Working from home can be a complete luxury and also a total buzz kill, depending on how you go about it. Unfortunately, in the current time, we are all being encouraged or dictated to work from home for a significant period of time. For some people, this conjures ideas of “staying home” all day and working in your PJ’s with Netflix on in the background. For others, it conjures ideas of complete and utter social isolation and uncomfortableness. Both can be true, but what you do really need to focus on is how to best stay sane when working from home.
As someone who has worked from home predominantly for the past 5 years, plus various on-and-off periods over the past 10 years, and including a 6-week stint with a broken leg where I literally didn’t leave the house, I have tried just about every way of working from home you can think of. These are my top tips in making what can be quite a confronting situation work for you and ensure that you stay productive and positive during a time of serious upheaval.
I believe that routine is everything. It helps us get things done when we really don’t want to, it reduces decision fatigue and stops us from wringing our hands in indecision. Following your normal workday routine is more important than ever – not only does it normalise the situation, but it stops any of us from spiraling in these really uncertain times.
So, whether you always listen to 80’s hair metal on Mondays while you work (guilty) or go for coffee every morning (some coffee shops are doing really innovative things during this crisis) or simply go for a walk every day; stick to your routine. Stick to your normal working hours, stick to only checking email once a day, do whatever you do as normally as possible, even if it is from a different location, and you will feel more in control.
The human brain is fascinating. That feeling when you walk in the door on Friday afternoon and let out a big whoosh of air because the week is finally over – we all need that. So one of the hardest things about working from home is bringing your work INTO your home. The key to solving that is creating designated “work” spaces and “living” spaces – and no, I don’t think that includes working on the couch with Netflix.
One of the best ways to ensure you stay productive and dedicated to your work when you work from home is having a designated space. Space where you work, space which you can shut off and say, that’s done for the next few days. One of the biggest complaints about working from home is that lots of people struggle to switch off when they finish for the day because they are now working in the same space they are living in. So no matter if it’s a dedicated home office, your dining room table or your kids’ bedroom, create a space and dedicate that to being the place where you work. Set it up with an extra monitor, a sit-stand desk if that really floats your boat or even just a nice desk plant; but go there to work. Being able to shut the door at the end of the day and FINISH work is a wonderful thing.
On that note, finishing your workday is actually really important. I think this is true all the time, but particularly if you’re not used to working from home then it’s absolutely paramount. The easiest way to get to burn out is to be constantly working (because you just don’t know anymore when to switch off) and to be emotionally fraught because of the crisis happening around us. Don’t put yourself in that position. Create deliberate hours for you to be in your designated workspace and stick to them. Leave your work phone in that workspace and don’t check it. Give yourself a break and give your brain a break and really carve out time in your home where you are working and where you are not – it will be much better for you in the long run.
Dedication and professionalism
When talking to business owners about why they don’t let more of their staff work from home consistently, the answer is often “because I don’t trust my staff to get things done when I’m not watching them”. The ridiculousness of that statement aside (why would you hire someone if you can’t trust them?!), there’s a lot of fear from your employer right now about what all this remote working and working from home means for their business. Your colleagues are also probably stressed that the projects they have promised to deliver on will be delayed because people “aren’t as dedicated” working from home. The only way to combat this is to demonstrate clear dedication and professionalism every step of the way.
I would recommend that every day you get up and get ready for work, exactly as you would if you were going into the office. Put on proper clothes and wash your face, and “go to work” in your home. Spend more time communicating with your team, whether that is through online chat like Microsoft Teams or on phone or video calls. Turn up to those calls and meetings being held remotely on time and ready to work. Don’t sit in front of Netflix during the day – this is not only a really negative way to behave and not very professional, but you seriously aren’t going to get as much work done. Be available when people expect to be able to contact you (i.e. during the hours that you would normally work) and continue to give 100% to your job, rather than getting distracted by the load of washing that needs doing or the toys that need picking up around the house. There are a time and place for that, and during your work from home, hours is not that time.
A special note on working from home with your partner.
This is one of the more challenging parts of working from home – when it’s not just you at home, but your partner too. And in the current crisis, that’s a real possibility for most people.
My recommendation (having tried this on a number of occasions with my significant other) is to create individual spaces. One of you works from your home office, one from the dining room table. Maybe see if you can line up your schedules for lunch, and if not that’s fine too. Aim for similar start and end times for your day, and both commit to starting and finishing your day properly – there’s nothing worse than having one of you keep working while the other is trying to switch off. As much as possible, follow your previous routine – talk about your day at the end of the day, work in your space during those designated times (read: don’t get distracted by them and just want to be around them all the time) and be especially conscious of each other in your workday – if you usually sing all day while you work (guilty) maybe tone that down just a bit out of courtesy for the other person in the house. A little grace and a little kindness will go a long way in this period.
Do nice things for yourself
Right now, we are all more than a little exhausted. It’s been a really challenging time for all of us, and so making time to do nice things for yourself is paramount to feeling normal and making it through this crisis. Go for a walk in the sunshine and enjoy the breeze. Make yourself a nice lunch at home and read a book while you eat it. Take your mornings a little slower now you don’t have that pesky commute time to compete with, go for coffee and sit for 5 minutes and enjoy the ambiance. Cook rich and nourishing food for your family, take 20 minutes to meditate, take a bath when you finish work (again, no commute!). Whatever you need to do to feel a little cared for and to practice self-care during this time is worth doing so that we can all come out the other side feeling as best we can.
Unfortunately, particularly for those of us in Australia, things are likely to get a little worse before they get better in the current crisis. But there are lots of silver linings to normalising working from home for Australians – maybe this is something you could do one or two days a week (especially now you have a proof case for your employer) that will have a great impact on the way your family works. I hope you can put into practice some of the better things I have learned in working from home over the past few years into your workday, and that you see how we can all make the best of a bad situation and normalise the situation as best we can. All we can do is our best, and that is enough for now.