A Newbie’s Guide for Working From Home

By now, a few months into COVID-19, many employers around the globe have instituted work-from-home policies. If you are new to working from home, it can be tricky to get into a groove. It can initially throw you off – you can stay in bed a little longer since you don’t have a commute, you may feel like you are on a holiday, you may struggle to get started each day. Right now the LAST thing anyone needs is another reason to stress and if you are new to working from home, you may be worried or unsure how to set yourself up for success. If that’s you, you’re in the right place.

Who am I to tell you how to work from home? I am an almost 20-year veteran of working remotely and early on I made all the mistakes one can make as a remote worker. I have been very fortunate to work remotely for the better part of the past 20 years, as a small business owner, a freelance contractor, and as a corporate employee. Given that experience, I know what to do and what not to do to make remote work productive and enjoyable. Here are my top tips for working from home.

  1. Find a dedicated “office space” – While it can be nice to work from the sofa or bed on those days when you feel lazy, it is not a good long-term strategy. You need to be upright to be most alert and have a mindset of productivity. Find a place where you can set up that has good lighting (preferably a good mix of task and natural light). It may be your dining table, a bar counter in the kitchen or an actual desk. You should have enough room for your laptop or tablet, notebook, beverage and any paperwork. If the only flat surface is your coffee table, by all means set up there but be sure to stay in an upright position – no laptop on the stomach.
  2. Pull yourself together – At a minimum, you should brush your teeth, comb your hair, and wash your face. Just because you don’t have to go to the office doesn’t mean you should skip your morning hygiene routine. I recommend at least putting on eyeliner and lip balm (ladies) or shaving (gentlemen) as these actions will signal your brain that it’s time to show up for work. This leads to my next tip.
  3. Get dressed – It is all about mindset. We are more motivated and more focused when we have on real clothes. Not pajamas, not yoga pants, but actual clothes. Working from home means you can skip the heels, the tie, or whatever other restrictive or uncomfortable clothing item you wear but wearing something that is polished will help you feel better AND ensure you are camera-ready for any video conferences.
  4. Get connected – Working remotely is still a novel idea for many and, sadly, there is still a bias towards it. Due to the lingering stigma of remote work, it is vital to be as available during work hours as you would be in a physical office.
    • Have your laptop or tablet camera enabled and be ready to be on it. *Now you understand why tips #2 and #3 are important. 😁
    • Be sure your phone is turned on, charged up, and close by.
    • Be responsive to instant messaging – Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and WhatsApp are all great tools to remain connected in a remote work world but you can send the wrong message if your status shows ‘Available’ and you never respond to incoming instant messages (IMs). Get in the habit of using appropriate status labels. I am a big fan of ‘Be Right Back’ when I have a need for more coffee, need to take the dog out, or am away from my desk for a moment.
  5. Set a routine – Just like a morning routine when you go to an office, you should have one for when you work from home. Maybe your morning ritual includes walking the dog while the coffee brews, maybe it’s a workout, or maybe it’s making time to write in your journal and plan the day. Whatever it is, it should energize you for a productive day.
  6. Shhhhhh! – Do your level best to maintain a quiet environment during work hours. If you don’t have a separate office space, away from household noise, set expectations with family members to use “inside voices”.
    • I have a friend who pins signs to her office chair stating “Now” and “Not Now” which let her kids (6 and 9) know when they can approach her desk.
      • PS – If you are struggling to explain COVID-19 to your younger children, check out this comic from NPR.org.
    • If you have pets, consider having extra special treats to give them when you have a video call or meeting. A Kong stuffed with something yummy is great for dogs and a catnip cuddler can keep your cat occupied.
  7. Consider the scene – We’ve all seen this guy and while it is adorable, it’s not the optimal message to send to clients and colleagues. If you don’t have an office door that you can close (and lock?), a simple well-lit spot with minimal distractions (see #6) in the background is fine.
  8. Commit to discipline – Working from home is NOT a day off, but it does allow for a bit more flexibility. As such, it is important to plan your day. Use a calendar or tracker to ensure you maintain the same or better cadence of work (or better) as you would from the office. Don’t give your nervous manager any reason to doubt your commitment or ability to produce the same results as if you were working in the office.
  9. Silence the screen – It can be intoxicating when you start working from home. You have access to movies or television and may be tempted to watch whatever you are bingeing, but that can be a massive time suck. These days, it can also increase stress due to the 24-hour news cycle. Don’t even turn the thing on. If you need background noise, use music at a low volume and preferably instrumental.
  10. Get a jump on the day! – Consider starting your day early. Getting into the habit of waking up an hour or two earlier than normal can make you significantly more productive. Whether you use this time to prepare for your workday, you get a solid workout in, or you use this time to write in your journal, rising earlier seems to give you a bit of extra time in that finite 24 hours we all have.
  11. Avoid a snack attack – Working from home gives you full access to your kitchen. Let’s add the fact that many of us are stress eating right now. All this adds up to the potential to easily overeat. Be mindful of what you are eating and when. Use your lack of commute as an opportunity to make a healthy breakfast each morning. Watch your snacking and if you do eat between meals, choose something that offers the right ratio of protein carbs and fat, like these.
    • Try to have your midday meal away from your desk, if possible. For those of us with clients in all time zones, lunchtime meetings make this impossible so try to schedule a few moments for an out-of-office break, even if all you do is walk around the block.
  12. Move it or lose it – Working from home may mean that you are sitting for longer periods of time than you normally do. If you are not in the office, you may not walk to lunch, swing by the break room, or pop over to a colleagues office. Before you know it, you’ve been sitting in the same spot for 4 hours. Since it has been reported that “sitting is the new smoking” in terms of health habits, be sure to schedule time to move. Get up, go refill your water bottle (you are remembering to stay hydrated, right?), stretch, touch your toes, whatever gets you up and moving. Apps like Breaktime or StandUp are great tools to alert you when it’s time to walk away from the computer.
  13. Find your tribe – If you are the kind of person that thrives on the physical presence of coworkers, consider setting up a virtual support system. Having other remote workers, coworkers or friends, on whom you can rely, to keep you on task or ensure you take a break, can be helpful. Engaging in virtual “coffee talk” can be a great way to start your day.

The key to working remotely, whether from your home, a relative’s place, or a vacation rental is to operate in as seamless a way as possible. If your client can’t tell whether you are in a cubicle or in the kitchen, you are doing it right!

Finally, indulge me on my soapbox for a moment – Yes, the COVID-19 situation can be scary.  There is a lot of misinformation flying around and we don’t know how serious this will be or how long it will last. All we can do is be kind, be smart , and focus on what we can control – our reactions, our mindsets, and our behavior. We are all in the together and we will get through it the same way- together.

As always, thanks for stopping by!

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