Working from home: some of us do it out of choice, others out of necessity. Some with set schedules, others with more flexibility. Some solo, and others with spouses, roommates, and/or children present. Whatever the circumstance, working from home poses its own unique professional and personal challenges.
This is why I’ve polled some of the experts (sic friends and colleagues who work from home and yours truly) for tried-and-true tips for making working from home work for you.
I am a self-proclaimed expert in tips for making working from home work, so I’m adding my two cents, too. You see, before I became a parent, I worked from home full time. This was pre-pandemic, and out of a combination of choice and necessity. Then I became a mom, and decided to continue working from home (see this article which was ironically written one month before the pandemic hit). My daughter is now 2.5 years old, and she was only in daycare for about 4 months of her life before COVID shut everything down. It has been a painful process learning exactly what works – or doesn’t work – when trying to work from home with her present. Any tips I can give to you to make your work from home experience less stressful, and more productive and fulfilling will satisfy me greatly!
One thing that was immediately apparent when asking the experts about this topic, is that there are a lot of ways to work from home. I’ve whittled down the list to the most common or surprising tidbits, and organized it into two buckets with the top tips for making working from home work: 1) working from home musts for everyone, and 2) for people with kids at home.
Bucket #1: Working from Home Musts for Everyone
Tip 1: Close the door. My office space is a pass-thru between the dining room and kitchen. I had a lot of fun choosing a desk, hanging some art work, getting the lighting right. But what I didn’t realize would be a problem in the long run is the fact that my office doesn’t have a door. I would be rich if I got a dollar for every time I complained to my wife, friends, and coworkers about wishing I could just close the door.
There is no physical or mental separation between my work life and my personal life. It’s distracting and stressful. I walk into the kitchen for a midnight snack: there’s my work computer screen smiling back at me. I sit down for a work call: there’s my dog chasing my cat through the house. My toddler is being eerily quiet – there she is rifling through my desk drawers and chewing on paper clips and writing on my project files. My work space has also become the default home office (more on organizing the paper mess that is a home office here). If I could have a re-do, I’d choose a closet over my current office set-up.
Tip 2: Faux commute. You don’t have a commute when you work from home. Whether you see it as a pro or con, you also don’t have a set and expected time to mentally prepare for the day, get some air, listen to a podcast or music, guzzle a piping hot coffee. Do yourself a favor, and practice a faux commute (such a popular idea that CNN published about it). Whether you walk the dog or baby, take a bike ride, or pick up a drive-thru coffee order before you sit down at your desk, pretend you are commuting to work. Do something similar at the end of your day to cue to your body and mind that it’s time to switch to non-work mode. You might be surprised how beneficial you find this to be!
Tip 3: Set a schedule. Everyone’s job demands something a little different than the next. Time of day, hours per day, clientele served, nature of the work – it all varies. Chances are, you can get into a rhythm with your work regardless of the nuances. Once you understand your groove, set a schedule for your work day and week, and stick to it. On the daily, use an alarm on your phone or computer to alert you when it’s time for the next activity – lunch break, walk, shift from one set of tasks to another, etc. On the weekly, block out chunks of time on your calendar for workouts, errands, standing meetings, so on and so forth. I even find it helpful to do this for my personal time, too. Always allow yourself room for flexibility, too. Rigidity will add to the stress and making working from home even harder.
Bucket #2: Working from home with kids present
(DISCLAIMER: I don’t actually know if these tips will work for you, but it’s worth trying!)
Tip 4: Set expectations with your coworkers/clients. Be up front and honest about your situation with your boss, coworkers, and clients. One thing you can thank COVID-19 for is a growing understanding or at least acceptance of the situations of working parents and guardians. What was once taboo – the toddlers interrupting a sales pitch via Zoom – is now expected and perhaps even helping to seal the deal with the cuteness factor. Oddly enough, my coworkers now look forward to the distraction of my daughter (and dog and cat).
Tip 5: Get some help. This could be help from a paid professional such as a part- or full-time nanny or babysitter, from older children, or a friend or family member. Use their help on a regular schedule, for when you have meetings, or when you really need a chunk of time to focus. Every bit of help helps…immensely. It also gives you the peace of mind to know that you will be able to close the door and get down to business uninterrupted. Even if it’s only once a week for a few hours!
Tip 6: Let go of expectations for yourself. Working from home while simultaneously managing your household and children is a lot. Following your versions of Tips 1 – 5 will hopefully help you balance your life, but they aren’t the end all, be all to making working from home work for you. Please be gentle with yourself, and understand that you can’t do it all, no matter how hard you try. Let go of self-imposed expectations of working xx hours per week while nursing one child while setting up sensory bins for another all while preparing a nutritious meal that everyone will eat. Schedules, work load, availability of help, and all other factors will continuously change, but you will continue to be you – a human who needs grace, space, and a little TLC, too.