As the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow, one of the top questions I get from my readers is, “Can you give me any tips for working from home?”
Working from home has become the new normal for many people around the world as the coronavirus has caused companies to implement mandatory work from home orders. But the problem is that most people weren’t prepared for it.
I’ve been working from home for a few years now, and it took me a while to adjust. So I’ve put together my best tips for working from home and asked people on my team for their advice too. Hopefully, we can help you make an easier transition into this strange new normal.
11 tips for working from home
1. Get up, take a shower, and get dressed
Raise your hand if you’ve used this time to stay in your pajamas all day long. There’s no shame in that at all. It’s incredibly tempting to maximize your comfort level right now, and I’ve done it too.
When I first quit my teaching job to run this site full time from home, I basically rolled straight out of bed and opened my laptop to start working. But something about that didn’t feel right. I realized that it took my brain a while to turn on and focus on what I needed to do. I’ve heard this from a lot of people who are new to working from home.
So pretend that you’re going into work. You don’t have to put on a suit, but wash your face and change your clothes at the very least. It signals your brain to turn on for the day.
Getting dressed can help you feel like things are normal even if they’re far from it right now.
2. Schedule time to work
Even if you still have to work a specific set of hours during the day, working from home is generally more flexible than going into the office.
While flexibility is appealing, it’s still important to create some kind of structure for yourself.
I would stick to working your normal hours as much as you can. This will make the transition back to the office easier. It might keep you on a normal sleep schedule too, which is good for both your mental and physical health.
Working from home means that work time and leisure time can start to blend together, and creating a schedule will help set some boundaries. Give yourself a start time each morning, schedule breaks, take lunch, and pick a time to end your work day.
If you’ve got kids you’re trying to teach from home while working, you might have to get creative with how you schedule your time. Maybe you can use your lunch break to help them with math, work on reading before you clock in for the day, or set them up with some independent work while you’re on a call.
3. Designate a workspace
Here’s another tip for setting boundaries. Just like setting time aside to work, you need to set aside a space to work in.
A lot of people talk about how working from home is awesome because you can work anywhere in your house – start on your sofa, move to the kitchen counter, then end the day at your dining room table.
But here’s a secret: finding one spot to work from every day is going to feel so much better. It will help you maintain a better work/life balance right now, and it’s how you can start working from home effectively.
You don’t need an office, but pick somewhere in your house and turn it into a makeshift office or workspace. Maybe that’s pulling a little table and chair over by the window in your dining room, or setting up a desk in the basement.
A dedicated workspace gives you a place to enter and leave every day. You can leave your laptop, charger, and other work-related materials there, so they’re not sitting around your house and creeping into the rest of your life.
4. Be flexible
Take everything I just said, and acknowledge that you might need to make changes, especially right now.
If you’re a parent who’s working from home and also teaching your kids, you have a lot more on your plate. It’s going to be hard for your kids to understand that you can’t just stop what you’re doing to get them a snack or help them with fractions.
People who have been forced to work from home are not prepared for this new lifestyle. It took me a while to find out how to make working from home, work. You will find a groove that works for you, and don’t get frustrated with yourself while you’re trying to find what works.
5. Create transitions in and out of your work day
No longer going into work each day means you lose some of your daily routine – things like your drive to work, morning latte stop, or chatting with coworkers on the way to your desk. And while I doubt anyone is missing traffic, your daily routine helped you transition in and out of your work day.
What did you do on your way to work? If you listened to music or podcasts, build that into your new work transitions.
You could literally go out to your car in the morning, drive around the block a few times, and then come back into your house to work. You could do the same thing at the end of your work day. Ending your day with a walk could help you decompress.
6. Take breaks and use them
You might be tempted to power through the day, eat lunch while you’re working, and only break for the bathroom and more coffee. Sure, it could help you finish up a little earlier, but working like that is exhausting and not always sustainable.
Breaks are there for a reason. Your brain needs to rest.
But when you’re working from home, it’s easy to get sucked into a break and struggle to get back to work.
Setting a break time and physically moving away from your workspace is a huge help. Maybe sit outside for a few minutes, take your dog for a walk, color with your kid, or read a book.
Right now, I recommend staying away from social media and the news, especially if it puts you in a bad mood. A lot of the stuff out there is hard to digest, and your breaks aren’t a time to start dwelling on unemployment numbers or the newest figures from the CDC.
