4 Professionals Share How to Effectively Work From Home

Hear from 4 experienced professionals who have responses to common questions about working from home

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Tips on how to navigate working from home — from sticking to a routine and using the right technology to overcoming challenges and finding a balance

The novel coronavirus is here, and that means it’s time for some heavy social distancing. Public health officials are urging everyone to stay home as much as possible, and avoid large gatherings, especially indoors. For most people, this also means not going to work onsite.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a job that’s possible to do from home, you’re probably thinking about doing that now (if you haven’t already started). As a work-at-home writer, I’ve been training for this moment for years.

I checked in with a few other professionals who also work from home to come up with this list of frequently asked questions and their answers.

What is your favorite thing about working from home?

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I love working from home because it gives me the flexibility to be here for my kids, though that attitude will surely be tested over the next few weeks. It’s also nice to have my kitchen, sofa, and dogs to keep me comfortable and happy through the day.

Francesca Baker, a marketing and copywriting professional in Kent, United Kingdom, says she enjoys the convenience that working from home offers her. “I love being able to roll out of bed, get coffee, pour a bowl of cereal, and start working. No commute!”

Vanessa McGrady is an award-winning journalist, social media strategist, and communications professional who works from her home in Los Angeles. She does her best to make her home an inviting place to work. “I get delicious-smelling candles, which makes the rooms more soothing for me.”

For Devon Delfino, a freelance writer in Portland, Oregon, it’s all about the freedom. “I can build my work around my life, instead of the other way around. There are still limitations, like needing to meet deadlines on other people’s timelines, or attending video conference meetings at a specific time. In general, I still keep to normal work hours, but I’m usually free to shift things around as I please.”

What are the challenges of working from home?

I think that one of the biggest challenges for work-from-home professionals, especially during this pandemic, will be the distractions present in your home. This is especially true if you live with other people, like a spouse or roommate, and increases exponentially with each child.

I have to create a strict schedule of office hours and stick to it. That doesn’t mean that I won’t change the schedule sometimes — remember, us freelancers are all about flexibility. But at the very least, I make a plan at the beginning of each day and make sure everyone in my family knows when we are doing what.

There are so many temptations when you work from home.

“There are so many temptations when you work from home,” says Ms. Delfino. “If I have a day where I don’t have external deadlines, like a draft due to an editor, it’s a lot harder to get other kinds of work done. It’s entirely possible to give yourself a day off on those days, and it’s easy to justify it to yourself when you don’t have a boss or someone else’s expectations right there, in your face.”

Ms. Delfino tries to overcome these temptations by making a to-do list, sticking to a schedule, dressing in professional attire, and working at a desk or table.

What is your work routine like?

Keeping a regular routine is one of the keys to work-from-home success. So how do our veterans manage it when there’s no clock to punch? It takes planning and self-discipline.

“Start work the same time every day and figure out when you are most productive and do your most important, pressing, and creative things then,” says Ms. McGrady. “For me, it’s the morning.”

Start work the same time every day and figure out when you are most productive and do your most important, pressing, and creative things then.

Ms. Baker has created a somewhat regular, somewhat flexible routine that takes advantage of her own strengths and resources.

She says, “I start work around 8. I’m brighter and more creative in the mornings so that’s my time for writing and developing strategies. Afternoons tend to be slower, so I’ll often schedule calls to perk me up and make sure I engage with people. If I have time I’ll do some reading or go for a walk. I then have another surge of energy around 5, so will crack on with any bits outstanding.”

Which technology do you use?

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A home office is very technology dependent. Without certain devices connecting us to the larger world, most of us wouldn’t be able to work at all. That’s why our work-from-home veterans all have strong advice in this area.

“Make sure your tech is solid,” says Ms. McGrady. “So your internet, computer, phone etc. all work and you have a plan B in case of emergency.”

As for which particular technologies to use, the Google suite seems to be fairly popular among our group, as well as a few others.

Ms. Delfino says, “I use Google Docs and Sheets to keep track of more complex things I may need to quickly reference, like my goals and finances. I’m a bit all over the place when it comes to notes, though. It really just depends where I am and what I’m doing when an idea strikes.

“Make sure your tech is solid,” says Ms. McGrady. “So your internet, computer, phone etc. all work and you have a plan B in case of emergency.” 

“If I’m at home, I’ll just write it in my notebook. If I’m out, I’ll add it to the Google Keep app on my phone. If I’m really into my work and don’t want to be too distracted, I’ll just type it out on my laptop on the Notes application and close it out. Since it can be somewhat haphazard, I try to set aside time each week to comb through my notes and figure out what should go where and if I can toss or delete anything.”

How do you strike a work/life balance?

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When your office and your home are the same physical space, it can be difficult to strike a balance between work and the rest of your life. This is one of my biggest personal challenges. If I get an email from an editor or a source at 9 p.m., I answer it right then. If I’m reading something or having a conversation and it sparks a story idea, I drop everything and start writing immediately.

As I’m sure my husband and kids could tell you, this can put a lot of stress on relationships. It’s also easy to become overwhelmed this way. Fortunately, our work-from-home pros have some good input to share.

When your office and your home are the same physical space, it can be difficult to strike a balance between work and the rest of your life.

“Exercise is super important,” says Ms. McGrady. “If I can’t get to the gym or yoga, I walk up a steep hill near my house. Naps are important too.”

Ms. Delfino also emphasizes the importance of exercise, especially when you do it outdoors. “My dog definitely helps keep me from becoming a full-on hermit,” she says. “Even on days when I’m swamped with work or a project is taking more time than I anticipated and I’m stressed, I still have to walk the dog. I still have to get dressed, leave the house — as well as my laptop — and be outside for a half hour.”

She has also found that putting limits on certain tasks helps to keep boundaries in check. “I try to only check my email twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening,” says Ms. Delfino. “That really helps me avoid thinking about work when I’m supposed to be enjoying my life.”

Do you ever get lonely working from home? If so, how do you deal with it?

“Yes, loneliness is definitely one of the drawbacks of working from home,” says Ms. Delfino. “You don’t have coworkers, so you can go days without hearing another person’s voice if you live alone. It can be an isolating work environment.”

Since most of us are doing our best to practice social distancing right now, the usual loneliness-busting tips won’t work. You can’t, for example, get together with another coworker or freelancer and work in a coffee shop. Fortunately, we live in a digital world, and there are plenty of high-tech options for being with other humans.

Take advantage of social media too. Especially during these trying times, it’s important to just have a laugh with some of your friends, even if it’s a virtual laugh.

“Take part in Twitter chats,” says Ms. Baker. “It’s a nice way to bounce ideas off of people in lieu of having colleagues.”

You can also Skype or FaceTime with friends and family. And those infamous video conferences with your coworkers? Why not wait until you’ve wrapped up work for the day and make it a video happy hour? (Hopefully you’ve each stocked up on all the fun snacks and drinks you’ll need to make this happen!)

Take advantage of social media too. Especially during these trying times, it’s important to just have a laugh with some of your friends, even if it’s a virtual laugh.

Remember, this is a temporary situation. It will pass eventually. We hope these tips help you to make the best of it while you stay home, stay safe, and stay healthy.

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