The “new normal” is sheltering in place as the world weathers the COVID-19 virus, and for many, that means working from home (WFH). New to WFH? Fear not, I’ve worked from home since before it was trendy, and I have a few tips to help you newbies get in the groove.
First thing’s first, don’t play the pajama game. Sure, it’s tempting to wear your PJs all day, but it can have the effect of making you feel like you’re not really at work. When I first started WFH, it was a slippery slope from wearing my sleepwear all day to forgetting to brush my teeth, use deodorant, or speak in complete sentences. Be purposeful in your appearance to retain a sense of focus (but be sure to pay yourself $5 so you can wear jeans on Casual Fridays).
Next, establish your home office. That can be your spare room, dining room, backyard, or even your bathroom, though that’s what’s known in office parlance as “suboptimal.” Just like in the “real office,” make it your own with an array of talismans that inspire you: photos of family, sports memorabilia, your favorite coffee cup, and the de rigueur jumbo-sized hand sanitizer.
If you’re doing web video conferencing, be sure first you’re not in your pajamas, and second, the background over your shoulder isn’t distracting or inappropriate. To that end, I had to seriously reconsider my framed “Chaise Lounge Costanza.”
Be sure to set boundaries and “do not disturb” office hours. If you’re working from home with a spouse or kids, this can be tricky. I hear the siren song of laundry, the welcome hum of the mailman’s truck, or the urge to indulge in a chat about the choices of Spam, ramen noodles, or tuna helper for dinner. Interruptions, even welcome ones, can put a dent in productivity.
Productivity is likely your boss’s main concern about working from home. If she didn’t previously allow telecommuting, there’s probably a grudging acceptance of the new normal, shadowed by a concern that employees are watching Netflix on the company dime. So, it’s important to over-communicate. Make sure the boss knows you are meeting deadlines, managing teams, and keeping things on track. Find out what her preferred method of communication is, and what time is best to check in, so you don’t interrupt her Netflix viewing.
Pro tip: social media will betray you. If you’re posting your theory of what happened to Kim Wexler between Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad, it may lead to an uncomfortable video conference call. If you cannot stay off social, a workaround is to post daily selfies at your desk, the words WORKING SO HARD (insert day of week) emblazoned across your cheery work face.
Eat lunch but avoid the working lunch. Leave your office and eat in the employee cafeteria, aka your kitchen. Just as at work, don’t heat up fish in the microwave or leave dirty dishes in the sink. Your Mom probably doesn’t work here, either.
The WFH life changes routines and it may even change your opinions. If you have a dog, she will be overjoyed to see you all day. If you have a cat, he will be annoyed because—well, he’s a cat. If you have kids at home, your stance on teacher pay will radically change. If you are working from home with a spouse, you’ll likely gain new appreciation for your “work spouse.”
Speaking of coworkers, don’t ghost them because you aren’t sharing the same space. You’ll start to feel like a castaway if you’re not careful to make time for coworkers on the phone or FaceTime to vent, compare notes, and talk them out of naming a stress ball “Wilson.”
All in all, I love the flexibility of working from home, and that it helps cut down on pollution, traffic, and the need for dry cleaning. Perhaps when this pandemic blows over, it can be a permanent new normal for you, too. Just take care of you, be kind to your new officemates, and get your work done. We’ll get through this.