coffee shop to break things up!” no longer applies.
(Also worth noting that I have no children so I can’t offer help on how to work from home while your children are also home from school. I…. am sending you all the positive vibes because I can’t even begin to imagine the added difficulty this will bring.)
1. Be patient with yourself & with your colleagues
This is a HUGE one. If it’s new for you, it’s likely also new for your boss(s) and your coworkers and the people you manage. One of my friends is a teacher and they’re transitioning into virtual learning; the entire school has adopted the motto: one day at a time. This is applicable to everyone. Things are going to change, things may get better, things may get worse. But everyone is in this together. Give yourself some leeway as you try to figure out how this is going to work for you (you will find things that work and things that don’t work, all are steps in the right direction) and also extend that grace to the people you work with. I always think it’s best to assume the best in people, especially in a time of uncertainty.
I know that when I was just starting to work from home I went ALL IN. It wasn’t a perfectly smooth transition, but over time I figured it out.
2. You may get more done in less time.
One of the biggest eyeopeners for me was how much time I was wasting in an office. Then I’d feel guilty if I got to hour five and everything for the day was done… instead of realizing that I had worked incredibly productively with very, very little distractions to get in my way. Maybe this won’t happen to you, but it’s just something to be mindful of.
I’m going to throw in a slightly alarmist piece of advice here too. It’s not meant to totally scare you, but I would absolutely keep this top of mind in the coming weeks. Globally, we’re going to see a major financial hit– not sure what the extent of it is going to be, but my gut is saying that it’s going to be bad. Now is not the time to do the bare minimum at a job. Especially as it’ll be easier to get away with doing the bare minimum, don’t. Companies may very well have to make difficult decisions about what jobs are extraneous. Make it known that YOU are not expendable– maybe you end up taking on additional roles and responsibilities, maybe that just means doing what you need to do exceptionally well. Don’t “hide” behind your computer– put your fingerprint on everything you can, speak up on the conference calls so your voice is heard as an active participant, stay on top of what’s being asked of you and then some, seek out solutions not point out problems. Have a great attitude even in times of uncertainty. See this as an opportunity to shine more than anything else.
3. Set a schedule.
I’m keeping this kind of broad, but basically what I’m saying is like “Work From Home 101”: set a schedule. To be totally honest, setting a schedule is going to look different for everyone. Mike works from home a lot and his schedule is almost always dictated by virtual meetings and phone calls so he fits in his to-do work in between what’s already locked in. My days are more open-ended and require a bit of planning on my end.
If you have stuff locked in on a daily basis, bam, there’s your schedule. If you have more flexibility, come up with a game plan for the day and stick to it as best you can, though don’t feel like you have to if urgent things come up. I like to set my schedule so the most tedious tasks are done first thing in the morning because it’s when I’m most alert and then as the day wears on I move on to easier things.
4. Have a morning routine and stick to an end time.
I am a firm, firm believer in having a morning routine to kickstart your morning. I have a tendency to want to jump right into work, but over time I have found it healthier to stick to an established routine that mentally prepares me for the day. I’m not shooting with my photographer for the time being so I’ll be following my non-shooting day schedule. A big tip? Do something productive that’s non-work related right off the bat. I do a couple of French lessons with DuoLingo and love that it gets my brain going without being consequential to work.
Setting an end time is the hardest part for me. Because your home is now your office, it can feel like you should be doing more. When you work in an office, there’s almost always a differentiation between when you leave the office and you switch from work mode to home mode. The line is blurrier without the commute. (Though I’m sure you’re used to have work email on your phone pinging you all the time.) It’s important to set an end time for working though when you’re going to mentally switch from work mode to home mode. Doesn’t mean you can’t still check that work inbox on your phone, but switch into that nighttime routine as you would if you left the office.
I try to do something physical to make that transition feel “real.” I’m actually figuring this out right now as I typically go somewhere like taking a workout class or going to the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner. While I practice social distancing those are off the table! I think I’m going to do a post-work trip to the park with the pups, weather permitting. But… I’ll see how things go this week to figure it out.
5. Hone in on communication challenges from the get go.
If you’re used to working in person with your colleagues, you may find that you all communicate differently over text-based communications. I’d warn getting too casual, even if the office is having fun with their new Zoom meetings and everything. Participate but, as Brene Brown would say, set boundaries. Like I would only do video meetings from one spot in my house that didn’t offer a full view of where/how I lived and maybe I’d show off my dog on day one and then make sure he’s behind a closed door all other times. I don’t know. Feel it out, but things can get more personal than you’re used to.
You may also find that you and your boss are struggling because now you’re emailing all the time instead of having one-on-one face time. Suggest adding a video-conference call once a day to check in. Or maybe someone who works under you is, like, not responding to your Slack messages in a timely manner and you have to figure out why it’s not working for him. I imagine while entire offices are making transitions at once, there WILL be communication problems from the start. Flush it out early. Don’t wait five days and then have your blood boil over from him not responding to you.
