Staying Sane When You Work from Home


—Bite-sized advice for better business writing—

March 18, 2020 

Staying Sane When You Work from Home

“When you work on your own, far away from the buzzing swarm at headquarters, you can settle into your own productive zone. You can actually get work done—the same work that you couldn't get done at work!”

— Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, authors of Remote

Are you new to remote work? If so, welcome to the club! My colleagues and I have been working remotely, at least part-time, for several years. Remote work is both a blessing and a challenge. Done right, working from home can boost your productivity and quality of work while offering comfort and flexibility you don’t always enjoy at brick-and-mortar offices.

The first days will feel disorienting as you adjust to your new normal. Expect a few early bumps in the road (or in the hallway from your bedroom). You’ll want to create habits and conditions that allow you to do your best work.

Here are some that work well for us.

1. Maintain your morning routine.

Without the commute, you may have the luxury of sleeping in a few extra minutes. Take advantage of it! But after you wake up, proceed as you normally would if you had to go into the office. Put yourself together—shower, shave, do your hair, etc. Get organized. Make some coffee or tea.

2. Change out of your pajamas.

One obvious perk of remote work is the lack of dress code. However, we find that changing into the right clothing helps establish a work mindset. Some remote workers continue to abide by their office’s strict dress code. Our recommendation: Dress comfortably but not sloppily, especially if there’s a chance you’ll be on a video call.

3. Designate a workstation.

Even if you don’t have a home office, reserve a space for doing your work, ideally away from a television and other potential distractions. Check with your employer about any equipment needs. (Can you spare a monitor?

4. Measure success in deliverables, not time clocks.

Instead of simply warming a seat from nine to five, make sure you fulfill your duties and meet your deadlines. If your workload exceeds what can be done in a typical day at work, notify your supervisor and discuss options.

5. Beware of laundry and cleaning.

You might be thinking, Now that I work from home, I’ll finally have time to clean and do the laundry! This is true, but there's a twist. Be careful about doing regular household tasks during work hours. They provide a sense of accomplishment but also can lead to procrastination from your work responsibilities.

6. Be a self-starter.

Job listings often seek self-starters—those who don't wait around for someone to tell them what to do. To successfully telework, you must keep your plate full and achieve your deadlines, suggesting additional duties when your desk is clear.

7. Be available.

Use email, messaging, and video conferencing to maintain real-time collaboration with colleagues and clients. If you respond promptly to communications, you prevent distance from hampering your productivity and that of others.

8. Communicate effectively.

If you need to have a real-time discussion, use messaging or even (gasp) a phone call to talk through an issue. If your reader needs time to think about your message, use email or a less obtrusive form of communication.

9. Be positive.

Distance communication lacks facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice—key indicators of the emotion that surrounds your ideas. Readers tend to interpret emails as slightly more negative than they were intended. As a result, raise your positivity level one notch. If you are neutral, sound positive. If you are negative, sound neutral. If you are angry, find another form of communication that will not be interpreted as hostile.

10. Work in a separate space as your spouse or housemate.

Video chats, meetings, and other work obligations can distract the other person working in your house. Plus, if you’re in your own space, you can turn on the music you want to listen to.

11. Switch up your environment.

When you are stuck in a rut in your home office, try working in a different room. We find that a small change of setting can lead to better productivity, even if it's as simple as moving to your kitchen table.

12. Manage your social needs.

Isolation is a real problem when working from a distance. Sometimes you need human contact. Get it, whether from family and friends or from colleagues and clients.

Help! My kids are home, too!

If you have children at home with you during the workday, plan ahead. Set up different activity stations. Print out coloring pages and worksheets—these are nice quiet activities. Take a few 10–15 minutes breaks throughout the day to play a quick board game or read a book to your child. If your spouse is home too, take turns checking in on the kids. You may have to adjust your own schedule, too, working around naps and other free times.

Here’s the good news, though—as a parent, you're already a pro at functioning in chaos.

You've got this.


Get More Support

Refer to the Write for Business Guide and Courses to help you communicate effectively from your home office.