WFH (working from home). Sounds like an abbreviation for something more sinister, but now it’s the reality for most Israelis and our friends worldwide. My WFH colleagues and I are laughing with a little too much enthusiasm as we are old hacks at the whole WFH thing. After more than eight years of being the office outcast, here are some tips I can share with all of you newbies:
- Create a fixed space to work: Taking a page from the Beit Midrash (study hall) playbook where learners traditionally have a makom kavua, a fixed space to study, the same applies to working from home. With today’s devices being so movable, there’s a tendency to feel that since your laptop and phone can plug in anywhere, you can work from anywhere. But just like most offices have fixed spaces, you should create a fixed space in your home that is dedicated to work. That way you know, and everyone in your house knows, that when you are in that space it means you’re focused on work and when you’re not it means that you are available for other non-work things. Even if it’s a small corner in your bedroom (no, not your bed!), only sit there when you’re working and leave when you’re done or taking a break.
- Take breaks away from your fixed space: Try to avoid eating meals or snacks in your workspace. Without the many distractions you are used to in the office, working from home can mean focused work that involves lots of staring at monitors. You’ll need a break from that. Even 10-15 minutes away from the monitor will mean a break for your brain and your eyes.
- Synchronize your breaks: Especially since many of us will have kids or significant others also around, plan the night before when everyone is able to take breaks and eat lunch together the next day. If your kids know when you’ll be available for questions and complaints, synchronizing will help minimize interruptions while you are trying to focus.
- Do not do laundry! I had to learn this the hard way. I always assumed that working from home would mean I would have time during the day to do endless tasks like laundry. The problem is that it can go on forever. You end up running to switch loads right before a meeting and then forgetting about it for 3 hours. Trust me, you will end up still seeing all that laundry at some late hour when all you want to do is collapse. It seems so tempting since you’re at home anyway, but it never works. Just do those things whenever it is that you always do those things (or don’t do those things), and maybe now you’ll have more people helping since they’re not going anywhere! Or maybe with everyone home laundry will just be a load of of the same pajamas worn over and over again…
- Do exercise! Without the natural walk to the coffee machine or to bug some colleagues on the second floor, you may find yourself sitting for longer without a chance to stretch. Remind yourself to get up and move. I keep some dumbbells near my desk for 30 second breaks and if the sun comes out and you need to refocus, go for a walk or run. Just remember to turn off your laptop camera if you plan to take a shower…
- Turn off “self-view” on Zoom: If you’re used to working in an office, you aren’t used to seeing yourself during a meeting. WFH pros can tell you how tempting it is to get too engaged with your own image, to the point of distraction! Afterall, when else can you just gaze at yourself and be amazed at how those glasses frames really do outline your eyes so nicely, and dust blue really is the color for the season.
- Stay away from email: Without the usual rhythm of an office and fewer meetings to manage, you may feel this sense that you can accomplish anything. Flash forward 5 hours later and you’re still responding to emails. And now with everyone in the world working from home, there will be more emails and more slacks and more messages… it will never end. If you want to get real work done and take advantage of being away from the office (because there are advantages) follow the advice of Cal Newport and schedule specific and limited times when you’ll tackle email and stop when the time is up. Now that you won’t have a long commute and you won’t be dealing with traffic, the morning may be a natural time to get “real” work done and may not be the best time to get embroiled in long email replies. After many years doing WFH I do believe this is one of the biggest advantages: the ability to focus and get work done.
- WFH with kids? This is new to me, too! Since I’m Israeli, I am used to kids coming home from school at insanely early hours (didn’t you just leave?) but I’m definitely not used to ALL of them home ALL the time. I’ve spoken to them about keeping to a schedule. The schedule can include lots of breaks and screen time (trying not to be unrealistic), but it also includes times when we can have lunch together and even play a quick game together. The point is there should be a schedule everyone understands and tries to adhere to or things can quickly descend to chaos. And I do think it’s important for kids to understand how to be good colleagues. We’re sharing a space now: don’t be THAT colleague.
- Resources for kids: A quick search has found some great resources to make this time enjoyable and enriching for kids. My amazing colleagues at PJ Library have put together this wonderful hub for keeping kids engaged.
There is a silver lining to working from home! My prayer for us all in the midst of these worrisome times is that very soon we can look back at this period as that time when everything stopped but we were all OK, and maybe even had some fun.