At a first glance, the idea of working from home seems like a dream come true. You get to wear your pajamas to work, you can eat whenever you want, and there is no boss constantly watching over your shoulder. However after the honeymoon is over, that sweet first week of freedom, you start to learn it’s not the dream vacation you were hoping for. It’s boring sitting in the same office all day. There’s no one to talk to. You work way longer throughout the day, even though you are doing the same hours. Things feel stale and boring. It really is not as you thought it would be.
According to StatsCan almost 40% of Canadian employees have begun working from home amid the Covid-19 outbreak. For context, we were at roughly 10% before the pandemic. Needless to say, this is a very significant increase. StatsCan also learned (based off of a survey they conducted) that businesses expect that at least 10% or more of their employees will continue to work remotely post-pandemic. Based on the above stats, I believe we will start to see the normalizing of telework in the future.
I was one of the many people who were asked to work from home. I have to admit there is a learning curve that I did not see coming. As a photographer and photo retoucher, there has always been some element of working from home, but I never had full office hours. It takes a certain level of commitment and determination. Also GREAT communication skills, since most interactions with coworkers are now done via email. I am lucky to have entrepreneurial friends who work full time from home, and they gave me great advice. I also learned a few tricks along the way. So without further ado, I give you my top 6 tips for working from home.
1. Set up a designated Work Space: I understand not everyone has an office or closed off room available to them. That’s ok. For this step I have two simple recommendations. Make sure you are working in a room that does not have a television, and make sure that it is not a room where you would normally sleep (IE: your bedroom.) Why? Well, you should avoid TVs because you need to train your brain that when you are at work, you are at work, and that entertainment, like TV, is not part of that work. If you would not watch Netflix at your job, you should not watch it when working from home. Keep work and entertainment separate, so that you can still enjoy your free time. Next, don’t work in your bedroom. I know this can be a hard one, especially if you have little ones and this is the only room you have to get away from them. If that is the case, maybe set up a designated space in your bedroom that is for working (not your bed!) My reason to not work in your bedroom is similar to the television. Your bedroom is a place where you should go to rest. If you spend the whole day in there working, you could confuse your brain, and make it think that when you are in your bedroom it is “go time.” This can affect your sleep schedule and your mood. So, if you can avoid it, don’t work where you sleep. 2. Set up a work space that you feel comfortable and happy in: I’m not going to lie, this was a BIG ask for me. I have always had a space in our little 2 bedroom apartment that was designated as my “office” (a small 9’x12’ bedroom with a walk-in closet.) However, until the pandemic I never really used it as that, it was more like my “place to put photo equipment and seasonal decorations and a piano and why not a futon for guests as well” space. A general storage area, if you will. I never felt good about hanging out in there, and over the years we had tried to fix this (new space saving desk, book cases for organization, closet organizers etc.) But it still wasn’t really a space I wanted to be in. It felt crowded and I found it hard to concentrate in all the remaining clutter. When my boss and I started talking about me working from home, Netflix started streaming all those weird home-renos and get-organised shows. I don’t know what it is about those kinds of shows, but they really just get me feeling motivated to clean. The one that really got me moving in regards to my office was Get Organised With The Home Edit. It was exactly what I needed. Like many of you during your first lock-down, I went on a full cleaning and dejunking craze, but I’ve never been very good at organization, and this show really helped out with that. I was able to change the layout of the furniture in my office, come up with better storage solutions, and make a work space that was functional. My office went from being a place that I never wanted to enter and would shamefully throw things into the closet when guests were over, to a place I wanted to be in. I can read in there now, study, work at my desk, I even managed to decorate the walls to add some personal flair. So step up and set up a work space you want to be in that brings you joy (looking at your Marie Kondo.) For me, it was getting organised and removing clutter to make my office functional, so I could focus on my work. For you it might be finding a way to make the space feel less depressing by adding a plant or a fun picture. It doesn’t matter what it is that makes you more comfortable or happy, as long as it works for you. You're going to spend 8-12 hours a day in your work space, so make it special. 