So… You’re Working From Home
It’s been a bit of a time.
If you are at all like me, then you very probably haven’t gone out a whole lot since March. You know, back when we kept track of things like “months,” and “time” had meaning. In the midst of all of this, a whole hell of a lot of people have been asked (or, rather, told) to work from home for the foreseeable future. While I have no doubt that this feels like a dream come true for some of you, I understand that for others it has been something of a struggle.
I’m here to help. Kind of.
You see, right up until I moved to Montreal in July 2019, I had spent the prior six years working from home. I know my fair share about having my workspace and my living space occupying the same space, and I understand better than most how difficult that transition can be.
But it can be done. So I’m hoping that I can offer you a few words of advice, and perhaps a bit of encouragement, to ease some of the anxieties that those of you struggling to make the transition into the Work From Home life may be feeling.
Let’s start with the most important thing to remember…
NOTHING About This is Normal
You’re not actually working from home. In truth, you are “working in confinement during a global health crisis.” Because of this you are almost certainly not operating with a clear and focused mind.
This. Is. Okay.
It is okay to not be okay right now. What we are experiencing is not normal, and you should not be made to feel embarrassed or ashamed for acknowledging that. If you need help, either with work or just with your mental health, you should not be afraid to ask for it. At the same time, if all you do is sit around and lament about how terrible things are right now, your home will very quickly begin to feel like a prison and you will slowly lose grip on your sanity.
Acknowledge your limits, whether emotional or psychological, or physical, and pace yourself in accordance with those limits. One way you can help yourself with this is to…
This seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how few people actually make the effort to do this. This is often because you simply don’t have to think about it. When you work outside of the home, you kinda have a semi-structured routine pre-built into your day. You wake up, presumably get dressed, grab breakfast or a coffee, and head out the door. But now that you’re working from home and very probably can’t head out the door to go much of anywhere right now, that routine has been disrupted. That’s okay. It simply means that the old routine must be replaced by a new one.
I find that maintaining a morning routine is important, as it allows me to essentially program myself into being able to shift into the mindset I need to be in to perform the day’s tasks.
For Example: I wake up at roughly five o’clock in the morning. I do this six days out of the week, and on each of those six mornings, I almost immediately shuffle into my office for one of my workouts – which, these days, consists of either yoga or resistance band training. Once I finish the workout I head upstairs, cook breakfast and put on a pot of coffee, shower while the coffee is brewing, and by the time I’m cleaned and dressed my coffee is ready for me to begin my work for the day.
Now I reckon that some of you recoiled in horror at the thought of waking up at 5:00am. You can relax. I’m not telling you to do what I do. But a lot of people I see struggling with their newfound working environment are doing so because they’re meandering about all day without any real plan of attack. If you find yourself in this position, odds are it’s because you don’t have a plan, or worse, you’re trying to shoehorn your old routine into your new reality. Take a step back, look at your current situation with your work and your home, and develop a routine that best suits your habits and tendencies within your new working environment.
Will it be easy? Christ, no. Not at first. But with persistence, you’ll settle into your new flow.
Establish Professional Boundaries
While some people are having a hard time finding the will to start, others seem to not know when to stop. When you live where you work, it can be very hard to turn off that impulse to keep going and be productive, to burn that midnight oil in order to make progress on your current tasks. This is all well and good in short bursts, but without having clearly defined barriers between what is work and what is the rest of your life, you can find yourself burning that midnight oil every night. This can very quickly lead to burnout, which will make you miserable in both work and life. Avoiding this is why it is so vitally important that you establish professional boundaries and stick to them.
For starters: decide when your day begins and, more importantly, when your day ends. Then, once that is decided (either by you or, in some cases, your employer), you stick to that schedule.
I acknowledge that on this point I am something of a massive hypocrite, but I’ve been doing this for a very long time and know my limits. I know them because I had to learn them the hard way.
Another step you can take to help separate your work from the rest of your life is to go ahead and…
Designate a Workspace
One of the things that I absolutely hated about living in Los Angeles was the fact that my office and my bedroom were one in the same. This meant that between the time I was sleeping, and the time I was working, I spent upwards of sixteen hours a day in one room.
That can fuck with your head if you’re not careful.
