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How to Work From Home (Whether You Want to or Not)

How to Work From Home (Whether You Want to or Not)

The idea of working from home (WFH) is, quite literally, a personal matter. How one feels about it varies from person to person. Much like the prospect of piecing together some IKEA furniture, people tend to fall into one of two ‘work from home’ camps: those who dread it or those who relish it. But regardless of which side you lean towards, the work needs to be done.

As a growing number of inboxes around the world are being inundated by urgent and important messages—with ever escalating titles like “[IMPORTANT] Coronavirus Update” and “[VERY IMPORTANT] Corona Update“ and “COVID-19: WORKING FROM HOME IN A SECURE WAY”—it’s important to be prepared for what could be inevitable.

Unlike the pile of wood boards, metal screws, and the latest Allen key technology in the IKEA metaphor from before, building an effective work-from-home day doesn’t come with an instruction manual. But there are some tried, tested and true working from home best practices to help you make the most of your WFH status.

Activate work mode

Stick to your routine.

Or better yet, create your own. Having a routine is key. Wash your hands, make the bed, take a shower, walk the dog, wash your hands, drink a coffee, eat a bite, exercise a bit, wash your hands. Whatever you choose to do as part of your routine, stick to it no matter what, and get your body, mind, and soul ready to take on the day. The clothes you wear will also set the tone, so don’t be afraid to dig through your drawers and rediscover your style; somewhere between stained sweatpants and black tie attire lies the perfect choice.

Get comfortable.

Set yourself up in a space dedicated to getting work done. You can go with the classic office-style combination of table and chair, or get creative. Have you always dreamt about that coworker's standing desk? Well, go grab a yoga mat, find a table or countertop, and let your imagination run wild (but always remember to maintain ergonomic correctness).

Set the mood.

Close the blinds, light a couple of candles, and play some Barry White. Oh wait, no. Not that kind of ‘work’ mood. You want to create a space with an atmosphere that promotes focus. A place with natural light is an easy (and free) way to boost your energy level while simultaneously lowering your electricity bill. In terms of background noise, playing a movie, TV show, or audiobook can be a tad too distracting, whereas a soundproof box is quiet… too quiet. Some ambient music at a reasonable volume can help keep your mind engaged with the task at hand.

Remove (and remove yourself from) distractions.

And keep it that way. At least while you’re working. Keep your mind and workspace tidy. You don’t need to go full Marie Kondo, but make sure that only your essentials are within reach. Attention parents: preserving a safe harbor for work might also require pulling some distracting rabbits out of your hat. Create a fun and safe environment for children to learn and be entertained (think puzzles, books, Disney+, but not too plus). Which segways nicely to:

Set boundaries.

With yourself and with others. The ancient Greek sages said it best: “know thyself (and thy tendencies to scroll endlessly)”. Turn off extracurricular notifications, log out of social networks, and set time limits for apps used for entertainment (yes, that includes TikTok). For those sharing a home with others, set some ground rules by making sure they know, and you know, where do not disturb—except for emergencies and only emergencies—is referring to. A closed/locked/padlocked/airlocked door can help send the message.

Plan ahead

Schedule your schedule.

Einstein famously formulated E = mc² to quantify the energy of each physical entity in the universe. But individuals add a slight wrinkle to this theory: time of day. Early bird, night owl, or afternoon albatross, whichever category of bird you identify with, it’s important to build a schedule around the ebb and flow of your peak productivity periods. Stay motivated by planning time for harder tasks you know will require your undivided attention, while saving easier stuff for the more sluggish points of the day.

Respect the deadline.

The key here is to set realistic goals and daily objectives, but also to challenge yourself. Pressure has the potential to burst pipes, but it can also produce diamonds. Find your sweet spot where urgency and priority combine to form a brilliant cut of work with the highest grade of efficiency.

Pomodoro, not just Italian for “tomato”.

