Raise your hand if, in the last week, you were told by your employer that you were to start working from home due to the coronavirus pandemic?
Raise your hand if, in the last week, your employer told you that if you didn't feel comfortable coming into the office that you were able to work from home if you wanted?
Now, raise your hand if all of this seems overwhelming, and like you have no idea where to start?
You are not alone. I promise. As someone who has worked from home for nearly four years, it was an overwhelming thing for me at first. So I've put this blog together with all of the things that I wish I'd known when I started the WFH Life. I reached out to my network as well and have included some of their favorite tips.
A little note about this before I get started, I am far from perfect. I don't follow all of these rules, ever. I'm horrible at a lot of them and will be completely honest about that with you. This blog is not meant to do anything more than provide ideas on how to make life easier on you right now. We are all in this together, so I want to help provide useful tips to those of you who have just entered into WFH Life with absolutely no preparation. In addition to this blog, please feel free to reach out to me with questions, thoughts, or even if you just need social interaction, which is INCREDIBLY important to all of us right now. So below is my contact info. Use it if you need to, for anything. I'm here for you.
Zoom: firstname.lastname@example.org - feel free to IM me, request a meeting, anything.
My direct messages are open on everything. I'm here for you.
Now, onto the tips.
First, this entire blog post is thanks to my friend Brandon Costa (Twitter: @SVG_Brandon). He started working from home about two years ago when he and his wife relocated from New Jersey to Minneapolis. He still works for his New York-based company remotely. Brandon is the friend that I would say has the coolest job if someone asked me. He is the Director of Digital for Sports Video Group. He gets to cover sports from a very unique angle by telling people what technology is being used to broadcast these global events into our living rooms. Brandon and I also happen to share two of the coolest kids ever as niece and nephew. He posted a list of tips last week on his Facebook, and I asked if I could shift the idea into a blog and promised to give him credit. His list was great, so I'm going to provide it below in full:
Do everything in your power to avoid blending your personal with your professional life.
Wake up at your regular time, shower, and get dressed.
Dedicate a spot in your home as your workspace that is not the couch or your bed.OVERcommunicate with your team and colleagues.
Don't stream any shows/movies you normally wouldn't have watched during work time.
Designate a time at the end of the day to shut it down.
At night, call a friend and catch up (This is important. Call me if you need to!)
After reading Brandon's list, I reached out to one of the three people I turn to for advice most, my Dad. My Dad was a teacher at DMACC for a very, very long time. He retired from classroom teaching when I was 20 but continued to teach online as an adjunct until about four years ago. He now does consult, merchandising, and web development for a variety of businesses like n a project for them. They know my timelines and when to expect deliverables. Here's where I'll be honest; the regular end of the workday concept is a challenge for me. It was a goal I set for myself at the beginning of this year, and I'm doing my best to stick to it. I used to be someone who would work when I couldn't sleep, which is often. I'd work for 12 or 14 hours in a day if necessary. I'd pull all-nighters like a college student. It's not healthy for anyone. Right now is an unprecedented time in our lives, and my work hours are blurry. I'm okay with that for the time being. But for those of you who aren't constantly helping clients disseminated information to the public about coronavirus, set an end of the day and stick to it. Your employers do not expect you to be sending updates at midnight, they are probably asleep, and you should be too. Set a schedule and stick to it, you, your family/roommates, and ultimately your employer will be grateful for that.
After reading Brandon's list, I reached out to one of the three people I turn to for advice most, my Dad. My Dad was a teacher at DMACC for a very long time. He retired from classroom teaching when I was 20 but continued to teach online as an adjunct until about four years ago. He now does consunglti, merchandising, and web development for a variety of businesses like Christopher's, GoodSon's, Chuck's, and the Des Moines Buccaneers through his company Beaverdale Tees. His WFH situation is much different than mine; he and my Step-Mom, Shari, have shared an office since he retired from classroom teaching. So I asked him for his biggest tips about WFH Life and office sharing. The advice he gave for this blog is the same he gives me in life.
