Welcome Home: 7 Tips from a Veteran of the Work-from-Home Trenches

by Jason Ocker

And, just like that, thanks to a live animal market far away, the crowds of the work-from-home sort across the world swelled overnight. Here’s hoping everybody’s residential internet is up to the challenge. And that you stay safe.

At Maark, we’ve had work-from-home policies in place for a long time. When I started here almost a decade ago, it was on a per-case basis for those in unique situations, and then only once or twice a week. Then we virtualized the office completely for a while and we all had to get used to going from bed to desk in seconds. Eventually, we settled into a new office and, since then, have had a company-wide 60% work-from-home week (three out of five days) for years now. Not to mention our colleagues in other states and countries, who are basically 100% work from home.

Obviously, this situation is a little bit different, since the chances are that both you and your partner are working from home and your kids are schooling from home, and it’s not advised to leave your house, and it’s hopefully only a short-term situation. But here’s some advice for those sitting down to a desk in their PJs for an extended period of time for the first time. Like TP and hand sanitizer, take only what you need and leave the rest for others.

1. Think in Terms of Output.

Measurable output is something that applies whether you’re in the office or at home, but when you work from home, there can be a dim guilt or sense of paranoia that the rest of the office or world is being more industrious than you. You can work the most productive eight hours of your life at your house on Wednesday and feel like you accomplished less than just showing up in the office on Thursday and attending eight hours of semi-pointless meetings. Our minds like screwing with us.

But focus on what you actually get done every day, how many projects you wrap or how many things you crossed off your workload for the day. Use that as an objective barometer of your work at home and your confidence in it.

2. Video Conference Liberally.

For many, the tools are already in place to work from home, especially with Slack allowing a constant stream of contact with colleagues and clients. However, that constant stream can be both isolating and counterproductive. When that starts to happen, hit the video chat button. A video chat will solve issues faster, give you some much-needed face time with colleagues, and make you realize you’re not the only one working from a laptop on top of a hamper in the corner of a basement. Also, as a side note, choose your backdrops carefully when you video chat, depending on how much of your personal life you want to share with your professional sphere.

3. Set Up a Routine.

Setting up a routine is something we do naturally for in-office work to get to the office on time, manage a workload, and balance work and life. We get up at the same time, get dressed, take the same route in, hit the coffeeshop, say hi to Bob in reception, check email. Don’t forego that just because you’re at home. Take a shower, dress in work clothes, set a lunch time. Even send Bob a hi emoji, if you need to. Whatever the beats of your routine, it helps get your mind ready for the workday.

4. Find a Place with a Door.

You may or may not be literally able to do this, but the point is to find some way to establish boundaries in advance. Especially if your kids are at home. Because, in the same way that you can fool yourself into thinking you’re not at work, whoever you live with (and especially kids) can naturally and understandably equate home with "not work," too, and treat you accordingly.

5. Share Schedules with Housemates.

My first meeting of the day is with my wife as we compare our schedules for that day. Even if you’ve already set up boundaries together, it’s still helpful to let people you live with know when your “big calls” are or when you’re coming up on an important deadline.

6. Ignore the Kitchen.

I mean, it’s steps away and full of food without other people’s names on it. And, judging by the shelves at my local grocery, it might be the most stocked it’s been in years. You’ll be tempted to go on cabinet and fridge raids when you’re hungry, when you’re in between meetings, to just to get away from the computer for a moment. Eventually, your desk is strewn with Twinkie wrappers and stained plates and seltzer cans, and it can get demoralizing. This tip might just be for me.

7. Don’t sleep through your morning commute time.

Sure, you get bonus time now because you’re not going to and from work. Use it. Hit the treadmill. Watch the morning COVID-19 news (or not). Get a jumpstart on your workload. It’s going to be the quietest time of that workday anyway and the best time to get things done before everybody starts Slacking and video-chatting you.

In the end, working from home (under normal circumstances, at least) can be extremely rewarding both on a personal level and on a productive one. But it does take a bit of discipline, a bit of practice, and a lot of confidence.

Photo by Drew Beamer on Unsplash

Jason writes. Tells stories. Develops strategies. He oversees a wide range of creative and technical projects. He’s also an award-winning author of half a dozen books and has been featured on or in CNN, The Atlantic, The Boston Globe, The Guardian, The New York Times, and TIME.