For many folks, the COVID-19 pandemic is the first time they’re working from home for an extended period of time (or maybe ever!). And as this new reality and public health necessity of social distancing sets in, many workers will be cooped up until the virus is contained.
As someone who worked remotely for many years (including in an apartment with roommates and an apartment with a partner), I’ve faced a range of challenges of working from home (WFH). While friends were generally jealous of my flexible working arrangement, I found myself missing the camaraderie of colleagues and the daily rhythm of getting out of the house and into an office that was my designated work space.
For those who are finding their coronavirus WFH situation to be less than ideal, below are some tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way to keep from getting too antsy when you’re working from home:
1. Build in a fake commute
Some of the most challenging parts of working from home are the lack of variation in scenery, difficulty separating work and home life, and decrease in physical activity. To combat all three, consider replicating your typical commute, but in a way that allows you to maintain social distance:
- Develop a morning & evening stretch routine: If you typically listen to a podcast, music, or meditation while commuting, take a few moments at the beginning and end of each day to do the same at home. Engaging in some light stretching while you listen can help quiet your mind and ground into your body.
- Read a book: If subway time is your prime reading hour, you might crack a new novel at home, instead! This gives your brain some time to wake up and get the creative juices flowing before diving straight into work. If you're running low on good reads, many libraries offer e-book borrowing, or you might consider supporting your local bookstore through Indiebound.
- If possible, stroll through an uncrowded park: If you live near a park and can remain 6 feet away from other pedestrians, take a 15min stroll through the park at the beginning or end of the day as a commute alternative. Especially as spring approaches, this could be a great opportunity to enjoy the budding flowers and greenery.
If there is not a practical way for you to walk and practice social distancing, consider building in another form of at-home movement before and after working hours that can mimic a commute. Because commutes don’t just get you from point A to point B: they also offer an important time to plan out what you want to accomplish each day, and reflect on the progress you’ve made. Fake commuting will allow you to preserve this part of your routine and set your intention for the day ahead!
2. Keep your lifestyle consistent
Whenever you’re faced with a major transition, including a change in working style, it’s easy to lose sight of things that ground you. In this moment of uncertainty, keeping pieces of your life consistent can help you feel a bit more in control.
Here are some ways to keep your lifestyle consistent:
- Wake up and go to bed at the same time: It might be tempting to hit the snooze button when you have no place to be, but studies show, keeping a consistent bedtime and waketime is key to good sleep hygiene.
- Regulate your diet & caffeine intake: If your new desk is the kitchen table, it can be easy to return to the fridge for continual grazing. As much as possible, try to keep your diet consistent. And, if you’re noticing you’re getting sleepy mid-day, could it be that you didn’t have your regular office coffee break? Take time to reinforce the rituals that make you feel productive, focused, and clear.
- Move around: Steps from meeting room to meeting room or to the copier and back all add up, and without them, you might find yourself feeling sluggish. Experiment with a standing desk (if you don’t have one, a storage box works just as well!), or put in headphones to walk around during conference calls. Build in stretch breaks, too, to keep the blood flow moving.
- Get dressed! There are a lot of camps on this – team Professional Dress and team Comfy Clothes. In my book, as long as you are up, showered, and dressed, that hits the mark. Lingering in your PJs might be fun for one lazy morning, but you likely wouldn’t go into the office in sweats three days in a row, so rotating through your typical wardrobe might help lend a sense of normalcy.
3. Set and stick to work boundaries
With the omnipresence of smartphones and laptops, it’s easy to get trapped in the cycle of being online all the time, and this is especially true when all your work comes (and stays!) home with you.
Make a plan that delineates when and where you’re working, and try to keep the boundaries clear, such that you work when you’re working and not when you’re not.
Here are some examples:
- Set designated “work-free” areas: For example, you might decide to make your bedroom a work-free zone, so as not to interfere with your regular sleep cycle.
- Distinguish work and personal apps: You even might try temporarily (or permanently!) removing work-related apps and emails from personal devices to more clearly distinguish when you’re working and when you’re living the rest of your life. If you have one laptop for both work and personal use, you can create multiple Desktop views on a Macbook, or set certain screens on your phone to only contain personal or work apps.
- Set expectations with housemates: Gently assert for yourself and other household members when you’re focused on work by leaving the shared space or keeping a door closed if you’re not to be disturbed.
- Catch up with friends via video call after work: Make plans to catch up with friends after work so that you’re forced to stop working at a particular time, and hold yourself accountable to being fully present while you’re there.
4. Buddy work
For many folks, working from home can mean working alone, and the lack of casual social interactions really add up.
To decrease some of that isolation, consider a few options for coworking:
- Hop on a video call with your usual deskmate or a work pal, just to work quietly side-by-side virtually as you would in real life.
- If you have a roommate who has a similar working style to you, that could be a good option too, but try not to get too distracted with non-work topics during your set working time.
5. Make time to tidy your space
A good rule of thumb is to not do any tasks during the work-from-home day that you wouldn’t do if you were at the office. For example, it might be tempting to run a quick load of laundry or cook a hot lunch, but these small breaks add up, and blur the line between work time and home time.
Still, especially if multiple household members are working from home, dishes in the sink can pile up quickly, and shared spaces may need a deeper clean more frequently. Schedule extra time for these chores before or after work, or on the weekend so that you can face your work hours in a space that is clean, organized, and free of distractions.
6. Introduce fun activities at home
Outside of your working hours, schedule time for fun activities so that your home remains a place associated with more than just work duties. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Schedule regular workouts at home on YouTube with your roommates or your partner.
- Start a push up challenge with friends.
- Catch up with long distance friends over video call!
- Movie night at home! Pop some popcorn!
- Learn a new skill on YouTube, like ukulele or salsa dancing with your partner.
- Finally start building in that daily yoga or meditation practice.
- Start (or resume) remote therapy sessions!
- Cooking! Our team loves the “Cook Beautiful” recipe book. You can also get plenty of inspiration and ideas from the NYTimes Cooking section or app!
7. Be kind to yourself!
If you’re finding your routine has been flipped on its head and your creativity and productivity are suffering as a result, that’s ok! Try to communicate openly with your team members and employers about the challenges you’re facing; chances are, you’re not alone in them.
If that’s not an option for you though, consider seeking therapy for a bit of extra support. Many therapists offer the option for remote therapy via phone or video call, so you can telecommute straight to session.
The most important thing in the coming weeks is to keep yourself – and those around you – healthy and safe. Practice smart social habits, get plenty of rest, and if you're experiencing anxiety about the virus, know that you can access support from the comfort of your home by connecting with a therapist remotely.