As the new coronavirus continues its romp around the globe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended “social distancing” as one way to combat the spread of disease. So far in the United States, that’s meant the canceling of conferences like Facebook's F8 and anticipatory Costco raids by Covid-19 preppers. Companies like Twitter and Square—which share Jack Dorsey as CEO—have now taken the next logical step of asking employees to work from home whenever possible, and more could potentially follow their lead. As someone who has worked remotely for nearly a decade, I am here to tell you: It's not easy. But setting some boundaries will go a long way toward keeping you sane.
Yes, working from home has its perks. You’re always there to accept deliveries. You can play whatever music you want as loudly as you want. You don’t have to abide the loud chewing or ungracious smells of your colleagues. But you also have to contend with the Scylla and Charybdis of isolation and distraction. Loss of productivity feels less urgent in the time of coronavirus. Spend enough time working alone, though, and you may start to lose your sense of self.
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So! If your employer has asked you to stay home, here are some strategies for keeping it together, gleaned from someone who’s been doing it since “slack” was mostly a verb. Note: This is not a guide to responsible prepping, washing your hands, or scavenging Purell, although by all means do those things. It's mostly a reminder to draw bright lines between work and the rest of your life. It also draws on my own experience, so it hopefully goes without saying that your mileage may vary.
It's also important to acknowledge that working from home in the first place is a luxury, full stop. Too many people don't have that option, which is especially worrying in a time of precarious health care and rapidly spreading disease.
With that said, doing the following will hopefully set you up for success, regardless of why you’re telecommuting, or for how long.
Not to get too personal right off the bat, but put some clothes on. It’s tempting, I know, to roll out of bed and blob over to your laptop in your pajamas. Or maybe not even get out of bed in the first place? It’s a trap. If you’re dressed for sleep, it’s going to be a lot harder to get your brain up to a canter, much less a gallop. (In this metaphor your brain is a horse, go with it.) More important, though, if you don’t get up, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed—whatever your morning routine entails when you actually do go into the office—you’re breaking the cardinal rule of working from home: Set boundaries.
If you don’t get ready for the day, your day never really starts. Instead of working from home, you’re just at home, with the occasional work check-in. That’s fine and healthy now and then! You are not a drone. But if you’re in this for the long haul, you need to treat it like any other day at the office, minus the office part. Besides, it's good to be prepared if someone springs a surprise Zoom invite on you.
Have a Dedicated Work Space
Do not work from the bed. Do not work from the couch. Do not work from the futon. In fact, let’s just say don’t work anywhere that lets you recline if you can help it. If those are the only options available to you, that’s OK! Just try to find a nearby coffee table to use as a desk, or anything that keeps your laptop out of your literal lap for most of the day. It helps with focus, yes, but also those things get hot.