Even if your computer is in your living room, you’ll want to establish a barrier between where you work and where you live. This will be impossible for some of you, either because of physical space or because you play games on the same computer that you work on. In those instances, you may need to find a creative solution to separate work time from non-work time. What I wound up doing is using a table lamp to indicate when I was “on the clock.” If the lamp was on, I was working, and at the end of the day the physical act of turning the lamp off was my way of telling my brain “hey, homie, we’re done.”
I found this method so effective that I still use the lamp to this day, despite now having a dedicated room for work.
Another reason to establish a home office is that, in many countries, you can write that space off on your yearly income taxes. This is largely determined by where you live, of course, but if your country allows you to do this then you are literally throwing money away by not taking advantage of it.
Put Some Damn Clothes On
No. Seriously. It helps. I’m not trying to be a prude here. Not only will putting on some damn clothes help maintain a semblance of normalcy, but the act of taking care of yourself and putting a little thought into your appearance can actually help keep you from slipping into the hopeless melancholy. Yeah, you may only be making yourself presentable for people on the other side of a webcam, or even just for your own damn self, but at the end of the day you’re going to be seeing a whole hell of a lot more of you than they are.
And wear some damn shoes, while you’re at it. My grandfather always used to say that it’s harder to take a nap when you have shoes on, and he was right. They don’t have to be boots or dress shoes or, god forbid, heels, but put something on. Slip on a pair of nice slippers or old, comfortable sneakers. I typically wear a pair of leather deck shoes during the working day.
It may sound silly at face value, but it actually does help.
Be Social, and Be Sociable
No, I’m not being a wiseass.
Yes, I am aware that it is hard to be social when we can barely leave our homes.
While we can’t go out on the town just yet, it’s still important that you maintain some sort of non-work social contact with your friends and loved one. You can talk with friends over Facebook or Twitter or Skype, of course, but you can also take advantage of certain social platforms to engage in more than just another Zoom meeting. For instance, Kast is a great tool for a watch party. If you and some friends want to get together, have some wine, and wonder how Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies was allowed to happen, you can do that over Kast while watching Love Never Dies.
Please do not watch Love Never Dies.
If for some inexplicable reason movies aren’t your thing, you can also host virtual game nights by streaming over Discord. This is an easy way to bring a group of people together to play party games like the Jackbox Party Pack or even throw together a pen & paper RPG campaign. Hell, video games on the whole offer the potential to be incredible social experiences, either by playing with your friends or even meeting new people if you’re fuckin’ brave.
None of these solutions replace the physical acts of meeting people at a pub, or in breaking bread with your friends sitting around the table while the Olive Garden waiters look on and mutter “oh god not these assholes again” with a defeated sigh. But you have options.
I know that this is somewhat contradictory to my previous point, but hear me out. While we can’t really go anywhere, for the most part, we can still step outside. Hell, even without a pandemic it’s easy to feel trapped in your home when you’re living the WFH life, which is why it’s so vitally important to embrace as much of “the outdoors” as you can during the day. Whether it’s something as simple as pulling back the curtains and opening a window, or going out to the back yard or balcony and sitting down with a good book on a beautiful day, it is important to find some time to take in a bit of fresh air and direct sunlight.
Hell, depending on your area’s circumstances you may even be able to go for a walk. I love walks. I’ve always loved walks. I do my best thinking while on walks. Just be sure to keep your distance from each other and throw on a damn mask while you’re out there.
Myself? I tend to take most of my phone calls outside. I don’t have a particular reason for this beyond it providing me with an excuse to step outside for a bit.
Finally, there is one more thing that I need you to do…
Remember: We Will Persevere
The single most important thing to keep in mind during these times, above all else, is that “this too shall pass.” What is happening in the world is a temporary affliction, and while it is impossible to say what the “new normal” will ultimately be, know that there will be a tomorrow. It is my steadfast hope, dear reader, that you and I will be here to see that new tomorrow. We, as a species, have been stricken with disease and death before, and though the cost is always terrible, we have always risen above.
We will do so again.
But in the meantime, as we weather this viral storm, I ask that you try to look after yourself and your loved ones so that when you do come out the other side – and you will come out the other side – you will be ready to help shape the world into what you want it to be.