I have been working from home for close to two years. The majority of that time was not for full-time, every day work. But since I’ve been doing this for awhile, it’s interesting for me to hear the difficulties some are having with working from home for an extended period of time.
There are, of course, extenuating circumstances that have caused this shift, but the pendulum will swing back the other way. It will just take a little time. And when that happens, a new re-adjustment will need to take place.
In my previous jobs, I had some opportunities to work from home (rarely, but the opportunities were there). When I was snowed in for more than a week due to a blizzard, I had no other choice. During those times, I learned a lot about how not to do things. Since we are now in week 2 of the mandatory work from home for some people, I decided to share my thoughts.
DRESS FOR WORK
I have been doing freelance consulting work for most of the last two years and that is very different from office life (which I’ve done for more years than I would like to mention). When freelancing, your time is not necessarily set, although there are days where you might be pulling 8-10 hours or more. But there are also days where you can decide to do some work in the morning and some work in the evening, but go out and run some errands during the day. You aren’t expected to have meetings all the time, so you can wear what you want, sit where you want, and have any distractions you want. There is no problem with that at all, because that’s a different mindset than a full-time working from home job.
The first couple of days of working from home, you might be thinking that a t-shirt and sweatpants are going to be your new reality, but you should adjust that mindset. Maybe a day or two to start, but it will be better if you start dressing for work.
More companies are leveraging messaging and chat platforms for work. If there is a possibility that you are pulled into a quick video call, you want to make sure that you have the appearance that would portray you in a more positive way. You probably don’t want your boss to see the t-shirt that you first started wearing more than 20 years ago that has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. Does this mean that you should be wearing uncomfortable clothes and shoes? No, it does not. Unless there is some reason that your feet might be on camera, I would say go with whatever is most comfortable. But for your day to day outfits, just be mindful of what might be on camera. If you have a comfortable shirt that would look good enough on an emergency call, then wear that.
I think it’s good to dress for work because it helps put you in the “office” mindset. This isn’t a day for goofing off or sitting around doing nothing. There is work to be done, so you should make sure you “feel” the part.
KEEP YOUR ROUTINE
In order to keep your mind fresh while still in the “office” mindset at home, it’s good to keep your routine. If you normally take a 30 minute lunch, continue to do the same. The temptation might be there to just eat while you’re working, but if that is not your normal routine, don’t do it. Your mind will need the familiarity of the break, and it will help with your productivity in the long run. If you normally take breaks during the day with co-workers, continue to do that if possible. Maybe it’s having a video conference or picking up the phone and talking, but try to keep that routine going. Some jobs result in the need for “venting” time with co-workers, and that should not change. If your office has a tradition for the end of week, try to keep that going. It will be beneficial to keep the camaraderie and social interaction, and will help you stick to your normal routine.
This is one thing that I would recommend you do that might not be the same as your normal routine. Not everyone has the same setup at home as they do at the office, so adjusting to a different desk, different chair, different monitors, etc. can be overwhelming. If you are able, it would be good to move around every hour or so. Get the blood flowing, help get your mind re-focused. If your home setup is not as comfortable as your office setup, you might be pinching a nerve, tensing up more than usual, stressing out more than you normally would. Moving around can help relieve some of the tension and can help keep your muscles from tightening up too much. Moving around can be both a physical and mental benefit.
SHOW YOUR FACE
If you are working for a company that is leveraging video calls/conferencing, try to show your face when you can (if possible). If you are used to social interactions at work, this can help more than random emails or messages. If you “see” your co-workers, it will feel more like an office setting, which can lead to either more or less stress, depending on who that other person is. But overall, if you are used to seeing people, you should continue to do so. It will just be in the non-traditional way.
I know this is probably an obvious one, but I think it still needs to be said. Be understanding. There is a lot of stress and tension. Some people are more comfortable and go with the flow, while others have more extreme thoughts and fears. People who are usually calm might be more quick to anger. They might yell. They might say things they wouldn’t normally say. Be understanding. You might get angry much quicker than usual. You might snap at co-workers, or at the people you are living with. People who you are living with might get angry and snap at you. Be understanding. Don’t get overcome with all of the negatives. Don’t let them persist and grow. Take a step back and think about how things would be under normal circumstances. Be understanding.
DON’T CREATE DISTRACTIONS
When you have the freedom of working from home, you might feel that it is the perfect time to catch up on some TV shows, movies, books, etc. You should try to avoid all of that. While it might be nice to binge watch your favorite series while you are working, it will take away from your effectiveness. When you are working, you should keep your focus there. Don’t try to bring distractions where they shouldn’t be. If you normally listen to music at work, then continue to do that. Just don’t bring in other distractions simply because you are home. If you want to catch up on some things, you can always use the break time or lunch time to get some of that in.
DON’T WORK OUTSIDE OF NORMAL HOURS
This is a tough one, but it’s one that I did not do when I had the occasional work from home days. If I would normally leave the house by 6:30 in the morning, I would sit down and start working at 6:30. If I didn’t get home until 7:00, I would stay working until 7:00. Instead of having an 8-9 hour day, I would end up working 12+ hours with no lunch (I would just have something that took less than 5 minutes to prepare and eat while I worked).
If you continue to do that, you will burn yourself out very quickly. Think of when you normally arrive at work as your start time. And when you would normally shut your computer down, shut it down. Your normal travel time is some “you” time. You can use that time to sleep, exercise, read, catch up on shows, spend more time with loved ones, etc. It’s something special that won’t be there once you have to go back to work, so take advantage of it while you can.
This is not a normal blog for me, but I have had some learnings over the years and thought I could share. By the way, thank you to anyone who is still reading this.
There will be good days and bad days. There will be days where you wish you were in the office and days you wish you never had to go back. There will be times when you just want to scream at your monitor, or at your co-workers, or at the people around you. Try to think of the good things that can come from this experience. You might be able to find common ground with a co-worker you never saw eye to eye with. You might be able to get in a little more exercise now that you don’t have to be stuck in traffic for a couple of hours each day. You might have time to try making something for breakfast or dinner other than a microwave meal. Finding one positive thing can help make your day better. Be positive. Stay positive.