As a full-time freelancer, I’ve worked from home for close to five years. Until quite recently, remote work had been talked about as the future of work—but not yet a tangible reality for many. With recent global events shifting the way we live and work, a surge of people are suddenly working from home for the very first time. I see this shift being met with varying degrees of trepidation and uncertainty. I understand fearing the unknown, but with a little preparation, you might learn to love remote work—or at least see the silver lining in it. Here’s what helped me settle into working from home:
Dress for How You Work
Conventional remote work advice tells you to shower and get dressed as if you were leaving for the day. I, personally, do not subscribe to that idea. I’m my most creative when I first wake up. Besides a quick pit stop in the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I head straight to my workspace (more on setting that up below), PJs and all. I get straight to writing the blog post or article I’m working on, taking full advantage of the creative flow I have at that time of day.
Now, that’s not to say I stay pajama-clad all day. Oftentimes I take a midday break and head to the gym. Or, I need to prepare for an afternoon video call. Getting dressed for work happens at some point, just not as soon as I wake up. Prepare for the day based on how—and when—you work. In other words, do what works best for you.
Whether this is your first week ever working from home, or you’re trying out a new flexible work schedule, you might not be used to talking to colleagues via video. As a freelancer, I conduct regular weekly meetings with my clients via Zoom or another video chat service. Sometimes I’m not sure if the person on the other end will turn their video on, but I never want to be unprepared should they want some face-time during our call. Plus, chatting via video is a great way to maintain some social interactions, especially in times of social distancing.
Find Your Routine
One of the greatest gifts of remote work is time. No commute means sleeping in, pushing that morning workout session back an hour (or going during lunch!), and getting some laundry done in between calls. But not everyone thrives in an unstructured work environment. If that’s true for you, try to keep the routine you had when you commuted to the office. Wake up and go to bed at the same time. Stick to your 6 AM spin class. Start and, most importantly, end the work day when you typically would, too. Working from home naturally blurs the lines between work and home. If I had a home office, I’d close the door at the end of the day. But since I work from my dining room table, I shut the lights off in that space to signal I’m done for the day. Finding a similar end-of-day routine will help you move from work mode to home mode, too.
Set Up Your Workspace
As you assess your home, deciding where to set up shop, the first thing to consider is where you can sit comfortably for extended stretches of time. As one friend put it: Sitting at a backless kitchen stool is going to get real old, real fast. If you don’t have a desk, but you have a dining room table, consider making the investment in a desk chair you can wheel in and out of sight, as needed.
Keep everything you need to do your work—laptop, notebooks, pens, etc.—nearby and organized. Don’t waste time or energy searching for where you left your notes from yesterday’s meeting. If you don’t have a dedicated desk to work from, it can help to have a basket to keep your tools in one place, especially if you need to clear the space at the end of each day.
Finally, be sure to pick a well-lit space that’s professional, with a background that’s presentable to the people you’ll be video chatting with. Ideally, your workspace will also have an outlet nearby. You don’t want your laptop to start to die mid-video call with your charger only available across the room.
Leave After-Hours Activities for After Hours
While it might be tempting to blur the lines a bit, maintain the boundaries of your workday in order to stay productive. Sure, no one would know if you turned on the TV while you worked, but are you able to stay focused on your work just the same?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of background noise—I ask Siri to play everything from Beethoven to Post Malone to fill the silence—but loud TV shows are more likely to suck you in than help you get your presentation finished. Save the after-hours activities for when you’d normally get home from work. Doing so helps you establish when you’re done for the day, which maintains healthy boundaries and gives you something to look forward to.
Accept that Distractions are Inevitable
Undoubtedly, we’d all thrive in a remote work world if we had a dedicated office in our homes, but that’s not always feasible. Many of us don’t have the square footage to set up a dedicated work desk, nevermind a room with a door. Add to that partners, kids, pets, Amazon deliveries, and the like—yes, you’re bound to get distracted.
To start, set boundaries and expectations with your spouse, partner, or roommate. Let them know when and where you plan to work so you can work around each other. Try to stick to those boundaries, too, especially if he or she also works from home. For example, limit the ad hoc chit chat by planning to catch up during your lunch break.
Let’s also remember that a traditional office environment is full of distractions: coworkers popping by to catch up; Slack notifications; meetings about meetings. Distractions are a part of your workday anyway, so don’t get too bogged down worrying about the new ones you’ll face working from home. If you manage to be productive in an open floor plan, you can do it with a few furry pals begging for your attention at home, too.
A big part of staying focused is remembering to take breaks. Take a coffee break, a lunch break, a gym break, or even a power nap. Recharging is key to remote work. However, remembering to take a break won’t be dictated by a colleague pinging you to grab lunch. Getting up from your computer every 20 minutes or so to combat the negative effects of sitting is a good habit to get into anyway, regardless of whether you’re at the office or home. Set reminders to break for lunch, if you need them. An app like Stand Up! is helpful for remembering to take a break from sitting. You can also squeeze in a quick meditation session with Calm if you don’t feel like venturing far but need a mental break.
Remote work will challenge you to create boundaries that weren’t needed before, but it also allows you to design a workday that works for you. Once you’ve established your new routine, I hope that you’ll see remote work as not just the future of work, but the future of how you’ll work, too.