How to Work From Home

Especially if You Never Have Before

Twenty-one years ago, I quit my job in Toronto and made the decision to work from home. My oldest kid was only a few weeks old and I knew I couldn’t leave her in someone else’s care if I had any choice in the matter.

Back then, I was working in tech as an application programmer. An early web application programmer. I had occasionally freelanced, and was a total computer nerd, so I was already set up with hardware and software to make the leap.

Twenty-one years later, and suddenly people who haven’t worked from home before and never thought about being able to do so, are suddenly thrown into a whole new world.

I’m going to share with you what I know so that your transition is easier.

If you’re reading this during the normal work day and you’re still in your pyjamas, you are going to fail. The first thing you need to know is you have to dress the part to feel the part. Sure, maybe you can leave the tie off, but when you dress for work, including shoes, you will work more efficiently and actually feel like working.

My dress code in my office is certainly casual, partly because I spent some of my day painting for my job as a visual artist. I have to be dying or seriously down in the dumps for me to not be fully dressed and wearing shoes.

Routines matter. Set one and stick to it. Right now my kids are asleep. They’re revelling in not having to get up early every day. I have adjusted my wake up time by a half hour since I’m not hauling my demon spawn to school right now. But my alarm is still set. My bed time is still set. And when I get up, I follow my routine.

It keeps me focused and on target. It helps me divide my day into work and home sections. It sets healthy boundaries.

Space matters. Try to put your work space in a room with a door and work only in that space. The thing is, we need the boundaries between work and home or you will feel like you should be working all the time.

In my current home, my office is in an unfinished basement but I have hung curtains all around to create walls and a visual separation. At the end of the day, I can walk away and have actual downtime away from work. My desk for writing used to be in the main part of the house and I found that I never stopped working. Now, I love writing and spend a HUGE chunk of my day writing, but everyone needs time to recharge and you can’t do it if you’re reminded in your face that there’s work to do.

Have an end of day ritual. Since you’re not commuting or leaving the office, it’s super important to close out your day or you will feel like you live at work and never leave. Close the door on your office. Take off your shoes. Shut your computer down completely. Whatever you do, no matter how small, do it every day.

Don’t do household chores during working hours. You’d think my house would be tidy with me home all day and we’re just going to pause here to laugh and laugh and laugh. Because I don’t, not ever, do chores during my work day. I keep my mind focused on work and when I’m done, then I pay attention to the needs of my home.

It’s too easy to think you can just quickly vacuum or do laundry, but mentally those things don’t belong at work and so you end up pulling yourself out of work mode. Depending on the kind of work you do, it can take a while to refocus back into your job. Time wasted.

Don’t watch TV during your work day. If you wouldn’t do it at the office, or wherever you normally work, then don’t do it at home. For me, the moment I find myself watching Netflix or whatever during the day, it’s time for a self check because it’s a sign I’m stressed or struggling and not on my game. TV and work don’t mix.

If you’ve got kids at home, find a way that works for you to manage things. Right now, it’s especially difficult so maybe bringing in help isn’t the answer. And everyone’s situation is different. My kids are old enough to manage themselves and don’t need supervision. When they were younger, they would have space in my office to hang out or I would have someone come in to take them to the park etc.

When my kids were babies, I’d work with a baby in one arm, but that was possible because I was programming web applications. Easy enough to do one handed. As they got older, I’d make them stick to a routine and work while they napped. You can get a lot done in an hour or two when you know the clock is ticking.

Be gentle with yourself. If you weren’t planning on or expecting to work from home, everything may feel wrong or surreal. If you’re a social person, it may be particularly difficult right now. Get on Zoom or Facetime or whatever so you have face to face contact with other people.

Figure out what works for you when it comes to working from home but do your best to set yourself up for success right from the start.