Work in the time of #socialdistancing

How to make working from home work for you.

By guest writer: @jessrobson

I see you.

Boldly working where most office- or communal-space-working humans haven’t worked before:

Forging into the new frontier or making work happen in spaces and places usually reserved for much couch-ing and late nights cheers-ing with your pals.

Maybe you’re thriving in this new definition and dimension of work; finding incredible new levels of productivity, owning your at home fitness game in a whole new way, stoked to be carving out new corners of your living space with fresh eyes and intention (ahem…you may also be an incredible introvert well suited to a less social work environment…btw).

And, maybe you’re feeling a little whoa about it all;
Less connected to your team, while having more conversations with your pets/plants/the wall/etc more than usual—#itsnormaldontworry—among so many other feelings that emerge with massive change in our daily routines.

For those of you feeling like finding your flow in working from home’s coming slower than a snail’s pace, I see you.

Because a short 6 years ago, I was you (I mean, I still am you…yep, it’s still a fine art of re-negotiating what #WFH success looks like. But that’s another story). And while my WFH life was a choice, the adjustment to a whole new—and very quiet—way of working has been a journey – to say the least.

Since leaving a hyper-social retail gig in 2013, I’ve spent the past 6 years as a freelance copywriter; finding my footing as an entrepreneur AND as someone whose desk moonlights as a dining room table – and vice versa.

With that, it’s been an ongoing exploration of what makes working from home, well, work. And, what turns it into a hot dumpster fire where I’m questioning every life choice I’ve ever made while sitting on my couch, on top of my clean laundry, crying into my bag of yogurt raisins from the bulk food section at the nearest grocery store.

As someone who’s an extroverted introvert (and LOVES having coffee shops as part of my productivity equation), in times where time at home’s been amplified, I’ve sussed out a 5 things to integrate into a working from home plan – whether it’s a short term solution to some global-sized challenges or a long term lifestyle/professional choice:

schedule, space, showering (lol but serious), squatting, socializing.

Let’s break those down:

1) Be really intentional about time.
A schedule is going to save your sanity, and your productivity. Not only for what your working hours are, but also how you’re managing tasks throughout the day. If your team or employer hasn’t created mandated ‘online’ hours, create some constraints for yourself; commit to being online/in ‘work’ mode from 9-5, 8-4, 10-6…whatever works for you and your people.

Within that time, focus on work. Do your ‘life stuff’ (aka laundry, cleaning out the fridge, scouring the grout in your shower, practicing your toiler paper hackey sac skills) in your time around that work day.

Manage your tasks through working sessions – topping out at 90 minutes per task or job. There are a handful of productivity tricks you can try – the Pomodoro method is one. A favourite of mine? Using my google calendar to section my day into 4 or 5 90 minute working sessions where I focus on one task.

*Note: task switching really screws with your focus and ability to do deep work.*

2) Designate some space dedicated to your work. Make it nice.
Novelty of emailing from bed hasn’t worn off yet? Give it another couple days.
Much like you arrive at an office and go to your desk, there’s an intentional shift that happens when you have a dedicated space to where you’ll work every day.

Clear a zone for yourself. Have all the resources you’ll need to get your work done within arms reach. Keep it clean, jellybean; take your dishes to the sink when you’re done with ‘em. Like motivational quotes? Scribble a couple down and tape them to the wall/your desk/your forehead. Apply the same thoughtfulness you approach a shared workspace in an office to your at home office; consider what’s going to contribute to having a clear mind and empower you to focus while you’re working.

Crystals and candles? Awesome. Memes taped to your walls? Rad. You do you.

3) Shower. Seriously.
Yup, it’s sure easy to make it to 3pm and realize that you haven’t brushed your teeth yet. Yes, I’ve done it. And anyone working from home in the swell of a major launch or season of fullness who says they have never forgotten….well, I don’t believe it.

And. Bringing a fresh face/mouth/body to your workday keeps that normal ‘going to work’ routine rolling.

