Some Work From Home Tips For Your COVID-19 Isolation

I’ve been working from home occasionally for probably close to ten years now, and full-time for the last few months. Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many more people are now getting to enjoy (I guess?) the privilege of working from their homes during the crisis.

If there is one thing that I hope comes out of this whole miserable period it is the understanding that there are a lot of people out there have jobs that really don’t need physical presence in an office building. And if they don’t need to be in an office, maybe they don’t need to live in an expensive city either. This could be the beginning of a whole new boom for small and mid-sized cities with affordable costs of living. Maybe you can afford a house after all! And maybe companies don’t need to lease out an expensive building in an expensive city, fill it to the brim with people in open floor plans or (even worse) hot-desking to do the work they need to do.

It’s an even bigger win for disabled and non-neurotypical people who often struggle to work in the modern knowledge workforce despite their skills. For people with autism, ADHD, and other related conditions, modern open offices or cubicles are a difficult work environment whereas the home environment may offer much more safety and control.

If this is your first time doing this, it may seem a bit odd, even naughty, to be working without commuting to an office building. With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of things I have observed over the years of working from home to help you get a feel for what this is like.

Routine

The number one thing to do in the beginning is to develop a good routine. I would suggest initially basing this routine on the same one you had when you physically worked in an office building.

For instance, if you had to be at the office at 9am, but you had a 45 minute commute? Enjoy 45 more minutes of sleep and log on at 9am. It can be tempting to log in early. Don’t. Set aside certain hours that are going to be working hours. Wake up at the same time, start at the same time, eat at the same time, finish at the same time.

As time goes on, you can tweak this routine as needed. Try to find a routine that works for you and stick to it as best as possible each day. It’s very easy to slip because no one is there to tell you not to except yourself.

Controlling Your Environment

One of the great things about working from home is that you have far more control over your working environment. You don’t have to face constant interruptions from noise or other things that are out of your control.

If you have the space in your home, I’ve found it helpful to set aside a space, however small, specifically for working. I never work on the couch, for instance; I always sit at my desk.

Sometimes a change of scenery is nice, so you can go someplace else. Many people like coffee shops, though I’d rather go to the park and sit at a picnic table. But given the current limitations imposed by COVID quarantines, your chances of finding a good change of scenery spot might be just moving from a desk to a porch or balcony. Getting some fresh air is important.

Self Control

Equally as important as routine is self control. It’s very easy to say “I’ll just fix one more bug,” and suddenly it’s 9pm and you’ve been working for 13 hours. Sometimes things happen, stuff breaks and you need to roll with that, but on normal days learn to prioritize what needs to be fixed now vs. what can wait until tomorrow. And when you log out, be done for the day. Go and enjoy what you can given the current situations and resist that temptation to log in later that night and fix “one more thing.”

Take breaks. Take a walk around the block if you still can (remember social distancing needs), or walk around your apartment or house if you can’t. Stretch. Do some lightweight exercises.

Again, it’s easy to get sucked in when you don’t have normal workplace distractions. But sometimes those distractions are useful. Yeah, it sucks when someone interrupts you at your desk, but how often do you then decide it’s a good time for a bathroom break, or to grab a soda or snack or something? Make those things happen at home. I find a variation on pomodoro to be a benefit here.

Watch yourself for distractions. It is easy to get sucked into watching a YouTube video or something when you should be working, especially if you are doing a task that requires some waiting time to complete. When you are supposed to be working, be sure you are working. Try to stay busy.

After work, go do something else. If possible try to get some exercise or some fresh air. Watch a movie, spend some time with family or pets, read a book. Unplug from your work environment. The idea is to draw a clear line between work and not-work.

Your Family

Do you have family? If you do here are a couple of additional points.

Be sure you don’t neglect your family duties. This seems counter-intuitive (because you’re at home, right!) but I’ve seen several friends’ relationships suffer after they started working from home (and it’s usually related to the self-control issues above - they can’t stop when it’s time to switch into family mode). Be sure your family is on board with you working from home and know what to expect.

But on the other hand, if your family is at home while you are home, be sure they realize that you are working and that they should try not to disturb you and give you space to work. I work with my wife and 7 year old in the house and, while distractions do happen, they’re both pretty good about allowing me space and quiet to get things done. I have the fortune of having a separate space to work and, while my door is usually open for them to come and go, they know that if I’ve closed the door that means I’m trying to focus on something and to try not to disturb me.

