For many office workers, especially those with long commutes, working from home is the dream - but it does carry its own specific set of challenges.
Next week will mark a full year of me working from home and, in this time, I've become quite comfortable with my expertise on the subject of "what not to do when you work from home".
In my case, because I work fixed hours rather than choosing my own schedule, it means house chores, family and social life all have to fit into my work schedule, rather than the other way around. In that sense, it is a bit different to the stereotypical person who works from home and can dictate their own schedule to better suit their life.
Also, I work weekends, which means I've learnt to focus on work even with a full house.
Both these factors can easily contribute to a lot of chaos but, over the last few months, I've been tinkering with things and finetuning my routines to prevent me from having daily nervous breakdowns.
I realise working from home is a privilege that is not accessible to many professions but it could soon be the reality for thousands of New Zealand office workers, as the country tries to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
Blurring the boundaries between home and work life with save you commuting time but it can lead to some degree of chaos.
Here's how I've found some semblance of sanity:
Have a designated work space
The whole "you get to work from bed" thing is a fun idea, in theory, but it doesn't work. Your bed is not a workspace. Neither is the dining table. Neither is the sofa. Neither is the kitchen counter.
If you have space for a desk in your home, get one. Make it your work space. Get a little pot plant, some good stationery, a coaster for your mug (we're remote workers, not savages). Not wanting to go all Gwyneth Paltrow on you but try to make that space somewhere you won't mind spending a lot of time in - because that's exactly what's going to happen.
With the coronavirus and so many people facing potential periods of working from home, it will not be uncommon for more than one person per household having to be in that situation. In that case, if there aren't enough desks around, maybe consider turning your dining table into a communal working area. The important thing is to keep that separation between work/home going strong.
Make relevant people aware of your work schedule
If you've been told to work from home but other people in your life don't, there's this idea that, because you're home, you have time for "non-work" things, like supermarket runs and that kind of thing. Whether you live with a partner or have flatmates, it is on you to communicate to them the hours when you will be working so they know to leave you to it.
Do not try to fit other things into your day while you're working and do not put your hand up to do chores just because you're home anyway. You might not be in an office away from home, but your work time is still something to be respected and you need to make the space to do it in peace and not as one of many other things you're doing.
That said, there is no point denying yourself the convenience of getting stuff done when you have the chance. Maybe you used to go for a walk around the block when you worked in the office. That break can now easily be spent hanging the washing or doing some dishes. I mean… why not? These things need doing, they get you moving, get your eyes away from the screen and are a good mental break from work.
Set up a routine
Shower and get dressed in the morning. The whole "I can work in my PJs" thing is not really the perk people think it is. It's a rather slippery slope to living in the same clothes for days at a time and, overall, not a great thing for your mental wellbeing.
Keep in touch with people
Depending on your living situation, you can easily go days without seeing other people in the flesh. Make sure you keep in touch, even if only by phone or online. Schedule calls with friends like you would schedule an after-work drink or a lunch date. These will help add structure to your day and ensure that, just because you essentially live in your workplace, you're not always in work-mode.
Turn the radio on
Turning the radio on has become part of my routine whenever I sit down to start work for the day, and it's as important as opening my email inbox or loading Slack.
It's easy to get isolated when working from home. While a decent amount of peace and quiet is great, the silence can quickly become too much. Start with some music to get you feeling awake and productive, then move on to some podcasts. I like a bit of talkback in there, to get me riled up at the Karens, if nothing else, and really feel like I'm still connected to the "real" world.
Get up and move
Without other people moving around near you, it's easy to get distracted and let hours fly by without you even getting up from your desk. Set yourself alarms if you need to but make sure you regularly get up and move your body. I wear my running watch which reminds me to "move" at regular intervals but you can also download apps for this or even just use the alarm clock on your phone.
If you can, assuming you're not having to self-isolate, leave the house when you're not working. I mostly work from 1pm to 9pm. If I'm not careful to plan stuff outside the house before 1pm, I can easily go days without leaving these four walls.
Go walk the dog, go for a run, go get a coffee or a delicious pastry. Just get that vitamin D in you before you're locked in for the day.
Stock up on snacks
Look, I can't deny it: there are some advantages to this working from home thing. The main one is how much of your life you get back by not having to commute. But the contents of my fridge are a close second. I have broken free from the strict confinement of the office vending machine. My overpriced Mars bar from the vending machine as an afternoon pick-me-up got an upgrade and I sometimes make myself mini-cheese platters instead, because I can.
This is the bit where I'm supposed to tell you you should stick to healthy snacks so yeah - definitely do that.
Become a great communicator
If you work as part of a wider team, you've got to become really good at keeping in touch and really good at responding to messages as quickly as you can.
People who work remotely often worry about their employers thinking they are slacking so there is extra pressure to be seen to be "on". It's a legitimate concern but you have to learn to let that pressure go or it'll only lead to unnecessary stress. As long as you're getting your job done, you've got to trust them to trust you.
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That said, when that email comes through, it gets a reply. When the Slack notification dings, you reply to it. You're out of sight but you can't be out of mind.
You will, however, be going out of your mind with all those notifications so make sure you turn them off when you're not actually working.
Also, you want to avoid feeling isolated. Studies have shown that has an impact on your productivity and morale (not to mention your mental health). So make sure you're in touch with your colleagues regularly and try to be part of the closest thing to office banter you can find (it serves a very important social purpose and you'll miss it when you no longer have it).
Rejoice in the fact that you don't have to commute
You have lowered your carbon footprint. You, my friend, are doing the world some good, just by staying home. Go ahead and tweet that joke about your long three-second commute. It has definitely not been done before.
The really good news is that remote workers are said to be a lot more productive than people in offices and you'll also become an absolute multi-tasking legend, typing entire articles while wiping nappy rash cream off the carpet, and the walls, and the chairs and yourself.