It looks like a lot of people are going to be working from home in the near future as we attempt to slow the spread of the coronavirus. I’ve been working from home for twenty years, first as a telecommuter and then as a freelancer, so here are some tips that may help you cope.
First, although it seems like one of the benefits of working from home is being able to work in pajamas, it really does help to get dressed in the morning before you start work. When you stay in the clothes you slept in, you don’t feel like the day has started. It’s like a really lazy weekend morning or a sick day. But here’s the fun thing: you can have “work” pajamas. The clothes you change into don’t have to be the kind of clothes you might wear to work. They just need to be different from the clothes you slept in. Of course, if you have a videoconference, you’ll want to put on a decent shirt and do something with your hair, but otherwise, wear something comfortable.
If you’re at all self-disciplined, you’ll probably get a lot more done when you’re working from home than you do in an office. When I started telecommuting, I found that I could get a full day’s work done in half a day. It’s amazing how much time is wasted in an office with other people around. This may not apply if you’ve got a micromanager boss who insists on daily conference calls or videoconferences while everyone’s working from home, but you may be able to multitask during a pointless conference call in a way that you can’t in a face-to-face meeting. Because of this increased productivity, don’t feel guilty about adjusting your working hours accordingly, especially if you have to keep time sheets. Log the time a task would have taken you in the office or else you’ll end up actually doing more work.
It’s also possible that you’ll go nuts with the freedom and do less work, especially if you’ve been really stressed or if you hate your job. No one will know if you’re playing online, watching a movie, or sleeping late. It’s easy to put off work, figuring you’ll just work later in the evening.
Whether you find yourself working more or less, sticking to a schedule really does help. Set an alarm and get to work at a regular time. Take a lunch break. End your day at a regular time. Try not to let work bleed into the rest of your life. Yeah, easier said than done, but it’s easier to hold the line with other people than it is with yourself. I used to have two different phone greetings I used, depending on whether I was at “work” or off-duty. If someone called me after hours, they got my casual “off-duty” greeting, which was a signal that they’d called me at “home” rather than at “work.” Now that I have caller-ID, it would be easier to distinguish between work calls and personal calls, but I think I’d still give a “home” greeting after hours. This also works in the opposite way for dealing with friends or family who call you when you’re at work but think you’re free to chat because you work at home.
Also, it’s a good idea to learn to always sound alert and with-it when you answer the phone for work, no matter what you happen to be doing. I got to the point that I could answer the phone in the middle of the night when awakened from a deep sleep and sound like I was at my desk. This was an issue because my main client was in Sweden, and when they were being weasels and doing something like canceling a launch we’d been working on, they’d try to be sneaky and call in the morning at their time, which was in the middle of the night our time, so they’d get voice mail. I think I scared them to death when I answered the phone. They quit the overnight phone calls. This skill is handy when you’re having a slow day and really need a nap, too.
Make a point of scheduling breaks. You don’t realize how often you get up and move around when you’re at the office. Working at home, because of that increased focus that allows more productivity, it’s easy to get in a zone and not get up to move. Try to give yourself at least a few minutes every half hour or so, even if it’s just to refill your water glass or coffee cup. Walk around a little and stretch a bit.
If you’re an introvert, you may find that you suddenly have a lot more energy. You’re not spending your social energy on the people at work, so you may find yourself wanting to socialize more than you usually do. Though that may be a problem if you’re supposed to be self-quarantining.
The really tough part will come when you have to go back to working in an office. Extroverts may be glad to go back. Introverts may be spoiled. We’ll have to see if employers learn from this experience to see that working from home makes some employees a lot more productive and if that leads to policy changes. I’m sure there are people who will be less productive because they need external accountability and supervision, but work situations shouldn’t be a one-size-fits-all prospect. It seems silly to reduce the productivity of some workers because of the needs of a few other workers, but then that’s why I’ve worked for myself for so long.