Make a list. Then do the worst thing first.
When it comes to sharing an office, he knows when they need separate spaces. Shari's job involves a lot of time on the phone. If she's on a long conference call, he leaves the office and finds something else to work on that doesn't require him to be at his desk. We may not all have that luxury, so try to find a separate area of the house to work in for a while if you share an office. Shari will sometimes work in The Annex, which is their converted garage. The table in there is taller and allows her to stand if she wants and helps her avoid his constant stream of CNN and Perry Mason episodes when she needs to focus on work. I am his child, right now not only is CNN streaming on one screen (it's on mute with captioning), but I also have music playing.
If you're sharing office space with a significant other, family member, or roommate for a while try to find an alternate space for when you need privacy or time apart. Maybe one of you takes the dining room table or kitchen island, and one is in the office. If this isn't an option, get creative. I got a text from one of my best friends yesterday saying "I have to office out of our bedroom, is it bad if you can see the bed in the back of the video conference?" No, it's not. Especially right now. But it's also not abnormal for people to have a desk in their bedroom or an office that is a shared guest bedroom. Just make your bed and make sure you didn't leave dirty clothes in view. If you're worried about this, find a way to block the view behind you. Can you shift your desk, so the wall is behind you? Do you have a room divider you can pop up behind you? I'm in the market for a room divider myself. I have two desks in my house; my "office" in my bedroom and a desk in my dining room. While it's not a bother to have a dining room in the background of a video conference, it shows my kitchen as well and would prevent my Mom, who is my roommate, from living her life and being in the kitchen while I'm on a conference call. It will also come in handy by being able to block off the basement office from view occasionally, take it from a seasoned pro, lying in bed at night thinking about the project you didn't finish, and staring at your desk can cause significant anxiety. Find a way to hide the desk.
Some of you are working from home with kids who are out of school too. It's spring break in Iowa right now, on top of that the Governor has asked schools to close for at least the next four weeks. That's overwhelming for families for several reasons. As you are all probably aware, my children have four legs, fur, and whiskers, so I am by no means an expert on this subject. So I went to the experts!
I reached out to my friend Patty Bucklin who is not only a great person to get advice on the WFH Life, she's also an amazing Mom. Her biggest tip to me was to have activities and snacks that the kids can grab without your help. If they are very young, that might be a challenge, but if they are school-aged, it should be okay. She also uses a red piece of paper that she puts up when she can't be disturbed due to being on the phone. It's an easy way for her to communicate with her family that she's busy, and they need to wait until she's done with the call to talk to them. Patty also happens to be a Girl Scout Troop Leader. Girl Scouts in Iowa were only able to have troop activities through the weekend, so order cookies online! Here's how you can order some from Patty's daughter and help support her troop: http://bit.ly/2xJdtXE
I also reached out to my friend Lisa Brandos about this subject. If your kids are very little, she suggests checking with your company about their PTO policy during this time; several companies are making adjustments because of this situation. Taking care of your kids will be more important than that upcoming vacation you may have been saving the PTO for which is sucky but reality. If they are older, Lisa suggests finding a variety of things that can keep them occupied and make sure they understand that while you're at home, you are technically at work.
TV, books, movies, and games are going to be helpful.
Create a "silence bubble" and make sure they understand if they are in your work area during your work hours that they cannot just hang out, get loud, or tattle on someone.
Be very deliberate about meal and break times. Pry yourself away from your desk to check on them and make sure their needs are being addressed. Okay, Lisa's exact words were, "Make sure they haven’t made s’mores in the living room with a lighter or decided to give the cat a buzz cut." That quote was too good not to use.
