Five Minutes from the Funny Farm: Working from home

Because of the Covid-19 virus and the need to help flatten the curve, maybe you’ve been forced to work-at-home. Congratulations! You’re joining millions of people who’ve been working at home for decades.

Maybe there was a time when, because you worked a “real job”, you called a friend or family member who worked at home and said, “Little Jimmy has a fever and they won’t let him come to daycare. You’re home all day. Can I send him to your house?” or “The furnace repairman is coming between 9 and and 5 pm. Can you go to my house and let him in? You can even hang out there all day. I have HBO.”

Admit it. You’ve always envisioned us sitting around all day in our pajamas, watching Netflix and eating Cheese Doodles.

Well, haha. Jokes on you. Only two of those things are true.

But hey, we work from home folks are nothing if not compassionate, and we’re happy to welcome you to the club! Here are some tips to help you acclimate to your new lifestyle.

1. Realize that you’ve left your “real job” coworkers behind but have picked up a new rag tag bunch of misfits who will demand your time and attention. All. Day Long. Cats, dogs, kids, spouses, delivery people, telemarketers, the mailman – they’re all part o f your work-at-home team, and everyone wants a piece of your time. Sure, it’s a lot to adjust to, but you’ll soon realize that having a cat snoozing on your keyboard beats your boss breathing down your neck any day of the week. Have patience with kids who are now schooling from home, dogs who are overjoyed to have humans around all day, and even spouses who may already have work-at-home routines you’re now intruding on.

2. Find ways early on to separate work from home, or else the line starts to blur. This is a very real struggle, and you’ll need to figure out the routine that works best for you. Maybe you’re working in a spare bedroom; close the door when you’re done for the day and don’t go back in until you’re ready for another work day. If you’re working at the dining room table, when work time is over, pick up files, close your laptop, and, as much as possible, put everything out of sight. If you don’t, you’ll quickly find yourself always at work even when you’re always at home, and neither will get your full attention.

3. You may be working in your pajamas (more on that later), but your day still needs structure. Set office hours, clearly communicate them to everyone, and find ways to block out distractions. Set up a signal so that your coworkers know you’re at work – like a closed door or a “Mommy’s at work” bathrobe. Let your kids know when it’s OK to interrupt you – like if something’s on fire or blood is flowing from someone’s head. Mute your phone (unless it’s crucial to your job), close out social media, put on some headphones, do whatever you need to do. And then be flexible when everyone interrupts you anyway.

4. Figure out when you’re most productive and adjust your day so you’re working at your peak hours. Some of you may still need to stick to strict office hours but for a lot of you, you can work on a flexible schedule. If you’d rather work from 9 am to noon and then 9 pm to midnight, you can do that now, and spend the day doing something else. In fact, you may find that you’re eventually more productive working fewer hours when you’re able to do it on your own schedule.

5. Find a way to define each day. When you’re home all day, every day, time itself becomes very fuzzy. Try and do something each day that marks it as different from the day before. Maybe it’s a special activity that you only do on certain days. You can even designate special days for each pair of pajamas or sweat pants – aka your new uniform. Monday, the flannel pajamas. Tuesday, the blue leggings. You get the idea.

While we’re on the subject of office attire, in this new office environment you get to wear whatever you’re comfortable wearing. Leggings, pajamas, sweat pants, whatever makes you feel comfortable yet productive. Many women are rejoicing in the fact that they don’t have to wear a bra. Here’s a little secret: no one ever said you had to wear a bra. So don’t wear a bra. In fact, don’t wear pants. Who cares? If you have to video chat, you only need to make sure you’re wearing a shirt and you only have to comb the front of your hair.

Isn’t working at home fun?

Which leads to the last and maybe most important thing about working from home: maybe for the first time in years, you are in control of you. Your time, your brain space, your breath. You choose when you eat, sleep, go outside, use the bathroom, walk the dog. Instead of trying to cram errands and order take out on your lunch hour, have a peanut butter sandwich with your five year old. Take a cat nap, with the cat. Watch a movie in the middle of the day. And don’t feel guilty about any of it.

We’re pausing amidst a global health crisis, but if we’re being honest with ourselves? We really do need this pause for our own physical and mental health.

And lastly, yes, if necessary, be available to help someone who needs your time, even if it’s during working hours. Some of your friends and family work essential jobs and still need to go to work, and they might need you to take little Jimmy for the day, or let a repairman in while they’re at work. If you are able, say yes. We did it for you; now you can pay it forward.

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Check out my latest book, “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv” wherever books are sold. Available in print and ebook editions.

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