It’s also an effective (and easy) time management technique based on the understanding that there is a ‘Goldilocks Zone’ of task immersion—not too long, not too short, but just right. Use a timer to create intervals of work followed by short breaks, for example 25 minutes of a task followed by 3-5 minutes of relaxation. The goal is to pace yourself and maximize focus by minimizing the impact of interruptions and eliminating brain burnout.

Hit the breaks.

Work when you’re working, break when you’re breaking. Mandatory break activities involve getting off your butt, taking some deep breaths, staying hydrated (easy on the caffeinated beverages), and eating healthily. Some recommended options include meditating, reading a physical book (remember those?), getting some fresh air and going for a walk, fitting in a quick workout and/or stretching session (sure, corpse pose counts), siesta-ing, even taking care of those chores you’ve been putting off (the laundry isn’t going to wash itself).

Stay connected

Bits and bytes.

When things go awry with technology at the office, you can always count on the punctual, polite, and poised IT team to help. At home, the buck stops with you. Make sure you have a strong internet connection with enough bandwidth to run all the systems you need and a working VPN for extra security. It’s always a good idea to have a backup option, and as satisfying as it might be to mooch off of your neighbor’s open wifi, a reliable connection it is not. Instead, try a USB dongle or mobile hotspot as your failsafe.

Embrace the daily.

A meeting a day keeps the confusion away. It’s easy to guess what needs to be done and make assumptions about your responsibilities, but why risk it? Don’t take the ability to communicate quickly and reliably with colleagues, teammates, and/or clients for granted. Get everyone on the same page, clarify who’s doing what by when, and check-in frequently. If a group chat starts getting unruly or an email thread takes on a mind of its own, always remember that a quick call can clear things up (and avoid profanity-laced tirades of frustration).

Social status.

Working alone has its perks, especially when social distancing is the order of the day. But, it can also lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and disconnection. A day at the office is full of opportunities to socialize; hallway greetings, watercooler chit chat, coffee break gossip, and awkward run-ins en route to the bathroom. Replace these common workplace encounters (maybe not the bathroom one) with instant messages, video chats, or good ol’ fashioned phone calls. Found a great GIF, funny meme, or interesting article? Sharing—not oversharing—is caring.

The separation of work and life

Mission accomplished.

While it might seem tempting to simply stop working and re-enter life mode, it’s always better to create a habit that signals the close of the workday. A great way to start is by reviewing what you were able to complete (or not) and preparing your plan of action for the following day. Summarize the important stuff in a spark notes version of your WFH story and soak in the glory of your accomplishments.

Log off.

No, really log off. Much like binge watching your favorite sitcom, it’s easy to get trapped in the never-ending tailspin of reading emails and checking chat notifications. Avoid the temptation by removing it completely. Sign out of your accounts and disable work-related notifications on your personal devices. If there really is an emergency that requires your attention, have a protocol in place for out-of-office communication that lets you handle the situation without hitting the panic button.

Commute home.

Clean up your workspace, put your stuff away, and make your way back home from the office. The physical distance might be just a few steps, but the mental one is the longer bridge to cross. Like a scuba diver returning from the watery depths to the surface, take the time to decompress your mind. You’re not at risk of getting the bends, but your brain will thank you.

The only actual WFH tip in this post

Are you ready? OK. Go grab something to write with and on. Don’t worry. I’ll wait. Now, at the top of your writing material scribble ‘wake up’. Down at the bottom write ‘go to sleep’. Everything in between is literally in your hands (of the well-washed variety). Fill it in with things in your routine and triumphs of the day. Carry this piece of paper as a reminder of what you’ve done, what you should be doing, and what you will be doing. Create your own instruction manual for a mindful and productive day.

How did your IKEA-made home-assembled WFH-day turn out?

*And if you are working in the office, do the same (just add practice social distancing, regularly wash your hands for at least 20 seconds, and avoid touching your face).

Kevin Pollock, Writer and Manager of Content at Wix

Kevin Pollock, Writer and Manager of Content at Wix

Born in Canada, raised in America, educated in England, and living in Israel. That means it’s Zed not Zee, miles not kilometers, crisps not chips, and hummus on everything.

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