Don’t worry, Facebook and the news will be there once you get off of work.
7. Communicate your needs
No one was prepared for the sudden switch to staying at home. Most employers were just as blindsided by this, and they might have no idea how to support their employees remotely.
So make sure you let your boss, team, and coworkers know what is and isn’t working for you.
Come up with a plan for checking in with your supervisors and team members so no one is shooting off emails all day long about what isn’t working. Be honest about your needs and reach out when new problems arise.
You also need to communicate with the people in your house. Let your spouse, family, or roommates know about your working hours and your needs – and be receptive to theirs, too.
I’ve never really missed socializing with people from work, but I’m an introvert who avoids that kind of stuff at all costs.
However, a lot of you might find that you miss your coworkers more than you expected.
Check-in with your coworkers or team members. We do this via Slack, but you can also use text or email. A Zoom happy hour once a week could be a fun way to “hang out” with your coworkers – and meet their pets – while respecting social distancing.
9. Take sick days
When I first started working from home, I saw this one listed on every single “tips for working from home” article. I legit ignored it and worked through some nasty colds and stomach bugs.
It took me longer to recover because I wasn’t giving my body a break. And it’s safe to say that we can all acknowledge the need for taking care of yourself these days.
So if you’re sick, take the day off. Being able to work from bed in your pajamas isn’t the same as staying in and resting.
10. Take advantage of the remote work lifestyle
Traveling full-time and living on a sailboat might not be an option right now, but there are still some perks of working from home that you can take advantage of.
These are things like being able to work outside if it’s particularly nice out. Sitting on my patio and working is one of my favorite things to do these days. You can stop shaving, not dress up as much, or sleep in a little.
I love being able to spend more time with my wife, and I’m really excited that once our baby comes, I’ll be able to work from home with him. Yes, I’ve heard it gets harder once they get older.
If you can find a way to appreciate this time, you’re going to get more out of it. I know from experience how dark it can get if you don’t embrace the bright side of working from home.
11. Give yourself a break
This tip probably should have been number one because it’s so freaking important. Seriously, don’t be too hard on yourself.
We’re all in this together right now and most people have no clue what’s going on. Maybe there’s some relief in knowing that you’re not alone?
You are learning how to do something completely new, and there wasn’t a training period to help you acclimate. You were thrown into this, so give yourself a break if it feels hard.
Even though what’s happening in our world isn’t normal, being stressed under these circumstances absolutely is.
Tips for working from home from the M$M team
Everyone on the M$M team works at home. Some of them have kids, other jobs, or other side hustles. I asked them for some wisdom about working from home, and here’s what they’ve shared:
"If you've recently been thrust into working from home for the first time, especially while your kids are also at home, have grace with yourself and the situation! Working from home cannot and will not be like working from the office, so don't put the same expectations on it.
Avoid the temptation to think that you need to somehow make up for this pandemic by being attached to your computer at all times. A stressed-out parent, roommate, family member, etc. makes for a horrible quarantine environment." -Mel
“Learning how to work from home is like training for something. No one is immediately good at it. You have to take breaks, find what time of day works best, and even figure out where in your house you can stay focused. None of this is easy right now, and it’s going to take time to feel comfortable with it.
And if you can, take advantage of this new temporary lifestyle. Sit in the sun on your patio and work, make lunch with your kids, sleep in a little – find some reward and claim it.” -Ariel
"Working from home is never-ending learning. You have to be flexible and versatile.
It can be exhausting at times, so don't forget to treat yourself once in a while. But at the end of the day, focus on the most rewarding stuff – spending quality time with kids and still being able to bring food to the table." -Rachel
"Figure out how to establish good work-life boundaries. It's really easy to lose that balance when your home is suddenly also your office. For me, those boundaries mean not looking at my email first thing in the morning, and giving myself time to eat breakfast and listen to a podcast before jumping into work mode. A no-screen lunch break and designated sign-off time is also important!" -Maria
Tips for working from home: The final word
I just want to end with this: it’s going to get easier. That probably sounds laughable right now, but I promise it will.
My adjustment period to working from home wasn’t the easiest, and now I can’t imagine ever going into work ever again. This situation is different, but I think the point is still valid.
Things always feel hard when they’re new. And this is our new normal for at least a little while longer, and hopefully, these tips will help you succeed, or at least survive.