Lisa also weighed in on the bedroom office, she's with me, if it can be anywhere else make it be anywhere else. It's not ideal to spend 17.5 hours of your day in your bedroom. We both also wish everyone could have WAY more natural light, so find a window if you can. In addition to her full-time job, Lisa also runs Mad House Bakes, an in-home bakery where she makes the MOST AMAZING French Macarons. Okay, they look amazing, me and my tree nut allergy cannot eat them. Head over to Instagram and give her a follow: @madhouse_bakes_dsm
I put a list out with this week's Motivation Monday post that I'm going to include below because it's so important that I want to reiterate it.
Schedule your day. This was something suggested to me by a lot of WFH friends and something I swear by. I have multiple planners that I use to block out my day/week. It is what works best for me. If that doesn't work for you, set a timer. Commit to working on that one project for that time period.
Make a list. Whether it's on paper, in the notes app on your phone, with something like Microsoft To Do or another app, have a list. Put everything on there down to a reminder to eat lunch if you need to.
Then, do the worst thing first. My Dad was absolutely correct with this. I have easy tasks that I can get out of the way first, but if I do the worst thing first, it gets it out of the way, and the rest of the day is the easy tasks. For me, the worst isn't always bad. This blog was first on my list because it was the most time-consuming.
Make sure you plan when you're going to eat and take breaks. I am 100% horrible at this. I forget to eat lunch a lot. I eat at my desk almost every day, don't do that. This is definitely the do as I say, not as I do item. I have an app on my computer that I can use to schedule breaks so that I stand up, move, and don't just sit for a full workday without any movement other than my fingers on a keyboard. If you don't have that, timers and alarms are your friend.
Breathe. Yup. Breathe. A lot of us are scared, overwhelmed, and have no idea what to do. If you feel that way, you aren't alone. If meditation works for you, open up your favorite app and spend 15 minutes during your day meditating, I know for me when I hit the mid-day energy slump it helps me immensely. If meditation doesn't work, get up for 15 minutes and go for a walk, even if it's just around your house or yard. Do something that helps you relax and gives you energy.
Don't work until you need to go to bed. Not only is it not healthy, but it's also not necessary. If you aren't working a 14 hour day in your office, don't work a 14 hour day at home. No one expects that of you. Don't work from bed unless you don't have another option. I have chronic health issues, so sometimes working from bed is my only option. If it is your only option, find a way to make the space work. I use a lap desk on those days and a pillow that makes my headboard essentially like a couch so I can sit up straight without slumping over.
Wash your hands and your face. The second one is important even if you aren't putting a full face of makeup on for your video conference calls.
Take your meds. This is a HUGELY important thing. Those of us who deal with mental health issues will feel different about life when we are home every day. You might feel great - take your meds. Shout out to Lisa for not only reminding me of this item this morning but also reminding me I hadn't taken mine yet by sending it to me.
A lot of these tips were mentioned by several of my friends, so I want to give all of them some love below:
Jennifer Darnielle - she was a housemate of mine in my sophomore year at Central, is a fellow cat mom, and an overall awesome human being.
Wendy Parish - another Central alum and friend who was one of the most excellent people in my life when I started the journey of being self-employed. You can find Wendy and her wonderful music online @wendypmusic and on Tik Tok at @wendypismagic where she's been providing 90s song suggestions for hand washing
Kristin Payton - a fellow former Dillards Jordan Creek employee and my favorite lover of the color pink. Kristin is on Instagram @kristin.payton where she shares her travels, excellent food, and her adorable puppy! Kristin lives in Charlotte these days, and I miss our old times together at DJC.
Last but not least, the most crucial piece of advice I got through the whole process.
Buy quesadilla supplies.
I know, I know, that seems insignificant, but it's not. Quesadillas are an amazingly quick and user-friendly food item for adults and kids alike. Thank you to Lindsay Moeller with Momchievement Unlocked for that one and all of the Millie Moe photos you send me to make my WFH Life much more fulfilling.
We are all going to make it through this new time in our lives, and we're going to do it together. If you need community, support, or have questions about anything social media or otherwise, I am here.
Love and health to all of you,
Oh, and for the sake of being honest, I wrote this instead of eating lunch. So I need to listen to my own advice and go eat now.