How to Work from Home: Tips from a Seasoned Professional

With the Coronavirus (a.k.a. COVID-19) taking a pretty massive toll on how we function as a global society, many employers have opted to have their employees work from home. However, for individuals in fields that don’t normally have these WFH opportunities or requirements, it can definitely be a difficult transition.

I started my professional career as a freelance writer and editor; at first, it was doing side work while balancing my studies at university, and then it became a full-time gig once I graduated. I worked from home for years doing freelance work and teaching English as a second language before transitioning to the office environment I’m in now with my current job.

I still have multiple WFH opportunities every month, and now – like many of you – my workplace has made the decision that its employees will be working from home for the foreseeable future. So here I am once again.

I don’t think I’m taking it a step too far when I say that I am well-versed in working from home. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made many a misstep along the way, and this is why I’ve decided to sit down and write this article; in hopes that it will help others who are looking to make this adjustment period a little smoother.

Tip #1: Netflix is okay – in moderation 

Some people genuinely find it easier to work when there is background noise in the room. This could be the sound of a television show playing on low, the whirring of a fan; something your brain can easily ignore while still keeping you focused. If you believe you fall into this group, here are a few important factors to keep in mind:

  • Not every television show/movie/video clip is created equally. Try turning on a show that you’re familiar with – one of your favorites that you’ve seen every episode of several times over. For me, this could be Law and Order: SVU, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Bob’s Burgers. I’m able to tune these out without getting distracted because I’m so familiar with the characters and plots; there’s nothing really drawing me into the story and pulling me away from my work.
  • If you sleeping with white noise, maybe reconsider the fan. I can’t sleep without a fan on in my bedroom, so my brain immediately associates any sort of white noise with a snooze-fest; it’s lights-out at my desk before I even realize what’s happening. For those times when I want calmer background noise, I’ve found that the thunderstorm or ocean videos on YouTube make a great alternative.

Tip #2: Don’t Work in Your “Comfy” Spot

While it may be incredibly tempting to sit in your favorite spot in your home or apartment (mine happens to be a hand-me-down La-Z-Boy where I often sit to read or play video games), this is not where you’re going to be most productive.

Take my La-Z-Boy for example, I often sit there to play video games, so that’s exactly where my brain goes – even if I’m sitting with my work laptop and no television. Human brains are big fans of habits – it’s why they’re easy to form and hard to break – so even with the best of intentions, your productivity is likely to drop.

Instead, position yourself in a place that’s a bit more structured. If you have a desk, sit there. For me, my desk is reserved for my own personal writing (my “writing spot” if you will), so I try not to sit there when I’m working. Instead, I sit at my dining room table. It’s still in view of my television (I live in a one-bedroom apartment; pretty much everything is in view of my television if I’m being honest), but it’s far enough away that there is mental separation. There’s natural light from my living room windows, and I find that having a more firm chair to sit on (rather than one that’s constantly tempting me with naps) makes me more productive in the long-run.

Tip #3: Can’t Sit Still? Then… Don’t

I’m a fidgety human. While writing this article, I’ve already gotten up twice and changed position in my chair more times than I can count. Sitting still for a long time does not tend to bode well for me. My muscles get stiff, my mind starts to wander, and it all comes tumbling down from there.

Obviously, the case is going to be different for everyone, but my experience has taught me that it’s okay to get up and walk around when the urge strikes. Stretch your legs, move around, grab a cup of tea or coffee, make yourself a snack. Your brain is telling you it needs a break – so give it one. Remember,

  • Taking a five-minute break every now and again is not a bad thing. In fact, it can actually make you more productive. If you’re starting to feel overwhelmed or you can sense your brain tipping over into the world of distraction, take a pause. Watch a puppy getting its first bath, skim through social media – whatever floats your boat. Once the video is over, once you’ve caught up on your news feed, get back to work. Do not allow yourself more than a few minutes to do this.

Your brain will thank you for the break and you’ll be able to jump back into things with a clearer head.

Tip #4: Keep as Many of Your “Going-to-the-Office” Habits as You Can

Whether you work in a traditional office setting or your day-to-day job takes place in a totally different environment (like a medical or science lab, for example), you still probably have things you do at home to prepare for the upcoming day of work.

For example, do you prepare your breakfast/lunch the night before? Do you set out your clothes for the next day? Keeping habits like these will help you maintain the “I’m about to go to work” mindset, whether or not you’re leaving your home.

When it comes to making my lunch, especially, I don’t want to interrupt the flow of my work to prepare a meal for myself. Even when I’m working from home, I like to prep the night before so I know I’ll have food ready the moment I get hungry (which, honestly, sometimes means lunch is at 10:00 AM. What can I say? I’m a brunch person.)

Tip #5: Contact is Key

Remember that working from home is NOT working alone. While this may vary slightly depending on your particular profession or industry, it’s likely that you’re used to working (at least in part) in a team setting or environment. This team setting doesn’t just go away because you’re working from home.

Many companies opt for team-communication and/or organization tools like Slack or Asana. However, if your company does not use tools like these, make sure you’re still staying in touch with your team members as often as possible.

Trade notes, provide updates on tasks, and keep one another motivated. As much as working from home for long periods of time can make it feel like you are on an island by yourself, it’s simply not true. Right now, your co-workers are in the exact same position. Even if they’re not one desk away from you, they’re still well within reach.

Tip #6: Know Your Limits

Like I said at the start of this article, there are going to be people who are experiencing working from home for the very first time, and the transition is not always easy. That’s okay. Try not to put too much pressure on yourself to “get it perfect” right from the start.

It’s a bizarre and scary world we live in right now, and as we’re all trying to figure out what’s next, it’s really important to take mental well-being into consideration. No one knows your limits better than you do. If you need to take more breaks than usual, take them. If you need to snuggle with your pet on the floor while writing your report, do it. If you need to take a pause and momentarily freak out about the future of human civilization, take a beat. Then, take a deep breath, collect yourself, and get back to work.

Pushing yourself too hard will not make you more productive. At the same time, don’t use this as an excuse to slack off. Know yourself, know your limits, and make the most of your time.

Even when we’re practicing social distancing and self-isolation, the only way we’re going to get through this is together.

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