Ah, working from home. What sounded like a cool thing to do for two weeks in March last year became a way of life for a lot of us – and let’s be honest – it’s not always as awesome as it sounds.
Pajamas all day? YES.
No commute? YES.
Sleep longer? YES.
Non-traditional working hours? YES
MID-DAY SIESTA? DEFINITELY YES.
And that lasted for about 13 minutes until reality set in. These kids – they still live here… and (at the time) school was closed. Husband’s job has also moved home… and now my husband and I, who practice law at competing law firms, are suddenly trying to Tetris stack our calls and hearings while simultaneously competing for most aggressive typist. While managing children… and way too many dogs. Also, the dining room is now an office, preschool, and guest room (because, as timing would have it, our second baby was born right before the pandemic hit). Cool cool cool.
But, over the course of a year, we (dare I say it) fell into a routine. As a working mom, I quickly figured out what worked and what didn’t and adjusted accordingly. Now, as companies face decisions on whether remote work may be permanent for some, these are the things that made all the difference for our work-at-home survival.
1. Separate your space.
The hardest part of working at home for me was feeling like I could never get away. Now, I love my job, but I don’t love it enough to be immersed in it 24/7. Separating my space was key. Set up a place to work that’s not a place you usually spend time in—this can be anything from a different room (guest room, office), or just sitting in a different chair at the dining room table you don’t normally sit in. When you work, go to this space. When you are done working, leave this space. We also moved mid-pandemic, so this started out as a different chair at the dining room table and ended up as a home office (or a different chair at the kitchen table depending on whether my husband needs privacy for a client call or court hearing).
2. Mimic your work environment.
Now that you have a space to work, make it feel like work. I don’t mean make sub-par coffee and turn the thermostat to an unlivable temperature—I mean, make your space inviting in the way you would at work. For example, at work I have this giant mouse/computer pad thing that is pale pink and pretty and I love it. So, I ordered one for home. At work, I have two monitors, so we found an extra monitor to mimic that at home. I also have a desk calendar at work, so I got one at home. This makes my space feel like an actual work environment—a place I can be productive and focus.
3. Structure the day.
I live and die by my calendar—if it’s not in my calendar, it’s not happening. When I started working at home, I felt really lost juggling all the extra things that come along with working at home with kids, a husband, and three dogs. I had to come to terms quickly with the idea that I still needed to set up an office-like structure—and that it was going to look different working at home. For example, my husband and I set up blocks of time when one of us would knock out calls, and the other would keep the kids occupied. Also, everyone usually started crumbling between 3:30 and 4, so we would religiously take a walk during that time. I started planning these things into my day just like I would a work meeting or teleconference. Even though the structure was different, it was structure, and it made things a little easier bouncing between work and family.
4. Take a break.
Listen to me—and listen carefully—TAKE. A. BREAK. WHEN. YOU. NEED. A. BREAK. This one took me a long time to learn. Working at home—especially if you have others at home—is a different beast. You cannot expect to treat your days like you would in the office. It’s not going to happen, it’s never going to work, and you will only be frustrated. Learn to check in with yourself, and take a break when you need one. Build them into your day if you need to—but take the break. Go for a walk, walk the dog, finish some laundry. You aren’t going to be productive if you’re exhausted—so take the break–and come back when you’re feeling refreshed.
5. Don’t get too comfortable.
When I first started working from home I Googled no less than 50 articles on how to make working from home easier. Almost every single article told me to get up in the morning and get dressed like I normally would for work. Okay, no. That involves heels, and makeup, and jewelry, and oftentimes, Spanx. I’m not doing it. BUT, a year in, I get it. Maybe pajamas all day, everyday isn’t the greatest option. I did this at first, and it really got me into a funk. Now, I simply make it a point to get dressed—even if this means yoga pants. I am in no way dressing for my office—that still sounds terrible for me… but the pajamas all day really isn’t healthy (but don’t touch my slippers because those WILL stay on all day everyday).
Overall, even though working from home is still working, it’s not the same thing as going to the office—and can’t be treated the same. Adjust as needed to find what works for you. Anything else that has made working from home more manageable for you? Let me know!