This week, owing to the coronavirus, many Americans are going to experience the highs and lows of working from home. While there are definite plusses to working from your own abode, it’s not all sliding across the living room floor in a white button-down shirt and socks.
I have worked from home for the past two years and it takes discipline, fortitude, and a solid work ethic. I have none of these things. So how do I manage?
A friend years ago told me that his mother and father met at work. The first thing his mother noticed was that when the boss left, his father was the only one who kept working. That’s a big part of working from home, that kind of self-motivation. But there’s a flip side to that: when home and work mix you are always at home, but you are also always at work. It’s important to set some boundaries.
Small things can make a big difference when you work from home. My biggest piece of advice might be to go outside during the day. Did you ever have that thing where you neglected to drink water for several hours and then you feel awful and you’re like, What is wrong with me? Then you drink water and instantly come back to life? Going outside is like that when you work from home. You go stir crazy like a boiling frog otherwise.
It’s very easy for the walls to start feeling like they are closing in when you telecommute. That’s why keeping your place clean is more important and more difficult. Not to sound too much like Jordan Peterson, but a messy place makes it harder to work effectively.
If you work 9-5 outside the house, then you probably spend about 7 or 8 hours awake in your house at most on a weekday. Now you will be doubling that, and the more time you’re in your place the messier it gets. Trust me on this: it accumulates fast. Maybe while everyone is hoarding toilet paper you can hoard some paper plates. Work is an excellent excuse to not do the dishes.
Now, this is going to sound pathetic and sad, but social media can be your friend when you work from home. In an office environment you chitchat, water cooler yak, call it what you will. The day at work is sprinkled with social interactions. Checking in on Twitter or Facebook isn’t just a time suck when you work from home; it helps keep you sane by socially interacting, albeit imperfectly, with other people.
Another thing worth considering is the concept of a virtual commute. Whether your IRL commute is short or long, it’s probably riddled with ritual. You might stop for a bacon, egg, and cheese, read the Post on the subway, pull in for a Half and Half at Dunkin, etc.
The commute is a home to work limbo. You aren’t working, but you are compelled to be where you are. Giving yourself a half-hour before and after working with similar rituals, like listening to a podcast, reading a book, or playing a game on your phone can help.
The most overwhelming thing about working from home for an extended period of time is that it is a lot of time in your own head. Traditional workspaces are full of novel diversions and distractions; your place is kind of just your place. In the absence of external stimulation, your mind turns in on itself, which can be a little jarring. Weird stuff will pop into your head. If you get mental claustrophobia, take some breaks. There’s no reason the rhythm of your workday has to be the same at home as it is at work.
Making your home your office, especially if it goes on for a long time, is a major lifestyle switch. But it’s one that is in many ways under your own control. Give some thought to what you want it to be like, how you want it to flow, and experiment with schedules and work patterns that work for you.
Finally, when you close the laptop, close the laptop. This is easier for some of us than others. As a journalist I’m always at work in some sense; news never stops, especially these days. But I still need to carve out time to log out and watch a movie, or do some cooking while listening to music. Let your home become your home again — at least until you wake the next day and start it all over again.