Every day a good portion of the world is grappling with the new reality of this Coronavirus lifestyle. And with many businesses enforcing remote work policies as a well-intentioned attempt to safeguard the spread of the virus, people who have never previously worked from home are now thrust into new levels of stress.
Do you set an alarm still? Are showers still a thing? Can Netflix and Hulu tell that you didn’t leave at 8:30 a.m. like you usually do and automatically power on? Do you even still have a job anymore? It’s all so strange.
But think of it this way, you were a good worker before, right? You can be a good worker now, or at least the very same worker, in the comfort of your new home office.
You don’t need a boss or coworkers in the room for that to be true. You just need to be honest with yourself about your good and bad habits.
Don’t treat WFH as “more free time”
Doing this may cause all your executive functions to go out the window. Here are routines you may want to maintain:
- your sleep schedule
- workout cadence (but from home)
- breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- the ole 9 to 5 working hours
Once I started working from home, I seamlessly transitioned to a schedule I maintain to this day. I wake up at 6 a.m., read for an hour while I have my coffee, and then work in my home office steadily until lunch time (around 1:30 to 2 p.m.).
During lunch, I’ll take a break (usually on the couch while allowing myself one or two episodes of a show), go exercise, shower, and walk the dog. Then I’ll go back to my office to work more until dinnertime.
By 7 or 8 p.m., I consider my official workday done and spend the rest of my time doing whatever. Since I work with music and media, I do keep some odd hours checking email or socials, but I try to not answer work emails after 10 p.m., or during the weekend.
But again, that’s not gonna come automatically for everyone.
“When I first started working from home, I just wouldn’t leave my room the entire time. I’d just get hyper-focused on writing and editing, and then I’d go to bed stressed out, which led to a circular pattern of anxiety,” says April Wolfe, cowriter of Black Christmas, and host of the podcast “Switchblade Sisters.”
In April’s case, she’s worked from home almost exclusively for the past 8 years and has gotten into the habit of hunkering down for consistent 8- to 12-hour workdays. To manage remote working stress, she makes room in her schedule for online exercise classes or walks throughout the day.
“Having solid routines of mandated relaxation and physical activity saved me,” says April, “as [does] working with cats.”
For Molly McAleer, host of “Plz Advise” and “Mother May I Sleep With Podcast,” and cofounder of Hello Giggles, she says, “Get dressed in the morning. The impulse to stay in sweats with no makeup, especially during winter months, is completely understandable but at some point, you’ll start to feel like a gross blob that just moves room to room in their swamp castle.”
As you work consecutive days from home, you’ll start to notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Just like my 6 a.m. thing probably stopped a lot of readers in their tracks. But it’s what works for my brain. I love being able to get stuff done by 10 a.m., which in my old office life was the time I’d be dragging my ass into work.
Sure, someone giving you the hot tip of “remember to take showers” isn’t gonna help you much, but being reminded that work should actually, you know, stop at some point in the day, is good advice.
Molly McAleer’s WFH checklist:
- Set up a work station in the area of your home where you typically spend the least amount of time.
- Separate “life space” from “work space.”
- Set up boundaries. Take breaks. Don’t be available 24/7.
- If you’re lonely, stay in touch with coworkers via Zoom/Skype/Facetime.
The last time I worked in an office was 2013, and it didn’t suit me at all. My job at the time was Music Editor (for a once cool magazine that rhymes with RICE) and I was constantly befuddled with how some could write creatively in a huge open room, surrounded by 80 other people, all while being blasted with fluorescent lighting and AC. Film “The Matrix 5” in a setting like that, sure, but miss me with that locale for any type of writing work.
Laura June, Deputy Editor for Roxane Gay’s Gay Magazine, who has worked from home for 13 years, agrees like many others (myself included), that a coworking environment is not ideal for her. In her case, she’s had to come up with a way to accommodate her young daughter’s schedule, as well as her husband’s.
“Because I’m a writer and editor, honestly my ideal is total isolation,” Laura says. “Early on I thought I could work both from home and also with my husband [because] we did that successfully for years. But when circumstances changed and we suddenly did NOT work together anymore, I realized how hard [a coworking environment] had been on both work and our relationship.”
“I needed some space for myself in work and now I don’t even like to work NEAR him if I don’t have to (which is going to be a trial coming up here, I know!)”
For Laura, to make sure isolation doesn’t completely get to her, she says a group chat is best. “Even at Gay Magazine, a three-person operation, we have a Slack [channel] where we can chat and blow off steam and talk a little.”
Sasha Brown-Worsham, author of the book Namaste the Hard Way: A Daughter’s Journey to Find Her Mother on the Yoga Mat, has also worked from home for 13 years, and agrees isolation is ideal for her because she’s an introvert who prefers to work alone. But she also has small children and a husband in the home that she has to factor in.
“I used to let work just creep into every hour of my day and never be present with my kids and husband,” Sasha says. In her case, she felt so lucky to be able to work from home, that she thought if she didn’t work long hours, she wouldn’t be making the most of her sweet situation. She’s now gotten the hang of carving out time for work, and family, all under one roof.
In my house, I’m lucky to have a designated actual damn office to work in. My wife, who works half in the home, and half outside of the home, has her own office as well, that’s directly across from mine. She is an extrovert, and chirps like a little bird from the minute she gets up, to the minute she falls asleep. I am as introverted as they come, and am not what anyone would ever call “chatty.”
When we’re both working from home, we make it work by being patient and mindful of each other’s needs. If I’m working on a story, which usually requires complete silence in order to concentrate, I let her know. If she’s feeling chatty, or has questions about something she’s working on from her office, I accommodate.
If you live with roommates or family, working from home is an adjustment and requires bends and tweaks to fit different people, but it’s all very similar to “normal” office life.
“I prefer to work alone/be alone,” says designer and musician Shanthony Exum (aka Miss Eaves). “I always have iMessage up so if I get lonely I can just text a friend or shoot them a design/song for feedback. Another plus to working from home is you don’t have to do the “fake work” during downtime — you can just wash you clothes or make muffins. It also makes it easier to organize home repairs and deliveries.”
And I honestly hope I never have to work in an office again. Working from home allows me to be the boss of my workday, in every way. Sure, I have deadlines that I need to meet, and projects that people depend on me to do well, and actually finish, but I have the benefit of organizing my time in a way that works for me.
You may find yourself in an opposite situation than me, and miss the buzz and hum of an office. If this is the case, find a white noise playlist on Spotify, or play a podcast while you work.
Trust in yourself that you’ll get the work done no matter what, but allow yourself some time, like everyone quoted here did, and like I did, to figure out your own perfect routine.
We can do this, everybody. Now… go take a shower.
Kelly McClure is a writer who has written for NY Magazine, GQ, The Hairpin, Rolling Stone, and more. Find more of her work here.