If you’re actually stoked that the social necessity of showering is temporarily removed (I mean, check with your roommates/partners on this one…), be thoughtful about how you show up to your desk or working area every day. Showing up physically ready to work brings a focused energy to your day. And, keeps your manager checking off the ‘presents themselves professionally’ box even while they can only see your top half 😉

A note: YES it is very fun/funny to not wear pants while on a Zoom call. YES, please remember that you are not wearing pants if you need to excuse yourself from a long meeting or get up to grab some paperwork.

4) Move your body.
So sure, you *probably* don’t break a sweat while you’re at work. However, there’s a high chance you’re used to moving between meetings, walking to get lunch with your coworkers…essentially getting out of your chair and moving your body a handful of times a day.

With fewer reasons to get up and transition yourself to different places in the office/your home, integrating short bursts of movement into your day (trips to the fridge don’t count) can help aid in keeping your blood moving, helping you reset your brain between tasks, and keeping the mid-afternoon dips at bay.

Here’s how I’ve integrated some light movement into my at home days: if I can’t take a call while walking around my living room/bedroom, at the end of every call, meeting, or working block, I get up and do 10 air squats, or 10 push ups, or do walking lunges around the living room, or a few side stretches. And yes, I fill waterbottles, check out the fridge to see if anything new has materialized since I checked last (hasn’t happened yet but my hopes remain high) – you know, the basics.

Also: if you want to make the most of your lunch hour, there are a ton of videos on YouTube to pop on and dive into – my friend Alex teaches a 20 minute yoga session that’s the perfect stretch session to move through before you eat.

5) Be social, strategically.
Connect with your team, or the people you work with, once a day for a 15 minute watercooler chat. Non-work related – simply to GET related (fun #quarantine challenge: if anyone says ‘COVID-19’ or ‘Coronavirus’ during your watercooler chat, they have to donate a small amount to a charity you all love).

Outside of your professional network, remind your friends and family you’re still working, and let them know when they can get a hold of you for personal chats.

With everyone at home it’s easy to think we’re all available 24/7. It’s absolutely and perfectly okay to create clear expectations and healthy boundaries around communication with your people to stay on top of work or whatever responsibilities you have while working from home.

And, remember to reach out. If you’re struggling to feel connected, times are feeling particularly tough, or you’re experiencing anxiety, ask for help. Finding people you trust to share your experience with can be the antidote to letting the loneliness creep in; and telling someone you need some social support is brave and courageous. Remember: as a mass population of people who are working from home, we’re all in this together – and don’t need to navigate this experience alone.

OKAY – ONE bonus point, because it’s an important one (and I couldn’t think of an ‘S’ to make this one fit with the rest other than calling it ‘S-periment’. Boo.):

6) Let it be an experiment.
As on the nose as it might sound right now, go easy on yourself. Let this new way of working be an experiment where you learn something about yourself.

Try out some different ways of making your day great. Find the right combination of what helps you stay focused and feel connected to your team, your social networks and communities, and the people you may be sharing space with (especially if you’ve got other people working from home in the same space).

Like most things, and most definitely in the world of creating your own business (which, in a sense you’re doing now as you innovate how you work/do business), there’s no one way of getting s**t done. Let your curiosity help you navigate this time and what’s going to make working from home work for YOU.

From one socially distanced working from home human to another, I see you, and I am you.
And hey – I’ll shower if you will…most days.

About the author
Not one for 3rd person bios (but writing them for herself since 2013), Jess Robson is a speaker and facilitator who over articulates the ‘t’s in words like ‘mittens’ and ‘buttons’. Owning and solo-operating a copywriting business for nearly a decade, she teaches entrepreneurs and small business owners the tactics behind owning their words, and using them well. Because, as she sees it, when you’re fully expressed and in touch with how to bring your value to life through language, anything is possible, and the tough stuff about writing becomes less yuck. She’s also got a penchant for helping teams sort out their communication….but that’s for another time.