I Worked From Home for Two Years 2,000 Miles From My Colleagues

Solo theme days, packed lunches, and other hacks to max-perform while working from home.

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When I made the decision to follow my soon-to-be husband to rural South Texas for work three years ago, I mournfully assumed I would be putting in my two weeks with my own employer. Instead, they made an unexpected offer: would I be willing to continue in my position remotely? I jumped at the chance, and the two years that followed were full of ups and downs as I learned to make working from home (WFH) work for me. Here are a few best practices and hacks I used to set up and stick with a productive work day nearly 2,000 miles from my colleagues and clients.

  1. Keep a morning routine. This is on most WFH “hacks” lists for a reason. Shower, put on a nice shirt at least (hello, video calls), and have a healthy breakfast at “home” (the kitchen table, counter, etc.) or at “work” (your home workspace), as you usually did before WFH. 
  2. Prep your lunch. This might seem silly when you’re so close to the kitchen, but the proximity is exactly why this is important. You don’t want to get caught on a surprise phone or video call while you whip up a quick power bowl from scratch on the stove. 
  3. Change up your scenery throughout the day. I found it helpful to change physical locations depending upon what type of tasks I was working on. For example, I needed my full desktop setup for technical work, but for research, writing, and video calls, I would use my laptop and sit somewhere I could get good natural light.
  4. Ambient noise is your friend. Even if you worked in a quiet office, ambient noise (printers, phone calls, chatting in the kitchen, street noises, etc.) was part of your day to day work environment. Try a few options to substitute for this; for example, I stream public radio stations online (my favorite are WWOZ New Orleans and KCRW Los Angeles). If hearing music or news is not helpful for your productivity, try streaming an urban walkabout or nature scene off YouTube instead. 
  5. Set a mood with a theme day. Take this as far as you need to to walk that fine line between staying sane and totally losing it. If your office had a fun tradition – theme lunches once a week, Hawaiian shirts/casual Fridays, having a different colleague in charge of the office music on different afternoons – continue it at home. Try to share theme days with your coworkers via office chat or video call to help you remember that you are part of a community. 
  6. Ignore the chores. One of my biggest ongoing struggles with WFH was trying to find ways to look past the things that needed doing around the house. Try to assign specific break times for housework to keep your attention focused appropriately. For example, assign 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon for housework breaks (laundry, vacuuming, dishes, etc.).
  7. Utilize calendar reminders and alarms. Set recurring reminders for breaks, walks, and meals in addition to meetings and deadlines. This might seem like overkill, but structuring the workday like this can help you stay accountable. 

The two years I spent working full time from my home office were hard, and that was with the benefit of being able to mentally prepare for the transition and without the stress of the current global situation. The most important advice I can give to all who suddenly find themselves in an unanticipated WFH situation is to give yourself grace. In the meantime, observe your work patterns and capitalize on phases of high productivity, communicate often with your colleagues, and find ways to keep yourself personally and professionally  inspired. 

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