3. Designate work hours: Ok, this seems like an obvious one, but let me explain. Some employers don’t really care when you work during the day, as long as the work gets done. My office is one of these places. I need to respond to company emails during office hours, but other than that, if I want to edit photos in the middle of the night, no one at my office is going to stop me. I feel like quite a few offices that don’t have a customer contact part to the job operate the same way. However, just like having an office space in your room, this can lead to some potentially harmful habits that could affect your mental health. If you can, try to make “office hours” at home. This allows you to focus on your work and section it off from your personal time. Have a set wake-up time. Have a set start time. Have a set finish time. I struggled with this at first. I really liked the idea of doing an hour of work and then taking an undefined “mental health break” to do housework or watch some Netflix or something. This made it so I was working way longer throughout the day, and never really left me with any guilt-free personal time. Like, of course I could come back to that project at 10:00 pm, after I have binge watched 15 episodes of How I Met Your Mother. But that doesn’t mean I should, and also that time watching the show is also spent thinking about how I really should be working right now, which means I am not really enjoying my down time. I’m just procrastinating going back to work with silly high five jokes (right, Barney?). Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying don’t take breaks. However, make sure you have a defined start and end time to your work day. This allows you to enjoy the things that matter, like family time, guilt- and worry-free. 4. A Change of Scenery: No matter how comfy you make your work space, I guarantee you are still eventually going to feel stale in that environment. This is partially because we do not get the same breaks in our day we would get talking to coworkers face to face, and partially because sitting in the same space day after day is just unstimulating (and I think even more so if you live in an area with lock-downs in effect.) There are a few ways you can combat this:
- Take a walk around the house, or around the outside of the house — if the weather allows. I know this doesn’t sound that interesting, but sometimes you just need to look at something other than your screen. Not only will you get a stretch out of this, but you are also letting your eyes rest from the screen — which you are supposed to be doing every 30 minutes, by the way. - I know I said you should avoid doing housework at home during work hours, but I definitely did. Nothing major, just what I call “smoke break” chores. I would sometimes do laundry. I wouldn’t do it all in one go. I would load the washer and set it to run, then go back to work. An hour or so later, I would move that load to the dryer and start a new load, then go back to work. If I had laundry waiting to be folded, I would grab a handful and fold it, then go back to work. I didn’t do this every day, and I definitely didn’t prioritize it over my work. But, if I was getting up to leave my office for a stretch, I found this kept me mentally feeling productive, and it only took 5 minutes, which is as long as a smoke break. You can do this with most mundane chores. Change the garbage, empty the dishwasher, take the dog out, but stick to the “smoke break” rule. Remember, you are still on company time, so you want to make sure you are being respectful of that time. If the chore you want to do will take longer than 5 minutes, don’t do it. - Stretch break! You know all those office stretches you read about that can improve posture and prevent tech neck, but you didn’t want to do them because people are watching? Do them. Why not? You were supposed to be doing them at work anyways, and now no one is around to judge you. So, it shouldn’t matter if you do them now, because no one is around to critique your bad form. I recommend these stretches in the images below, but you can google many different charts like this to find what works for you.
5. Be Social-ish: You want to make sure there is still some sort of human connection in your job, specifically if your job used to have that before you started working from home. Now to be clear, I am not encouraging you to message your BFF all day just because. That isn’t exactly productive. Instead consider setting up a group chat with your coworkers. Keeping in contact with your cohorts outside of emails can help you remember that they are human, you are not alone, and help break up your day a little bit. I am very fortunate that I work with many wonderful people that I like and hang out with outside of work. I know not everyone has that. But I really missed that social element to my day when I started working from home. And although we are not allowed to set up a group chat, we are allowed to send non-work related emails, and that really helps brighten my day. You really don’t realize how much that social aspect helps make the day go by faster, and, for many, it is the highlight to their day. 6. Take full advantage of the home toilet: Huh? What I mean by this is we don’t usually drink enough water during the day, and for many people, water is not a priority when you are working. Well, you're at home, you're not sharing your toilet with gross coworkers, so why not use this time to develop healthier habits. Not only will your body thank you for it, but refilling your glass of water gives you an excuse for a much needed break.
Working from home is definitely a wolf in sheep's clothing, but only if you let it become that. I challenge you all to set goals, create home work hours, and use this time to improve where you can. Working from home will always be around now. It’s going to be the new standard for many occupations that it wasn’t before. But it doesn't need to be a burden if you are one of these lucky people. Try these techniques, figure out what works for you, and then continue to learn and apply new healthy teleworking habits to improve your home office experience.