How To Work From Home - 13 Lessons
COVID-19. It’s here. If you’re one of the lucky few who have a white collar-ish job and have the flexibility to work from home, you’re probably reading this in your PJ’s, hair disheveled, unfed, and utterly confused where the day went.
It doesn't have to be this way. Here are 13 lessons from the kitchen table trenches. Enjoy!
Keep your morning routine as if you were going to the office, minus the commute. If you shower in the morning, shower. If you eat before you leave the house, eat. Brush your teeth. Wash your face; enact some sort of seize the day-ish ritual that you normally do.
And folks...about that attire. Rule #1 of working from home: Do not work in what you woke up in. Rule #2 of working from home: Do not wear your Saturday morning, cup-of-tea outfit either.
The biggest mistake is thinking, “Well I don’t have a meeting until 8:30, so I can just sleep to 8:20AM.
No. Keep your body primed that it’s time for work.
Working from home is not a snow day.
PLAN YOUR MEALS
Just like bathing and clothing yourself, you need to eat. If you’re someone that usually grabs a bite on the way to the office, or at the office, you need to take that into account in your morning. Make time for that even if you have to go to a coffee shop to buy breakfast.
You won’t have the triggers of “lunchtime” at home like you do at the office. I am a robot when it comes to my lunch. I eat the same thing at the same time everyday. But I understand there are a subset of people who forget to eat or you typically only get lunch when a coworker tells you, “Let’s get lunch.”
If you’re in this group, you’ll have to work extra hard to carve out actual time for lunch.
A telltale sign that you have not planned your meals: At odd times of the day you’ve stood up from your desk, wrapped your robe/shawl around your torso, dragged your slippers to the fridge, opened the door and mumbled to yourself, “There’s nothing to eat in this place,” before going back to your computer.
Eventually, you’ll be a crank pot, scraping cracker crumbs along the edges of a dwindling container of hummus at 3:30 in the afternoon.
Don’t do that.
TIME FLIES WHEN YOU'RE DOING LAUNDRY
Your home life will be staring at you like a hungry dog, begging for attention. Do your best to keep your hands out of the dryer and off the mop bucket. Sure it sounds great to knock stuff off your to-do list while at home, but suddenly your day will feel like part vice and part pile-driver; no escape from the relentless pressure to "do."
Create boundaries between "home" you and "work" you.
Just because you're home, doesn't mean you're home. No you can't run the clothes to the dry cleaner right now!
BUILD A MINI HQ
At work I have a desk that can go from sitting to standing with a push of a button. I have two computer screens I can hook my laptop up to. I have lumbar support. I look like a serious contender for productivity and back health.
When I first started working from home years ago, it was me hunched over my kitchen table sitting in a $15 Ikea chair designed by someone allergic to curves.
Get a chair (or at least a pillow for your lower back), get a mouse, get an external keyboard, get a laptop stand (my wife and I like Roost stand).
If you’re not careful, your back will look less like a spine and more like a sickle.
This is a photo of someone who's been working from home, ill-prepared, for two weeks.
MEETINGS ON TOILETS
You will be in meetings while on the toilet. Triple check mute.
ATTACHMENT TO YOUR DEVICES
People associate working from home with freedom, but it can have the opposite effect because you lose the happenstance of proximity.
When you’re in the office you have the opportunity to run into people. Inevitably, those people might say, “Did you get my email?” And you say, “No I haven’t seen it yet.” Then they'll tell you instead. You have a conversation and something is moved forward.
Or if someone wants to talk with you, they don’t email you, they just walk up to your desk or call your office line (shocking, I know).
You don’t have that at home. So you’ll be even more tethered to email, Slack, Jabber, MS Teams, or whatever messaging devices you use at work because that’s the only way for people to get a hold of you.
This is a good time to remind you to pick up the phone and call people. Don’t rely on solving problems over email/messaging apps.
THE GUILT OF LULLS
Along the same line as the earlier point, we ok the breaks we take at work because when we do so, we’re still at work. We’re not playing hooky. We have alibis for our whereabouts. And flat out, we don’t even realize we’re taking breaks; it’s just part of the ebb and flow of the day.
At home, our breaks feel more guilty. You’ll find it hard to leave your phone/laptop behind, because if you come back to a message that someone sent you 20-minutes ago, you’ll think the other person is thinking that you are taking advantage of working from home.
You’ll probably write something back like, “Hey, sorry. Was working on (enter project here) and didn’t see your message,” because you’ll feel too guilty to say, “Hey, sorry. Was taking a walk.”
You’ll have this forever pressure that you need to respond quickly to prove that you are “working.” It’s something we all feel, but you’ll have to let that go if you are going to have success working from home. Otherwise, it can feel like working from prison.
YOU LOSE INDIRECT TRIGGERS
In the office, seeing a particular person or hearing a random phone conversation might remind you of something you have to do.
None of that happens at home. You have to be diligent in the tasks you need to get done because you lose the “Oh, that reminds me…” You lose the side conversations before and after meetings. You lose the incidental office "radio signal."
TEST YOUR TECHNOLOGY
Just like in the office sometimes, your trusted technology won't work at home, so be sure to test it and login to meetings early. Does your camera work for Zoom? Are you sure? Do you have to download BlueJeans for it to work? Is your microphone connected to GoToMeeting?
You get the point.
WALK AND TALKS
“Get off your ass.” This is a tip directly from my wife. For some of your remote meetings, make it a "walk and talk." Specifically set certain meetings as meetings that the majority of the attendees are walking outside or at least walking in their apartment or house. You can dedicate one person to sit in front of the computer if notes need to be taken. Rotate that role.
Giving your colleagues reason to move around and be human helps when we’re all digital robots at home.
TURN OFF THE VIDEO
Again, in line with the previous point: have some meetings be audio only. The pressure and discomfort of having to gaze at a computer camera during a meeting takes away from the ability to think and have a real discussion.
At home you are staring at the eye at the top of your screen. Am I slouching? God, what’s up with my hair? Is that what the bags under my eyes really look like? Do I always talk out of the side of my mouth like that? Do I ever blink? Wait, am I supposed to look at the camera or the screen?
Video meetings are like forcing each attendee to give a soliloquy on stage, in front of a mirror. Take a break from that. Have audio meetings only so that people don’t have to look at themselves while talking. They can look in the distance while they’re processing a thought, they can move around a bit. They can be..human.
HAVE AN “I'M DONE” MOMENT
This comes from Cal Newport. It’s simple, but it’s so powerful. Because there is no ceremony of leaving the office and going home (which constitutes being “done” for the day), you have to create a moment like that for yourself at home. Cal suggests literally saying, “I’m done,” and closing your computer. That two-word sentence signals to your brain that your work day has finished. If you don’t do that, you’ll never switch off.
As the research goes, don’t read or watch TV in bed because then your brain associates your bed with not sleeping, so too we shouldn’t associate being home as always available to work. You still have to create ends to your days, you still have to have boundaries.
POST "WORK" HOURS
Ok, that previous note works for you, but what about your coworkers who are pinging you into the night?
Create a shared understanding that if it’s past normal working hours and people need to get a hold of each other, text someone. This keeps you from having to be on your laptop and apps, just because someone else is working a little longer than everyone else.
What did I miss? What works for you at home?
Stay safe out there, everyone. Courage.