Top Tips on Working from Home

I’m writing this at the time of a worldwide pandemic of COVID-19. We’re facing rapid spread of the disease and in the hopes of retaining healthy employees, many employers are providing their workforce with the option if not encouragement (and in some cases, a mandate) to work from home. If it is an option for you to work from now, I urge you: please do.

However, many employees have never (or rarely) worked from home and the idea of being isolated all day can be really daunting. I’ve worked almost exclusively from home for the past 4.5 years my company is mostly remote workers. I’ve been there from when we were about 150 employes up to roughly 1500 today. We’ve gathered a lot of strategies and lots of tools to make it more effective and fun. I’m posting the top 5 tips here I tell every new remote worker to think about in case it’s of any use to any of you.

Feelings of isolation and disconnection from the outside world are normal and must be actively combatted.

Find a way to get direct person-to-person — ideally digital face-to-face — communication into your workday. Zoom has a free plan where you can set up video conference for 1-on-1 meetings if your company doesn’t have another video conferencing service. Using video platforms extensively to talk through problems or just make a human connection, can really help you feel much more connected.

As a personal anecdote, I frequently (5-10 times per day) spin up a quick 5-10 minute video conference to chat with someone about an e-mail they sent or brainstorm ideas together. It makes a big difference and can increase the amount of information you can convey in a short amount of vs an e-mail because facial expressions and voice conveys emotions in ways that digital text cannot.

When you’re isolated at home, keeping a “normal” schedule can be really hard. Try.

It’s not obvious when you’re taking a break, “out” for lunch, or have “left work” for the day. It’s not obvious to you about your coworkers’ schedules either.

Block off regular breaks in your calendar: lunch, exercise (even if it’s just 30 minutes to go for a walk to help clear you mind), etc. Many of my coworkers set up a few 15-minute meditation breaks per day, for example. Adding these kinds of scheduled items into your day can serve to remind you that you’re a human living in the real world with real, physical things to go do and see and not just get sucked into a screen for 8+ hours nonstop.

Try to use a separate area in your house/apartment as your “work area.”

We’re creatures of habit and for workers and many of us are used to a “normal” commute where we listen to the radio or podcasts or drink our coffee or read a book on a train or bus. When you’re doing that, there are a lot of habits you get into and they help to serve as mental switches to get you into or out of a mindset of work. By having a separate work area, you can have a (much shorter!) “commute” and this can help get you in a mindset that when you leave that work area, you’re not working.

Make sure to do all your normal morning and evening rituals: shower, get dressed normally, and clear your mind with a book or a podcast or whatever it is that gets you ready. “Go out for lunch” and disconnect for a bit even if “going out” is going to your kitchen.

Use short meetings.

Things like breaks to go to the restroom aren’t as obvious as when you’re in an office and you have a physical presence. Set up “short meetings” of 25 minutes or 50 minutes instead of 30 minutes/1 hour so that there’s a 5-10 minute break between meetings for bathroom, coffee, water, etc.

Work hard for social interactions.

Things like the company watercooler and coffee machine aren’t around when you’re at home and those can be normal sources of social interaction. At our company, we set up a channel called “watercooler” on Slack and an always-on video conference anyone can join to chat about…anything whenever they happen to be online. Many people have just sat on there with their video on working silently until someone had something to talk about. Last week, one of our coworkers set up a virtual happy hour to get together and just chat about…again, anything.

These online social interactions take more work in many ways, but they’re some of the most important things many people have at their normal jobs and they don’t think about until they actually have to work from home.

If anyone needs advice or has questions or feels anxious or otherwise just wants to talk, feel free to reach out to me. If others that work from home very frequently have thoughts/additional top tips, feel free to post them as a comment response here.