6. Don’t snack.
Easier said than done. I try to work away from the snacks because when they’re out of sight they’re…. less on my mind. Not completely but less. I actually use snacks/foods to break up my day so I’m not mindlessly eating at my desk while I work and look down to find the entire bag of chips gone. (Trust me, I know, this has happened.) Instead I start my day with a rough idea when and what I’ll eat and work that into my schedule. Right now I’ve been doing morning coffee to start my day, a bowl of oatmeal around 10 or 11am, lunch (eggs & rice or a sandwich) at 12 or 1pm, an espresso drink at 3pm, a green juice at 4pm, and then dinner around 7pm.
Don’t snack, but do keep water nearby. It’ll help you from snacking and it’ll force you to pee a lot and get you up from your desk with relative frequency.
7. Use Siri to set alarms.
I LIVE AND DIE BY MY ALARMS. I have an anxious habit of checking the time like a compulsion and it is extremely distracting– I can’t focus if I’m obsessed with what time it is and making sure I’m not late for something (a call, a meeting, when I would need to leave for XYZ). What started as a coping mechanism for that anxiety turned into my best productivity tool. I set at least ten alarms a day not including my actual wake up alarm. For example if you have a call with your boss scheduled for noon and you know you’re going to be knee-deep in writing and don’t want to lose track of time, set an alarm for 11:58 when you know you’ll have to stop what you’re doing to dial in. Give yourself the permission to then not think about the time because you know your alarm will cue you into the next task. I don’t know… works for me and it may work for you too!
8. Side bar with a text chain.
This is extremely important to me because I don’t have traditional coworkers. I fake it with Kelly and Mitch. We text all day long as if we’re coworkers hanging out at the water cooler. Especially if you’re used to seeing your work wife or work besties all day every day, you may miss them. Side bar and try to keep that camaraderie alive. I think this is especially relevant considering tensions may be high, people may be more stressed due to uncertainty, and the news looks really, really scary. Share the positives, joke, send that funny meme you saw on Facebook. As with any kind of office politics, don’t gossip or do anything that might kill the culture.
9. Schedule SOMETHING socially-minded after work.
I’m an extreme introvert. When I worked in an office, I’d come home every night and not want to talk to ANYONE. Then I started working from home and actually wanted to see people after work. I could finally, really date and I would go out to dinner with my friends because I had stored all that social energy up throughout the day. I am not suggesting you go out (please don’t: stay in.), but schedule something at the end of the day to get that social touch in. Facetime with friends, do a Google Hangout, call your mom. Talk it out with someone.
10. Limit social media.
Now that Big Brother isn’t watching, I think it’s easier than ever to find yourself mindlessly scrolling through your phone. You may be dialing into conference calls that would have been normal in-person meetings otherwise but now you can mute your microphone and scroll through social media instead of paying attention. Or maybe that 10 minute Insta-break somehow turned into 45 minutes of watching a monkey play with slime on Tik Tok (this somehow actually happened to me once). Use your phone’s screen time controls to limit your social media usage throughout the day if you can’t control your scrolling. (And don’t feel bad if you succumb to watching just one more version of the renegade dance– these apps are literally designed to trick your brain into getting lost. So it’s not your fault.)
So this may not be the case for everyone, but I often work with background noise on. I put TLC or Dr. Phil or some other kind of shitty television show that I have zero, zero, zero interest in just as some kind of noise in the background. Maybe it’s just a favorite, upbeat Spotify playlist or an acoustic channel. Don’t put on a movie you love or a show you’ve never seen or (especially now) the news unless you’re okay with being completely distracted all day.
11. Don’t “feel gross.”
Everyone is going to say: put on real clothes! Honestly, you don’t have to if it doesn’t work for you. Do you need to do your hair and put on makeup or wear what you’d normally wear to the office? Probably not. I wear jeans and a sweatshirt almost every day when I’m working from home because it’s what I’m most comfortable in. The threshold for me is that I cannot “feel gross” though. So that means washing my hair and shaving my legs, not wearing the pajamas I wore to bed the night before (not opposed to working in other pajamas though if the mood strikes). Sometimes that means blow drying my hair, though usually not styling. Or putting on mascara and filling in my eyebrows, but not full foundation and bronzer.
I just can’t work if I “feel gross.” Whatever that means to you do, go for it. And hey! Maybe you’re fine going four days without washing your hair and working in the same pair of leggings three days in a row. You do you! You’re home and no one else is there to judge you.
12. How to work with a partner at home too.
One thing that is definitely different in this period of time compared to RNC (regular non-corona) Life? A lot of people are working from home... not just you. Your roommates may be sharing the kitchen table with you. Your partner may also be working from home. Your upstairs neighbor with lead feet and your downstairs neighbors with a now homebound and fourth grader may also be working from home. Mike works from home frequently (at least once a week) so we’ve gotten into a good rhythm but it’s still hard at times. (And I imagine that with the added stress of the world right now and the fact that we’re cooped up in the house for who knows how long working together for just as long, not every moment is going to be perfect.) I really, really, really do not want to talk to anyone and he likes to tell me about every single detail of every phone call (if you’re reading this Mike: Loooooove you 😂!). Again, channel your inner Brene Brown and SET BOUNDARIES. Just because I close the door to the room where I’m working doesn’t mean I’m not your friend (roommate) or don’t love you (partner). Maybe you’re the person who likes to be chatty and someone closes a door on you… be honest about what’s driving you crazy and what you want and need from your fellow work-from-homers. And again, also be receptive to the fact that you may be driving them crazy too.