Working From Home and COVID-19

image of a laptop on a desk in a home office

I have a bit of experience working from home. I’ve been in my current role as a Happiness Engineer at WooCommerce for about a year and a half now. My prior roles in this field have had some degree of remote work as well. Overall I’ve been working at home to some extent for the last 10 years. From my first freelance jobs to this role. I’d like to share a few tips on how I get things done in my day-to-day routine since some of you (my brother included) are just learning how to manage this.

1. Set a schedule when working from home.

Nothing is more important than this when working from home. Always, always, always know when you are starting, when you are transitioning from one task to another, and when your day ends. I literally sit at my desk each morning going through my daily calendar saying, “Hey Siri, set an alarm for…” over and over until I have all of my different tasks “alarmed” for the day. For most things, I set an alarm for 10 minutes prior, hit the 9-minute snooze if I’m in the middle of something and transition out so I’m clear when there is one minute remaining to get to the new task. Going through my daily calendar like that also helps me get oriented to my tasks for that day.

Breaks are also an important part of scheduling. You would normally go grab a coffee mid-morning, right? Do that at home. Get out of your “office” for 15 minutes and look at the flowers or relax on your couch and just meditate. I do lots of different things each time. You’ll find more and more things you can do with that time that will help relieve some of the stress from work. If your schedule allows it, you may even find it a good way to get in an afternoon nap. 😉 (Trust me, they work.)

2. Eat breakfast… and lunch.

I have been guilty of not following this rule so many times and it bites me every time (pun intended). Your brain needs fuel and a bucket of coffee won’t cut it. As an example, I find some toast and an egg or two with coffee will get my day started well. Sometimes I change it up with some oatmeal or I’ll add some fruit to my meal. It gives me what my brain needs to think and it keeps me going until I can take a break and eat a banana or apple with my coffee when I take a break.

Lunch is also very important. As the day goes on, you get more tired. This is amplified in the afternoon so having a decent lunch will help you think better in the afternoon. I understand that many people are in a “but carbs are bad” mindset. And I agree that too many carbs are bad. I know the energy provided by them can be converted to fat and stored in your gut, I have some to prove it. But if you don’t overdo it, you won’t have enough left over to store. Some of that offset can be with our next suggestion.

3. Working from home gets sedentary you should get some exercise.

workout equipment
Working out when working from home can help reduce stress.

I am so, so guilty of ignoring this one. I literally have an exercise bike sitting behind me as I write this that I haven’t been on in MONTHS. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve exercised. I’ve gone on walks and taken weekend hikes with my kids but not consistently. There was a time I was consistent and I can honestly say things were better. I am trying to get into a better routine since we’re all pretty much locked into our houses right now. I can still watch movies on my phone and ride a stationary bike, right?

So let’s all do this one together and start doing some jumping jacks in our pajamas at home. I’ll do mine at 7:30 AM Pacific (US) so if you want to join me feel free. I’m doing 10 Jumping Jacks, 10 pushups, and 10 crunches every day. It’s not a lot but it’s a start and it’s more than the ZERO I do of these each day now. I’ll let you know how I do this week. Just thinking of doing that makes me tired.

4. Working from home is also tiring, get good rest.

This kind of ties into #1 above. Make sure you get a solid block of hours to sleep each night. I have side projects I work on so I feel you when you say, “I have so much to do! I’m just gonna stay up an extra hour…” then it’s six hours later and you have to be up and active in a meeting in another six hours. That’s where you start building the sleep debt. At some point you’re going to crash. Or burn out and lose interest in something you were so passionate about before. I’ve done it a million times.

I have books I want to write, art I want to make, ideas I want to put out there to see if I can be the next Elon Musk or even the next owner of a moderately successful small business. Regardless of what my goal was, it became meaningless because I burned out. I stayed up and got so tired physically, I became tired of it mentally and emotionally. So get some rest. That work or that side-gig will still be there after a good night’s sleep. And do that however you see fit. I don’t know that everyone needs “8 hours” at a time. I find myself needing between six and nine depending on my stress level.

5. Set aside a specific place to work in your home.

I am lucky enough to have an office, but if you need to a table in the kitchen will do the job.

