Eight years ago, after building a successful freelancing side gig, I made the decision to switch gears professionally: I would pursue freelance writing full time while working remotely. As I left my desk job for the last time, I remember looking back at my office and wondering if I’d miss the camaraderie (and crappy coffee) of the office break room, the hustle and bustle of an office, and coworkers who remembered to bring me a cake on my birthday.
The short answer: yes, even eight years later, I still miss the cadence of the days when I worked in a brick and mortar office. And, since my shih tzu officemate is terrible at remembering birthdays, I definitely eat less cake in my home office.
Over the last eight years, the transition to working from home has been an evolution and a constantly flexible situation. As my family has grown, my office hours have changed and the rhythm of my days, while satisfying, have been, at times, difficult to manage. Learning to dedicate time and visual space to your job while working remotely takes time, effort and patience.
And if you are like many Americans right now, suddenly finding yourself managing deadlines from the kitchen table with kids, partners, and furry friends underfoot can be more than stressful. Thankfully, when I posed the question, “What are your best work from home tips?” to our HerMoney private Facebook group members, they offered up some excellent advice. Here’s what they said:
Timing is everything. Literally.
Without the rhythm of a 9-5 office job to keep your day moving, using a phone timer can help you stay focused on track while working remotely. One of the biggest challenges I found when transitioning to working from home was time management. It’s very easy to jump down the rabbit hole of a big project while ignoring the clock. There were days when I’d look at the clock and realize not only had I forgotten to eat lunch but I’d also ignored self care by not taking coffee and bathroom breaks.
Theresa R. tells fellow HerMoney group members, “If you normally take a 15 minute coffee break in the office, take one at home. There’s no need to be tied to your laptop every single second of the day.” Not only is taking breaks during your remote work day necessary for success, dedicating time for a lunch hour is imperative, too. Kathleen C stresses,“I walk the neighborhood park from 1pm-2pm having declared that my lunch hour. Getting some sunshine in the middle of the day helps me in many ways.”
Dress the part (even if your coworkers are furry friends).
Sure, we’ve all seen the memes and jokes about not wearing a bra while working from the couch, but the truth is dressing the professional part goes a long way toward helping make you feel your best professional self. While no one is saying you have to wear a power suit to make the commute to your home workspace, showering and leaving your pajamas only for actual sleeping will keep you in the productivity mindset. HerMoney group member Kelli CB says, “Feel free to dress comfortably,” and she suggests looking at your preferred at-home wardrobe as your “uniform.”
Schedules Matter. Yes, really.
HerMoney’s Editor-In-Chief Kathryn Tuggle says planning is everything when it comes to successfully working remotely. “I decide early on in my day what time I’ll have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I usually plan lunch around any conference calls I might have, but I stay flexible.” Tuggle says that planning mealtimes is the best way for her to accomplish two important things: 1) building set breaks in her day that she can plan around and 2) sticking to her diet, and not over-eating or snacking all day.
Shelby M says she plans her days even more tightly than when she works in the office, with a strict wake up time, workouts, breaks, lunch, etc. “It’s very easy to just keep working and realize it’s very late in the day. If I need to do something substantive, I’ll do it first thing while others are settling into the day and before emails and messages come flying in.”
Theresa R has advice for managers and bosses who are navigating managing employees remotely. “If you have employees, don’t expect them to be on every second. They’re still allowed to step away for coffee or catch up with colleagues just like they would in the office.”
Carve out your own office space (even if it’s in the basement).
I’m not going to lie: I love my home office space, but it wasn’t always that way. When I first started working from home, I cobbled together a few mismatched pieces of furniture from our basement to create a space that was just mine. And that worked well for a time, but, eventually, I realized that if I was going to work creatively full-time from home, I needed a space that reflected my style and professional goals. These days, when I walk into my home office, I feel centered and ready to tackle the challenges of the day.
Susan G agrees. She counts “A big desk, a bright light, and a door” as key, and Erin K says, “Have a designated work area for work only, if you can. It will feel great to close the laptop and walk away.” Amen, Erin.
If you didn’t do laundry at the office, don’t do it while working remotely.
A few years into working from home, I found myself struggling with the demands of juggling housework with my job deadlines. Simply put: it was hard to ignore the pile of laundry and dishes in the sink that were staring at me. But, as my therapist reminded me, when I worked in a brick and mortar office, that laundry stayed put until I had time to do it in the evenings or on the weekends. The same rules apply when you are working from home.
“Don’t expect to be able to multitask with household chores,” says HerMoney group member Lynn M. “It’s easy to get distracted and feel stressed out when you look up and see a laundry basket that needs to be put away or a counter that needs to be cleaned off, but if you were in the office you wouldn’t be able to do that, so don’t add pressure to your day by trying to do it all.”
Your professional life is stressful, no matter if you are in an office or working from your dining room table. And, you need to be able to blow off steam with your coworkers. HerMoney’s Chief of Growth Katie Doyle works remotely and she makes a point of finding ways to creatively connect with her coworkers face-to-face. “Connect with your coworkers like you would if you were in the office. Rather than slacking for every conversation, try video chat. Using Zoom (with the beauty filter), we get to see each other, have water-cooler chats and stay connected while social distancing.”
Pro tip: Please do this immediately if you’re working from home and using the video conferencing service Zoom: Go to the lower-left-hand corner of the screen, find Video Settings, and check the box marked “Touch Up My Appearance.” You’re welcome.
If you’ve suddenly found yourself working from home, be patient. It takes time to get used to a new routine, and it’s okay if you find yourself longing for your “old” professional life. Finding new ways to connect can be exciting and fun. Kilty S says, “To keep our (12) office admins connected and engaged, I send out a fun question of the day each morning: Day 1 was “Show off your remote workspace” Other days will include questions about your favorite book/movie/meal etc, pet pictures, favorite app, and what’s your superpower.” I’m pretty sure we all want to work in Kilty’s office now.
And to my HerMoney coworkers, I expect that you’ll find a way to deliver cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery to my home office on my next birthday. Singing is optional.
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