Support for remote working seems to have been growing in general, with more and more companies offering remote positions. But we’ve seen the topic explode in recent days due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. As a result, you’ll likely see a fair bit about working from home at the moment. There is quite a bit of good advice being shared.
But the thing is, what works from some people will not work for others.
Your work-from-home experience is going to be very different depending on if this is temporary, or if you will be shifting and working from home on a permanent basis. Your personal work-from-home experience will also depend on the requirements of your job.
Swappa was founded in 2010 and is a remote workplace. Swappa is based out of Kansas City, Missouri, and while some employees live in the Kansas City area, the vast majority of employees are spread around the United States, with some further spread around the world.
Personally, I’ve worked for Swappa since 2015, and while I have never been to Kansas City — I am in regular contact with my co-workers and managers using a handful of available tools. I work from my home office, but despite working in a room by myself — I do not really ever feel like I am alone on any given task. Daily communication is done using Slack, which creates a virtual office environment. We also use Google services — Gmail for communication, Calendar for scheduling, and Meet for our meetings.
Looking back I remember it being stressful when I first went remote and began working from home. But it doesn’t need to be stressful, and it shouldn’t be hard, especially with the tools available.
I have since settled into a comfortable work-from-home routine and I am fortunate enough to have a spare bedroom to call my office. That spare bedroom allows me to set some boundaries and ‘leave work’ at the end of the day. But if you’ve suddenly found yourself thrust into working from home — your situation may be a bit different. You may be working from your kitchen table, or a spare desk that you previously used for arts and crafts.
What follows are some tips and suggestions and things to keep in mind as you ease into your new work-from-home environment.
Keep work and home separate, as best you can
Your work-time is work time, and your home-time is home time. This one is simple in theory, however, in reality, it can be difficult to keep work and home separate when you work from home. If you are working from the kitchen table, it may be easy to look over to the kitchen and see the dirty dishes left in the sink, but that isn’t work-related.
You can do a personal errand or household chore during lunch, just as you would during a regular office lunch break, but you shouldn’t be sweeping and mopping or doing laundry during work time. Just keep in mind that, while you may be working from home, you still have work-related tasks and home-related chores. If necessary, you can try labeling each task with work or home.
If you do not have a work assigned computer, try keeping work and personal separated on your computer as best you can. You can create different user accounts on your computer. Or, use a different user account in your browser, or a different browser entirely. For example, Chrome allows you to create multiple profiles. I have a personal profile and a profile for Swappa set on Chrome. Though, I tend to use Firefox for personal and Chrome for work. When I’m working, Firefox isn’t open.
Keep your daily routine
Depending on your job requirements, you may have some flexibility with your work hours, but you should keep your regular morning routine going. Well, regular minus the commute time. For me, I get up early and go running, then I shower, get dressed, eat some breakfast and start working. Having a regular schedule will help to define the transition from home (personal) time to work time each day. Keeping your regular routine will also allow you to easily transition back to working in your regular office (if working from home is temporary).
Use working from home to your advantage
We recommend that you keep a regular routine and that you keep work and home separated. However, you should also take full advantage of working from home. If you are feeling stuck on a task — grab your laptop and sit in a different room, or at the patio table. A small change in scenery or a bit of fresh air can often do wonders.
Not having to commute to the office likely frees up some time, and not having to get dressed in proper office attire may also free up some time — use this to your advantage. If you save 30 minutes a day without your commute — go for a 30-minute walk at the end of the workday, or spend an extra 30 minutes with your family, or read a book you’ve been meaning to read — just take that extra time to do something that makes you happy.
Working from home can also mean eating a little healthier. Or at least eating something from home, as opposed to eating at the local fast food restaurant closest to your office. The advantage here may be eating better, but it also means saving a few extra dollars.
Make yourself comfortable
If working from home is temporary, you may not have a regular office-style desk and chair, but you still need to be comfortable — just not too comfortable. Sitting on the couch with your laptop may sound really great, but that is where you may venture into the too comfortable side. Sitting at the kitchen table may not be the perfect office setup, but you may find it more productive.
Being comfortable is another aspect of where you can use working from home to your advantage. Some jobs have a required dress code, but not everyone enjoys dressing up, and not everyone needs to dress up to be productive. You should be getting dressed in clean clothes each day as part of keeping your daily morning routine, but when working from home those clean clothes can be comfortable shorts and a t-shirt, as opposed to khakis and a button-down shirt.
