grumpy pug wrapped in blanket
grumpy pug wrapped in blanket
#WFH #PandemicProblems

Surviving the Working From Home Change

Paul Kiernan

As the weeks go by, the newness, the fun of working at home is probably starting to wear off. These work from home tips will help get you back to the grind.

We here at ThoughtLab are doing our part to contain the spread of COVID-19. We’re working in geographically diverse spaces, which is a fancy way to say we’re working from our respective homes. But, we are working. We’re up and running and taking care of all your needs. We hope you’re being safe and taking care of friends, family, and loved ones. We care about your health and safety so we offer this PSA during this time of crisis.

Surviving the Working From Home Change

During this current pandemic, as opposed to the pandemics of the past, many folks are experiencing something new; working from home. For some, this is old hat. For others, it’s a potentially life-changing new frontier. Even those for whom this is new may find it difficult to transition from office to home, fear not intrepid workers, we’re here to help.

As the weeks go by, the newness, the fun of working at home is probably starting to wear off. What you saw as a short time event is now looking like something you’re going to have to handle in the long run. Now that the thrill of working with no pants is starting to fade, (like that’s possible) you’re going to want to set some guidelines for dealing with this new situation for an extended period of time. Here are some helpful tips.

Get Out of Bed and Make it

Sounds simple, right. Well, as the days wend into weeks, it’s not that simple. Going to the office is a natural divide between your work life and your life. You need to keep that divide going even while at home.

Best way to do this is to keep your work hours during the week. Set the alarm, get up at a normal time and make your bed.

Admiral William H. McRaven has a lot to say about the power of making your bed when you get up in the morning. McRaven, who was a Navy Seal for 39 years, says that if you make your bed in the morning you’ve accomplished the first task of the day. Accomplishing that first task can move you along nicely from task to task for the rest of your day.

But, don’t shrug this off. Don’t just toss the covers around and call it good. Do a job. Make your bed to perfection. Tight corners. Clean lines, pillows placed precisely. The achievement of precision is going to get your mind in that frame for the rest of the day. Rise and shine and make your bed.

Morning Ablution

woman blow drying hair

It can be easy, when working from home, to skip the daily rituals of washing and dressing. Who cares, it’s my stink and only I have to deal with my stink, why bother showering? That, dear friends, becomes a habit. You start with, I’ll shower tomorrow and the next thing you know it has become, I’ll shower on Arbor Day. And, before you know it, the cops are at the door because a neighbor three doors down caught a whiff of death emanating from your house and they sent the cops to do a wellness check. Get up and do what you do when you go to work. Shower, bathe, sponge bath, whatever your morning ablutionary ritual is … do it.

This is Where I Work Now

No longer do you have the morning commute to separate you from home and office. No longer does the bus or train ride take you away from home and then deposit you back again at the end of the day. You now need to create the separation for yourself.

This is important. You don’t want to work just anywhere in your house. If you do that, your whole place will then become the office and you’ll never escape work.

Set up a clear and consistent “office space” for yourself and only do work there. Don’t carry your laptop into the kitchen to make a sammich. Don’t take a meeting on Zoom while you’re sitting on the can. Actually, that’s a solid piece of advice for all times, pandemic or not. Have a workspace, work there and nowhere else and when the day is done, leave the workspace.

If you have a small apartment, like one of those small New York apartments that has a fold-out refrigerator and you have to go outside just to change your mind, you still need to make an office space. Don’t work while in or on your bed. Set up a screen, one of those elegant Chinese things that old-timey hookers favor, and use that to create some distance between life and work. Do something, no matter how small it is, to make sure there is an area that is for work and work alone.

Clock In and Out

up close shot of clock with green backgroud

In this COVID-19 infused time, consistency is going to be the mother of sanity.

Go to work. Meaning, start your workday as if you’re going to the office. Start at a certain time and finish at a certain time. Do that all week long.

The structure of working set hours is going to help you separate the workday from the life day.  Don’t get sloppy. Don’t start one day at 7 and then the next at ten. Don’t knock off at 1 and then the next day push yourself til nine at night. Stay consistent.

Keep regular hours and don’t let the end of the workday bleed into the rest of the day. Stop, shut things down and walk away.

Start and Stop Transitions

Your morning commute does more than just get you from one place to another, it actually prepares you for the day ahead. And, when you commute home, it allows you to transition from work you to home you. From office guy to dad guy. From tie-wearing, button-down, serious guy to bourbon swilling, video game playing…whatever that guy is…guy.

Create ins and outs for your workday. Start with morning rituals, coffee, breakfast, making the bed, showering and getting dressed and then, when you get into your “office”, have a set of tasks you perform every day to make being in the office a clearly new event.

When you’ve finished your day, make sure you have a clear set of tasks that you do to shut down the office and then, give yourself a transition moment. It can be as simple as kicking off your shoes and putting on your slippers. Something that physically changes you from work to home.

Transitioning in and out of work is also going to help the weekends feel like weekends when you’re quarantined.

Avoid Distractions

It’s easy to go down some rabbit hole on the internet when you don’t have the boss, the armed guards, the attack dogs or the searchlights going like at the office. Dear God, where do you work?

You can easily slip into a story online or a video or the full set of The Lord of the Rings films and then, you’ve accomplished nothing for the day. 

This is bad for a few reasons. First, it means you’re not working from home efficiently and you’ll fall behind. Second, your work tasks will pile up and then they will seem insurmountable and that can lead to feelings of depression and uselessness. Third, those movies really aren’t worth getting fired over. We all know this.

When you’re in the “office” focus on work just the way you would when you were in your actual office. Stay focused and you’ll stay productive.

Take a Lunch Break

bowl of salad on checkered table cloth

As you would at work, take a break and have some lunch. Do not eat at your desk. Move to another part of your house and have lunch. Read the paper or a book. Stay out of your office until your lunch break is over and then, go back to work.

It’s important to have something to eat in the day to keep you focused and strong. Setting a lunch break time will serve you in its consistency. Being consistent is going to get us through this.

Keep Communicating 

There is a lot of non-work communication that happens in the office as well as a lot of work-related communication. Keep that going.

Those little moments of sending a funny meme to someone or sharing a laugh by the water cooler or the omelet bar…again, where do you work…are what keep us sane and connected. Still do that. Send the memes and the jokes and the “hey how are you?” and the “dude, your hair’s on fire” notes.

Also, keep communicating with your teams and your bosses. Stay connected to the people you work with so that you don’t feel so isolated and you don’t start half-assing your workload. 

Remember, the habits you create during this strange time are going to follow you when we all get back to normal. If you create bad habits now, that’s time you’ll need to break those habits when you’re back in the office. Those bad habits could set you back when you return.

Be Social

hand holding vintage white phone with red background

This is vital but, right now, it’s not easy.

Stay social. Call friends and family. Use video conferencing to have mixers, game nights or just do a crossword puzzle with a friend. Don’t isolate yourself, keep up social contacts.

Another side of this is, if you feel isolated, if you feel depressed, if you feel lonely, reach out to someone. To friends, family and if it’s really bad, seek some professional help online. There is nothing to be ashamed of, we are, for the most part, social creatures and when that’s removed from us, we can feel off-kilter or depressed.

For our introvert friends, well, you’ve been training your whole life for times like this, be kind, share things that you like to do when you’re alone with people and help them through this trying time.

There it is, our tips on how to cope. If you have any nuggets of help, pleased drop them in the comments section and give everyone a hand.

We are resilient animals and we will make it through this. Be kind to each other and to yourselves, it goes a long way.