Welcome, WFH virgins! Some of us have been here before, some of us live here permanently (s/o to Friend of the Blog Caitlin, full time freelance journalist who has already left you some fabulous ideas). Either way there are about to be a lot more of us in this together.
Chatting to my younger sister who is at university in Japan and dealing with an adjustment to remote schooling, she mentioned that she always thought working from home would be great but that it doesn’t suit her nearly as well as she thought it would. And I don’t blame her! Our society is still by and large not set up for flexible working, which requires different emotional and time management skills than the ubiquitous office or manufacturing structures which has defined lifestyles for the last two centuries.
Now, I happen to believe that while due entirely to cosmic circumstance, this moment can function as a social experiment for a lot of things and flexible working is one of them. If you believe, as I do, that it’s a cultural change we should make for more people to better enable working families to meet their commitments and to reconsider structures that have systemically penalized women, disabled or otherwise impaired people, and other groups, it’s on us all to make the experiment as successful as we can.
Here a few of the takeaways I picked up as a full time freelancer, who transitioned back to more typical office life and was increasingly moving into the “mobile/flexible” category before all of…this…happened.
Take sensible advantage of the situation. If you are working from home and need to be “live” from a certain time, make sure you’re meeting those commitments…but also let yourself hit the snooze alarm if you need it. Without a commute, it’s okay to allow that time to just be or to take longer with things that you usually rush in the morning. Just because you have more time doesn’t mean you need to fill it up immediately.
That being said, get up. Shower. Put on an outfit that isn’t pajamas. If you’re new to this it’s easy for your brain to confuse home time with leisure time, family time, or “me” time. You will have to train yourself to think in different ways about your usual surroundings, and psychological cues like putting on real clothes (instead of your weekend athleisure, flannel trousers, or other equivalent that you might typically wear in your off time) helps.
Caveat: it’s okay to occasionally break the above rule if it brings you pleasure.
Breaks are still important. In the same way that you need to make yourself a tea or coffee, walk to a cornershop for your lunch or snacks, linger at the water cooler with a colleague in order to stretch your legs or clear your head about a task or problem, the same goes when you’re WFH.
Your metrics are going to change. Some companies and organizations have made this leap long ago, but many others are still nervous or unconvinced about flexible working arrangements. Both employees and bosses have to communicate well and evaluate the metrics they use to measure output and manage their workforces. Measuring success by output or outcome, rather than physical presence is one metric, how and how often you check in with your team can be another. Change is okay, but be prepared to communicate through it.
Work best with music? Put it on. There are no colleagues to annoy or chide you.
While not relevant to the immediate present, don’t forget that WFH can also mean working from a coffee shop, a bookstore, or a library. When I was freelancing full time I found myself going stir crazy, sitting in the same chair at the same desk in the same TINY London apartment for months at a time. Working from different locations allowed me to vary things up while still putting myself in circumstances that facilitated my work. Libraries were my favorite, but I also used museum reading rooms and did coworking days with other freelance friends where we spent a day at one or the other’s house and enjoyed lunch and tea breaks together to break out the bursts of hours-long productivity! (Obviously in a pandemic, don’t do this! But at some point we will have to think beyond and after it and the tools and resources we build now may serve us a long while.)
Take your lunch. If you like to cook, use the kitchen to make yourself something nice, healthy, and fun.
Consider using website or app blocking tools to keep you from getting distracted – at least until you’ve developed the new self-discipline and mental redesign you need to do to separate your living time from your working time.
Go for a walk on your 15-minute break, especially if you have a neighborhood park or green space available to you. Or use it to run a sensible short errand. Our postal depot is a five minute walk from where I live and if I’m working from home I’m able to pick up or post packages.
What do you think, fellow freelance veterans? If you’ve worked from home, what worked for you? What would you recommend, or what advice do you think needs to be thrown out the window?