A Houzz contributor with over two decades of experience shares her tips on how to work from home during this uneasy time.
I’ve spent more than two decades working almost exclusively from home. During that time I’ve written about the home design and remodeling industry for major newspapers, magazines and digital media. Apart from the occasional in-person editorial meetings and photo shoots, I’ve typed away from the comfort of my home.
When I say “home,” that means everything from a small city studio in San Francisco to a more spacious Victorian flat in the California wine country. I’ve had a simple desk in the corner of my bedroom, used a nook in my living room and also enjoyed a fully dedicated home office. Given the ever-changing situation with the COVID-19 coronavirus, I suddenly found myself answering phone calls and emails from friends who are now working from home for the first time and looking for tips on how to be efficient and comfortable. So I thought I would share those tips here for anyone who is going through a similar situation.
1. Stake Out Your Spot
If you normally work in an office setting and now find yourself working from home, you may be distracted by the “new” surroundings. Everything from noisy delivery trucks on the street to the adorable puppy in your lap can take your mind off work. You need to pick a spot in your home with the fewest distractions, and where all the essentials (like electrical outlets and your modem) are close by. Modern WiFi is a wonderful thing, but understand it can still be inconsistent in even the most tech-friendly neighborhoods.
Also, try to find a spot near a window with some natural light so you don’t feel completely tucked away from the world. Think about storage, and try to keep work-only items grouped together. Even if you’re only working at home temporarily, buy a couple of boxes, baskets or containers for work-related documents and supplies. It’s always a good idea to have basics like pens, paper, staples or paper clips handy. (I still sometimes find myself with only one working pen in my entire home! How does that happen?)
2. Work First, Worry About Errands Later
Even when you’re working from a home office, it helps to maintain a schedule or set work hours. While everyone is different, I definitely need to answer emails, schedule interviews, return calls and write copy early in the day. When I try to run errands in the morning and tell myself I’ll get work done in the afternoon, I end up doing dishes, watering plants, buying gifts online or finding some other not-so-legitimate excuse to avoid writing. Try to get work done early, before a family member or friend needs a favor or you start turning your attention to the grocery list.
I would also suggest not checking work emails after 8 p.m. or not eating at the computer, but I have to be honest and say I break those rules all the time. (Deadlines, people!)
And make sure family and friends understand that just because you’re in your apartment or house, you’re still working. I want my elderly mother to be able to call me anytime, but I ask other family members and friends to respect my work hours and stick with the less obtrusive email or text for non-emergencies.
3. Think About Your Back, Feet and Shoulders
When I work on big projects and spend long hours in front of the laptop writing copy during a condensed period of time, my body tightens up. Pick a back-friendly, ergonomic chair if at all possible. I always make time for exercise (don’t forget to stretch!) and prefer to stand while I type.
You can invest in a new standing desk, or create one on your own — a vintage desk with some type of stand on top can work in a pinch. Try to make time for a daily walk, especially if you don’t have an exercise routine you already incorporate into your day.
4. Make Friends With Your Postal Worker or Delivery Person
Take the time to let your local postal worker or delivery person in your neighborhood know you’re now working from home if your work involves a lot of envelopes and packages. While all towns are different, I have found it helps when my local delivery person knows I’m working at home and sending and receiving envelopes and packages on a regular basis. I make a point to say hi and talk with my local drivers, but something as simple as leaving a note on your door explaining your situation often works.
I had to learn this lesson the hard way one day after I made a mad dash to the local mail store wearing my shabby, she-must-work-at-home clothes trying to meet the afternoon deadline. Don’t be me.
5. Pump the Brakes With Social Media
Social media can be absolute poison if you don’t limit yourself. It’s definitely good to stay on top of the news during these uneasy times, but if you allow yourself to be sucked into endless posts, you might look up at the clock and discover you lost three or four hours of your day.
I enjoy social media and participate for both personal and work reasons, but I have learned to use it wisely. Example: I find myself on hold sometimes when making work calls, or stuck at my desk waiting for someone to return my message, so I’ll use that time to post a link to one of my latest stories or save posts that might help me for future stories.
That doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at someone’s funny online story, or post about your favorite sports team or TV show. Just try to limit the damage during work hours.
6. Find Someone Who Can Help With Tech Issues
When you work in a business office, you usually have a person dedicated to dealing with the tech issues that come up during the day. While I love working in digital media, I’m definitely not a computer expert. When I have issues with my laptop, internet connection or printer, I am fortunate enough to have a best friend who is a total computer whiz and also works in media. (Shout out to Jessie in North Carolina!)
She has done something professional tech types haven’t been able to do: given me confidence that I can handle some of the tech issues that come up. But she’s also there when I need help. Try to plan ahead so you know you have someone to call when a work deadline is looming and you feel isolated at home.
7. Finally, When You Work at Home You Should, Well, WORK
Working from home sounds easy (and there are definitely advantages, no doubt), but you always must remember you’re working. Just because you’re not hopping into your car or taking a subway ride to an office, you’re still trying to make a living and should be in work mode to get things done. It helps to just mentally make that jump and remember the bills need to be paid. Laundry can wait. That new recipe you want to try can wait.
If it helps you focus, take that morning shower, put on your “work” clothes and then start that project of the day. I focus and write better in the morning hours, so I tend to take my shower later, after exercising and errands.
With some trial and error you can learn what works best for you and your specific job, and maybe even find a new way to enjoy your home.