The most recent Gallup survey on telecommuting (released in 2017) revealed that 43% of Americans occasionally work from home (WFH). This seems reasonable, as enabling technology, family responsibilities, and the constraints of commuting have made telecommuting a favorable option—from time to time.
But with the current COVID-19 health crisis affecting workers everywhere, time-to-time has transitioned to all the time. Employees versed in casually finishing up some work on the couch are now faced with doing an eight-hour shift on the couch, five days a week. Mothers and fathers who exhaustingly juggle professional responsibilities with parenting are now attempting to do both simultaneously—while moonlighting as homeschool teachers. The idea of home—traditionally established as a respite from the chaos that exists outside its door—has now been repurposed as part-office and part-daycare, all while existing as our shelter from an ongoing storm of sickness and social distancing.
It’s a lot to handle. But just like we’re managing lifestyle changes day-to-day, the transition to working from home—and all that comes with it—can be managed with a handful of helpful tips.
Is it a lot easier to roll out of bed, set the kids up for the morning, then transition to your workspace in your incredibly comfortable pajamas? Yes—but this working-from-home routine is no longer a short-term situation. This could go on for some time, so dressing like it’s a workday can help make this new normal a little like the old normal, all while facilitating a focus that can waiver within the relaxed confines of home.
Tip from the trenches: Once my two- and four-year-old are on their second bowl of Cheerios—and third wrestling match over who gets the Magna-Tiles—I shower and change into what I’d regularly wear to the office, including a collared shirt, jeans, and shoes. (And note: GQ agrees with me.)
If you don’t regularly work from home, then it’s likely you don’t have a set-up that’s conducive to hosting 10-hour workdays—or one that’s sequestered from everyday distractions. Now you need one. It doesn’t have to replicate your office, but it also shouldn’t be too comfortable. (See: Your bed.) It just needs to be a setting that enables productivity while affording you privacy to get the demands of the day done.
Tip from the trenches: For the last two years, my wife and I have used an old high school desk as my daughter’s changing table. She’s now potty-trained, so we’ve repurposed the desk—as a desk. For this WFH period, we moved it into our bedroom, and now split time at the sunlit space throughout the day.
Music can motivate—and insulate. Depending on your mood and genre choice, the right run of tunes can keep you on track, hold your attention on a series of assignments, and block out distractions from roommates—or little roommates. To start, try devising a lengthy playlist on Spotify (for free or paid accounts) full of songs that can elicit creativity, calm your nerves, and carry you through the day.
Tip from the trenches: Over the years, my eclectic playlists have both facilitated writing and blocked out distractions from working in remote locations like loud coffee shops. Now at home, they keep me on task—and keep out the noise from the toddler battles happening on my wife’s watch.
(Some albums I listen to when I need to get work done: “Break It Yourself” by Andrew Bird, “American Hearts” by A.A. Bondy, “Devils & Dust” by Bruce Springsteen, “The Fox Confessor Brings the Flood” by Neko Case, “Astral Weeks” by Van Morrison, and, oddly enough, “OK Computer” by Radiohead.)
We all need time to ourselves, but isolation (or time spent solely with family) isn’t for everybody. Communicating with your coworkers—whether on actual work or news of the day—is a necessary exhale for the extrovert in all of us. Being deprived of that can affect our overall well-being, so find an opportunity to hear a live voice or see a face, whether through Zoom meetings, FaceTime or your standard iPhone.
Tip from the trenches: Since the start of The Martin Group’s WFH period, much of our communication has happened through Microsoft Teams—and not just for work-related meetings. We’ve also hosted an office-wide Happy Hour, allowing coworkers to share a drink and some laughs amid the ongoing solitude; and the early April introduction of Snap Camera by VP|Creative Director Michael Tsanis has certainly added some extra entertainment.
There are plenty of distractions at home without a worldwide pandemic dominating your news and social media feeds. If you’re tending to any number of children at home, those disruptions can multiply exponentially—depending on the energy level of said kids. It’s an ongoing challenge, but it takes a stern commitment—and one that will be continuously tested—to tune out these interruptions.
Tip from the trenches: For news, establish two times per day to check your source of choice for updates, then let it go. For the kids, let your partner take the reins for his or her shift, and barricade yourself in your space. For me, I put two free weights at the base of my bedroom door to stop any intrusions. (Note: The maniacs still try to break down the door, but that’s where the music comes in.)
Working in this confinement can be depressing, so you need a daily release. While social distancing and various other measures are limiting our outdoor activity options, we can still take walks, runs, or bike rides, so be sure to schedule one (whether alone or with the family) for at least 30 minutes per day. It’ll not only provide a necessary exhale in a constrained day, but it will always give you something to look forward to.
Tip from the trenches: Since the start of WFH, I’ve either taken a neighborhood walk with my family, a three-mile run—or dependent on my anxiety levels, both—every day. Adults or kids (especially kids) are not meant to be confined like this, so it’s an absolute necessity to get out, even if it’s for a short time.
When you work from home, there’s no quitting time. No one says goodbye or turns out the lights, and no one tells you to go home—because you’re already home. Outside of time-senstive obligations, you set your own parameters, and this can be quicksand for those who can’t close their laptops. Set a time to end your day, then stick to it. You’ll need rest for tomorrow—and the weeks we’ll continue to do all of this.
Tip from the trenches: Since my work day is now split up with childcare and my wife’s work responsibilities, I’ve established a three-hour block to work after my kids are asleep. Once it expires, I retire—and since I’m working at a desk next to my bed, I can roll off one and into the other.