Don’t try to fully re-create your office at home
You will obviously need to have the necessary equipment. On a basic level, this likely means having a work-issued laptop or work-place access set on your personal computer. But if working from home is going to be temporary you shouldn’t stress out trying to fully re-create your office. Focus on getting the tools and items you absolutely need. And, consider that you may also be able to use this work-from-home time to evaluate what you use on a daily basis. You may find that you’ve been using some items that aren’t really needed.
Set boundaries to minimize distractions
Setting boundaries and minimizing distractions will likely be the biggest issue for many. If you have a spare bedroom this becomes a bit easier. If you don’t have a spare bedroom, try to claim a specific spot, that way when your family sees you in that spot — they understand you are working.
For me, when my office (the spare bedroom) door is closed my family knows I cannot be disturbed (outside of a true emergency). When my office door is open, my family knows they can say hello, or ask a quick question. But they also understand that when I’m at my desk I am working and should not be disturbed for extended periods.
If you are working from the kitchen table, or in another area that your family may walk through — headphones can be super helpful. Using headphones can help to cut out the household noise, and some people also work better when listening to music. But, simply putting headphones on can also be a signal to family. Just like my office door being closed, your family can see the headphones as being a do not disturb sign.
Working from home also means less direct supervision, which can lead to straying from work-related tasks. You should keep the television off, and put your personal phone out of reach so you aren’t tempted to dive into social media when you hear the notification on your phone. Personally, I don’t have a television in my office, and when I am working, my phone sits face-down in the corner of my desk.
Setting boundaries and minimizing distractions is a topic that has two sides. As we’ve already covered, you want to minimize distractions while you are working — but you also want to consider minimizing distractions once you’ve finished working for the day.
It can be difficult to keep work and home life separated in this ever-connected world. And you’ll likely find that working from home makes it difficult to fully separate. If your home office is a few steps from the kitchen or living room — it becomes easier to pop into the office. When possible, try to keep that to a minimum. If an issue comes up and you think it is important — ask yourself if this would have been important enough to drive into the office. Or, if it is only important enough to do being you work from home.
Keep connected with your co-workers
Along with distractions, feeling a connection to your co-workers is the other area you may have some difficulty with. In fact, if you are not an introvert, this may take some getting used to. The good news is that there are plenty of tools available to keep you connected. We use a variety of apps at Swappa, to include Slack for daily communication, Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Meet.
- Using Slack means co-workers are always around, just virtually. Slack allows for quick and easy communication. This can be anything from general water-cooler type chatter, to asking an urgent work-related question.
- Meetings in a regular office setting may feel tiresome for some. But if you work virtually, they can be very important — if for no other reason than to be around your co-workers. At Swappa we have regular team meetings using Google Meet, most of which use video.
- On the Marketing & Creative team, the Content group uses a shared Trello board to manage topics and article ideas. Our Support & Moderation team also uses When I Work to manage the support-side schedule to make sure shifts are always covered.
- Personally, I also use Google Tasks, which can be set as a sidebar in Gmail. I check my email at the start of the workday and having Tasks as the sidebar means I can quickly see the next item on my todo list.
Working from home vs. Working from anywhere
If you have a work-issued laptop or work-place access on a personal laptop you may be tempted to work from a local business or your local library. Working from a different location will have some benefits, but it may also have some drawbacks.
Working from another location means you will be around other people, which for some is important. Of course, if you are being asked to work remotely due to the coronavirus, perhaps sitting in a local coffee shop with a bunch of other new “remote” employees may not be the best idea. That being said, working from anywhere (as opposed to home) also means going against some of the tips we mentioned here in this article, which is where the potential drawbacks arise.
Working from anywhere can be time-consuming. Working from home means your regular commute time can be used for more enjoyable things, whereas working from anywhere brings back a commute. Working from anywhere may also get expensive. If you are in a local coffee shop, you should buy some coffee or snacks. You may also not want to overstay any welcome, which means moving from location to location, which adds more commute time. Not to mention, spending money on gas and added wear and tear on your car. Working from anywhere also means relying on the business WiFi, which may not be as good or as reliable as your home WiFi access.
Hopefully, these tips and suggestions helped ease you into working from home. And, who knows, you may find that with a little bit of planning, and a little bit of setup — working from home can be pretty great. In fact, you may start to feel like you never want to go back to a traditional office setup.