This is really important. You typically go “someplace” to work. I used to get in a car and drive for an hour or more to work for a large tech company. Lots of people did until this pandemic happened. My typical commute consists of going from my bedroom, to my kitchen to get coffee and food, then up to the spare bedroom that is my office. I can close the door if needed for privacy and I can have my dog with me during meetings if he’s a good boy and stays quiet. He’s always a good boy.

The reason you need a place to work is that you are already accustomed to “going” to work. So keep that habit. Use your new commute, however small, to get into and out of that mindset like you would during your drive. Oh, and a great thing I have with my office is that, if I really need to, I can close the door from the outside and block it out of my life for a bit. And I can decorate it the way I want. Need some furniture, you say? Most cities will have some kind of “warehouse overstock” type of store that sells gently used desks and office chairs. If you’re lucky, like I am, your employer will expense this cost for you.

6. No, you are not doing this wrong.

Okay, this is more encouragement than a suggestion. But it’s really true. You make your work from home experience for yourself. Yes, remote meetings suck and since everyone is home everyone is using up bandwidth. It sucks for me too because I’m used to my internet speeds being good during the working day, lately all of you working from home is slowing my work day down too. 😉

The point is, there really is no “wrong way” to work from home. Well, one wrong way would be to ignore your job completely, but if you are that determined to lose your job I would bet you could get really distracted in the office too. Working from home is also really hard when you put too much “effort” into trying to get the perfect day, every day. It simply won’t happen. It didn’t happen in the office, it won’t happen when you go back to the office so don’t expect it to happen here.

7. Your colleagues aren’t perfect, but neither are you.

I have gotten really aggravated at colleagues in the past for being less than ideal. But I know not to say anything about it. I’ve seen other colleagues who did say something about it and regretted it. You have to understand, some people have this really great life at home and having work interfere like this is not a good thing. For others, working from home is a dream come true. I like to watch cooking videos in my spare time on YouTube, my favorite being the test kitchen videos from Bon Appétit. Even they are learning to work from home.

Your colleagues are not going to handle themselves well. Neither will you. I was lucky that I kind of eased into this working style over the years. I got time to test out different things and see what works for me and what doesn’t. I’m definitely not perfect, even now. I interrupt colleagues in meetings, I slack off occasionally, and I have been guilty of sending the wrong link at the wrong time. And I have lapsed when a teammate needed me to be better. Lettings someone down feels terrible so please remember that when this stressful situation causes someone to let you down. Next time it might be you that needs a bit of leeway.

8. Keep track of everything you do during the day when working at home.

I have recently learned of Bullet Journaling. It has changed my life. Before this I used Post-It Notes, and I still do a bit, but I keep track of each task I do throughout the day using this system. At the end of my day I can go through it all and migrate things around for use elsewhere, it’s really cool. It is useful because it helps me organize what I did. This is important when working from home for a couple of reasons.

First, and foremost, it gives you a sense of accomplishment at the end of the day. It helps you feel good about what you’ve done and helps you see what you’ve accomplished. I challenge you to do this while working from home then compare your daily results when we start going back to a more “normal” working situation. It would not surprise me to find that many of you see that you are more effective when working from home.

The second reason this is important is to allow you some insurance if anyone ever accuses you of shirking responsibility. I know that’s kind of petty to think of, but some of you have petty co-workers. I’ve had them and if I’d had to work remotely with them I don’t know how well I would have handled myself. Just remember that #7 applies here too.

9. Have fun.

This is all difficult enough without having to cram our personal lives and working lives into one big ball of confusion. It throws off the work/life balance and can create unneeded stress. Try to be as lighthearted as you can with all of this and take time to have fun. Enjoy a blog post or watch Tik Tok videos, do whatever lightens your mood, especially when feeling negative emotions. Do something to make yourself smile, it really does help. Once you get a real smile on your face, use it to face down the task or person or meeting that was trying to beat you down and show your smile. You’ll get a lot more done that way.

That’s pretty much all I can think of to share with you on this. I hope it helps you find out how great remote work can really be. If you would like to learn more about remote work, several of my colleagues have written their own posts on the subject. If you’re interested in the company I work for, Automattic, feel free to drop by and see what vacancies need to be filled. As always, we’re hiring.