Leading A New Work From Home Team

If you are a team leader, there are a few other points you should consider.

Literally everyone’s universe has been turned upside down by COVID. Even if they don’t have the disease itself, they are now working from home possibly for the first time ever. Many are anxious about the entire situation or worried about friends and family. Patience and stability is the best thing you can provide your team right now.

Realize that the normal flow of work has been massively disrupted and people will react to that in different ways. Some peoples’ productivity may go up, others may go down as they adjust to the new reality or even just dealing with the anxiety this whole situation has caused. Be understanding. Try to help people navigate this period. Be a source of stability, not a source of chaos.

Try to set aside one period a week where the whole team can be on video-conference together and just “virtually co-work.” This is a good time for you as a leader to take the temperature of the team and see what places could be improved. Look for places that you could improve new for workflows. Again, stabilize and eliminate chaos if you can.

Reach out to each of your team members individually and be sure they are coping as well as possible. Offer to help in whatever ways you can.

You may need to rearrange meeting times to account for people now having kids having remote schoolwork to do, for instance. The scope of work for your sprints may need to be adjusted. Be flexible with your team as much as possible. Go to bat for them when necessary. And realize that we’re all together and we’re all trying to make it through this difficult challenging time. We’re better together than apart.

And Finally

Keep up with your personal hygiene. There is a level of truth to this Oatmeal comic.

Watch your food intake. It is really easy to pack on some pounds especially at the beginning. You graze a bit from the pantry, especially if your usual workplace does not stock free snacks and drinks, and suddenly you’ve packed on 15 pounds and can’t fit your pants anymore.

Can you tell I'm wearing pajama pants in this picture?
Can you tell I'm wearing pajama pants in this picture?

Try to dress at least somewhat reasonably especially if you have to do video conferences. I’ll be honest I usually wear pajama pants on the bottom, but at least a T-shirt or hoodie on top. Occasionally I’ll put on a collared shirt if I need to appear more professional. But nobody has to see what’s beneath the desk. :)

These are strange time. Things that weren’t even imaginable a month ago are now our new reality and the best thing we can do is adapt to them and to help our coworkers adapt to them as well. But we will get through it together. In the meantime, enjoy the perks of working from home.

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COVID-19 has taken the world by storm and left a lot of brokenness in its wake. A lot of people are suffering. If you feel so inclined, please make a donation to your local food bank or medical charity. Order take-out from your local Chinese restaurant. Help buy groceries for an unemployed friend. Help people make it through to the other side.

But if you found this article helpful and you really feel like donating to me specifically, you can do so below.

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Mourning

There was a great article that was recently posted by the Harvard Business Review that I think bears some very important consideration by everyone. Stress is easy to identify, and we are all certainly stressed. The predictability of our daily lives has been interrupted. Many of us have lost jobs, faced furloughs or pay cuts. Our kids are home from school. We’re worried about our families catching this disease, and ourselves as well. We’re all stuck together in this purgatory of waiting for this crisis to play itself out with no idea of what kind of world waits for us on the other side. We know that this will end - all pandemics eventually do - but we’re going to emerge from our shelters into a changed world. My wife and I have spent the last couple of weekends cleaning out closets. It kind of feels like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic at times, but it also keeps my mind occupied for the most part and keeps it from going into pretty dark places. And hey, my closet is now the cleanest it’s been since we moved. But every so often my mind ends up going there anyways. Such as from seeing a pile of T-shirts.

Some Thoughts On COVID-19

If you ask people over a certain age, they can always tell you where they were when they found out about 9/11. I was a sophomore at Auburn, and my first class that day was at like 1pm, so I enjoyed the great collegiate tradition of sleeping in. Usually when I wake up the first thing I do is check my email. It’s still the first thing I do. That morning my inbox was full with messages on the fraternity mailing list, with things like “pray, a lot of people are dying today.” I turned on the TV just minutes before the first tower collapsed. Stayed glued to the TV the rest of the day. News coverage was on every channel, even Discovery Channel. Class was cancelled. I went and filled up my car in case I needed to drive the 250 miles back home to Tennessee. That evening I was in the SGA office in Foy Student Union folding thousands of little yellow ribbons for a very hastily organized memorial service on Samford lawn a few days later. We listened to President Bush’s speech on a small boombox in the office. I feel like I have been living that day over and over again for the last two weeks.