Working From Home
OK, you’re working from home, maybe for the foreseeable future. So, here are some ideas to make work-from-home space better.
A lot of people are working from home now. For many, it’s the first time. It’s one of those things that looks like it should be easy but turns out to be somewhat hard.
Add to that the stress and uncertainty of our times and things could easily get overwhelming.
Having worked from home almost all my life, I thought I’d offer a few insights, which, hopefully, will help. I’ve had a lot of different careers, so to speak, but the constant is that I’ve usually worked from home. In fact, I usually do my best work from home.
So, here goes.
Start With A Desk
Define a workspace, a place where you go to work and which you leave when the work is done.
Don’t get caught up in desk envy or disappear down a YouTube spiral of “best desk ever” videos. Any flat surface will do for now, as long as it has all the stuff you need for a working day and feels like it’s ready for whatever it is you do.
Or Start With A Tote
The most enduring image of Netflix’s documentary Inside Bill’s Brain: Decoding Bill Gates is Bill carrying a giant cloth shopping bag, full of books, everywhere he goes, from home to his office to his cabin in the woods. It’s like a portable office or library.
If you can’t set a desk aside for yourself, or if you need to share it with others, you can start with a tote bag loaded up with your essentials, so you can set up anywhere, such as at the dining table, in an open space in the kitchen or even using outdoor furniture, if you have any.
This is what I’m doing, since the best working spaces are often in use by my family, as they have time-sensitive video calls to take. My bag is a Kokuyo Mobacco Up Mobile Bag from Japan, though really, any strong bag will do. It’s got my fountain pens, diary, notepads, iPad Pro, portable keyboard and headphones. It’s always with me during the day, and then I put it away at night, so I can’t see it when it’s time to unwind.
Light It Up
Obviously, you need enough light to be able to see what you’re doing. Just turning on the normal lights in your home might not be enough. A desk lamp might help. Take a little time to figure out your lighting and make sure there are no irritating reflections or glare on your computer screen.
Also, since so many of us are videoconferencing, then it can make sense to think about fixing the lighting (and your setup) so you look good on screen. This NYT guide from Tom Ford is a little tongue in cheek, but the advice is spot on IL5. Add some light on your best side, or balance light from windows with fill light, and if possible, bounce some light in from underneath.
How many devices do you need? How often will you need to charge them? Does your laptop need to be plugged in all day? What about a printer, a monitor or something that plays music in the background while you work?
So, how are you going to power everything?
It’s tempting to think you need to recreate an office in your home, complete with a full filing system. But, you probably don’t. A simple filing system, perhaps like the Noguchi approach, might be all you need.
The same goes with other aspects of your work. You don’t have to recreate your normal workspace in every way. Just focus on the things you need.
Think About Ambience
What helps you to concentrate and makes you feel like working? For a lot of people, some background music helps. Motivational posters might feel trite, but having a few pictures around of things that inspire you or of people you love, might set the mood. And, in the same way, removing distractions, as much as a you can, might help you focus.
And this is also true for the other parts of your home. As much as you need your work-from-home space to feel inspiring, you will need, perhaps even more, the other parts of your home to feel comfortable and relaxing. Maybe it’s time for a few more candles, or furnishings and decorations, or simply put to good use what you already have. Hang up those posters lying around in a roll or pull some nice things out of your cupboards.
Have Some Way To Walk Away
The ideal would be a home office where you can close the door and leave it closed. But, if you can’t, then think of some other way to end your day. You could establish an end-of-day ritual to tell yourself the day is over.
Because, when you work from home, it’s easy to overwork. After all, it takes no effort to lift your phone or laptop lid, and then you’re right back into the world of emails and messages.
So, try to find some way to switch off. When you work from home, what matters is the work, not the hours you spend logged in. Do the work of course, as no one wants to look like they’re on a coronacation, but when the work is done, it’s done.
For many of us, the problem isn’t just working from home but working from home with others. Behaviour that is normal in an office, like talking loudly on the phone or making coffee whenever you want, can suddenly seem disruptive. Moreover, students who are used to quiet library spaces may struggle to find a convenient spot where they can study.
Consider having a daily (or regular) traffic meeting. Who needs quiet and when? Who needs the space with the best light and Wi-Fi for an important video call? What’s the best time for meals, or exercising, or relaxing with a movie or video game?
Also make time to consider more than just people’s physical needs. Who is feeling left out? Who’s not getting listened to? Or not feeling like they have a way to express themselves? Or losing hope?
Do The Three-Month Experiment
In a lot of countries where there are restrictions on movement, people have been told this will last for “a few weeks”. But what if the reality is different and this goes on for months? There’s plenty of reason to think it could. What then?
It may make sense to do a little thought experiment. What would you do now if you knew this situation would last three months?
Imagine having to work from home for three months. Imagine everyone in your household having to stay indoors for three months, with everything closed. Schools, universities, gyms, libraries, galleries, parks and other public spaces, all closed, for months.
Some of you, reading this in Asia, know exactly what I mean, because you’ve been working from home since February. The schools in Japan closed at the start of March and most will remain closed until at least early May, while many international schools have already advised that they won’t open again until after the summer.
So, if you knew this lockdown and isolation would last for three months, what you would you do right now to make the situation better? Maybe that idea about lighting your space so you look good on video calls isn’t so crazy? Maybe that mess of cables around your desk could do with being tidied up? Or perhaps the ambience of your home could be improved with a few more candles, or wall hangings, or a fresh coat of paint?
So, why not go ahead and plan for that?
A Few More General Suggestions
I’ve worked from home almost my whole life. Even as my career changed and evolved, the one constant, since my teens, is that I’ve usually worked from home.
A few weeks back, I offered some general tips on working from home for people who were starting to do it for the first time. Here they are again.
1. Don’t wear pyjamas all day
Eventually, lacking validation from others, you’ll have to confront your own self-worth. So, show some self-respect and get dressed.
2. Go out for a walk, again and again
Without a commute or meetings to attend, you’ll become alarmingly sedentary. Aim for three walks a day. Consider setting up a little home gym or a space for yoga or Pilates, if you don’t already have one.
3. Schedule meaningful online encounters
Texts and social media feel like connections, but they kind of aren’t. Schedule face-to-face online meetings with people who boost your spirits.
4. Create a working space
Unless your office has a sofa and TV in it, you probably won’t be productive on the sofa with the TV on. Even if it’s small, define some space as your work zone, then set it up with the things you need.
5. Set some boundaries
You probably have a work schedule. So maintain your sanity by creating one when at home. When do you start? When do you stop? How will you know enough is enough for the day?
6. Eat well
It can take longer than you think to cook a good homemade lunch and clean up afterwards. Allow for that time and maybe learn to enjoy the experience.
7. Use the extra time wisely
Not having meetings and other workplace commitments means you may have some extra time during the day. So schedule time for the things you love. Read a few more books. Spend time gardening or practise a musical instrument.
As you create your own schedule, you’ll start to think about where your time normally goes and why your work life has the shape it used to have. Enjoy thinking about this. Maybe journal about it or share your insights with others.
A few weeks ago, thinking about how our world might change as a result of COVID-19, I said,
“This crisis will reverberate around the world of work for several years and could have us asking hard questions about how we work, how we learn, what we expect from our employers and how willing we are to rely on a fragile gig economy to keep our lives going, and how much more we can do to support the artists, performers, freelancers, teachers, and service providers we rely on.”
For all of us, this is a chance to seriously rethink how we work. More than that, it’s an opportunity to bring the future into the present. You’re now free, at least for now, from a lot of the restrictions that shape the way you work. So why not reset the pattern of your day as much as you can, while you can?