I have been working remotely from my home since before I even began working here at Corgibytes. The initial transition from commuting to an office everyday to working out of my house was not the simplest of transitions. While I was excited and wanted to absolutely love it from the very beginning, it took a little time to get into the groove and come up with a schedule and system that fully worked for me. The schedule and system changed as my job, company and family changed but once I had it under control, I loved it and I can not see myself working in an office ever again.
But, as the whole world knows in late February/early March of 2020, millions of office employees suddenly became remote employees overnight whether they wanted to be remote or not. My friends stopped erroneously assuming I work in my pajamas all day but I began to get a lot of “well at least covid hasn’t changed your work life!”
So when I found myself struggling again to balance home and work, I started to question myself as to why. Why, when I already work from home, am I being hit by the chaos of working from home? Why is the schedule and system I have used successfully for years suddenly not working?
And then it clicked. I have been working remotely since 2016, but I have been working from home since March 2020. Those are not the same thing. Sure, they sound the same and they have a lot of common traits. However, they are not the same and while I had a pretty great system for working remotely, my system wasn’t designed for working from home.
Working remotely is simply working at an office that is not co-located with my coworkers. I was not commuting to a traditional office everyday, but I was going to a work location where I was able to focus on my job. That office happens to be located on the first floor of my house. For some coworkers their office was also in their house. For others their office was a rented office space. For others their office was whatever cafe or library or coffee shop, etc that they decided to call their office for the day. But the one thing we had in common was that we were in our “offices” to work. For the most part when we were working we weren’t also expected to deal with household or family responsibilities.
Now I am working from home. The difference? Now I am still lucky enough to come into the same office, but I am no longer working remotely. I am now solidly working from home. I am here to work, but I am also listening for the moment I need to switch roles to mom or teacher or cafeteria worker or janitor or remote school tech support, etc.
So, why am I suddenly being hit by the chaos of working from home? Why is the schedule and system I have used successfully for years suddenly not working? Because I need to adapt my schedule so that I am still working remotely even while I work from home.
Over the years we have given some advice on how to work remotely, but here are my tips from working remotely while working from home. As with all tips and tricks, some may work for you. Others won’t. Some may work today and not tomorrow. But as I attempt to work remotely while also working from home, here are some things that I have had some success with. Hopefully you can find some success too.
Resist The Temptation
Remember how I mentioned that early on when I transitioned to working remotely, I struggled to find a schedule and system that worked for me? I’m realizing now that while I had not labeled it that way at the time, I had been trying to work from home. My eventual success had come from eliminating the temptation to work from home. I would walk into the kitchen for a glass of water and feel the need to unload the dishwasher “since I am at home”. I would put a pile of paperwork for the household management on my desk so that I could “make that phone call while I work from home”. But when I began to draw those borders between home and work, I began to find success.
Resist the temptation to do double duty. There are plenty of places that double duty will be forced upon you, but when you can resist the urge, resist the urge. Those “it’ll only take 5 minutes” chores add up. Remind yourself “I am at work right now.” If you had a traditional office you wouldn’t bring your dishwasher to work with you.
Likewise, resist that urge at nighttime to pop back into the office.
Take a lunch break. This one is a challenge if you have a job where you often have lunch time meetings, but if you are able to reserve some time for a proper lunch break, do it. When I worked in the office, I was notoriously bad at eating at my desk. But even the walk to the cafeteria, stopping to chat about non-work stuff with coworkers in line, etc was a break.
When I started working remotely, I fell into a trap of running to the kitchen, grabbing a sandwich and coming back to the desk to eat while I worked. Once I started forcing myself to eat in the kitchen, go out to lunch, watch a TV show, etc I started to have much more productive afternoons. Then covid sent the kids home and suddenly my relaxing lunch breaks became helping with homework, being a cafeteria worker, etc. My lunch break was gone! And so was my productive afternoon.
So I changed the process. I moved my lunch time to the school-assigned lunch/recess time of my younger son (my teenager couldn’t care less about how I spend my lunch). We renamed it to “recess” and we began to play board games while we ate together. If the lunch break ended and the game was still ongoing we took a photo (in case of cat destruction) and set a date to finish after work. Some days we read a book together instead, but the key here is that once I forced myself to take a break from work, my afternoons became more productive. And as an added bonus, so did my son’s.
But be careful. Unless you really love doing housework, taking a “break” from work to clean your kitchen is NOT a break.
Pack A Lunch
Just because you are working from home does not mean you have to have a home-cooked meal for lunch. What were you eating for lunch when you worked in the office? If you packed a lunch every day and you find yourself now struggling at lunch time to figure out what to eat or rushing to make lunch before your next meeting, “pack” a lunch the morning or night before. You don’t have to put it in a lunch box (unless you want to), but if packing a lunch was your thing before and you liked those lunches, just keep on packing it. Just don’t forget to take a lunch break with that packed lunch.
Likewise, if you have kids that are having to take lunches at different times and causing mid-day chaos, pack them a lunch. While I do take lunch breaks with my younger son, if I know I have a meeting or a busy day, I pack him a lunch in advance.
As you have guessed, I have two kids. When I first started working remotely they were both in elementary with the youngest just entering kindergarten. As any parent knows, your child’s “need” to urgently tell you something seems to grow exponentially when you have a need to be on a phone or video call. While I work very hard to limit my number of meetings, I am unfortunately still on meetings far more often than I wish. So we orchestrated a “write a note” rule. If someone is bleeding, really sick, the house is on fire, etc by all means, interrupt my call. But for anything else, write me a note.
I keep a stack of sticky notes on my desk and the kids grab one and write me a message. It still took a while to train them not to just shove the note in face until I responded, but now they know I will glance at the message as soon as I can.
And as a bonus, I have gotten some truly hilarious notes to brighten my day. Who can’t laugh at this gem: “Can we watch a movie? S promises to empty the dishwasher after. See he signed below hereby agreeing to the terms. Circle yes or no.”
Set a Schedule
I am one of those people that likes to have structure in my day. My kids tend to be in the same boat. So a schedule is key. Before schools closed my start and end time for work were somewhat forced upon me by school hours and extracurricular evening activities. When schools first closed in March 2020 there was suddenly no schedule. I fell into a trap of wanting to sleep in later and thus working later at the end of the day. Or if the day just got out of control, working again after the kids went to bed.
If your day is getting out of hand: Set a schedule. Write it down. This was key to resuming a more working remotely state of mind.
Likewise, when the kids don’t have school or camp due to covid closings, snow days, etc we have them create a “Camp [Our house number]” schedule. They don’t stick to it exactly, but it reduces the fights, the “I’m bored”s, the interruptions and the guilt of letting them use the ipad all day long.
And finally, the most backwards sounding advice… give yourself commute time.
When I was working in the office I was driving in my car to and from. That 15-20 minutes each way seemed like a nuisance at the time. While I hope to never return to that daily car ride, my failure to initially replace it with something else was cause for stress.
The remote work schedule that I found to finally work included a “commute”, a more gradual transition from working at the office to being on duty at home. In the mornings, after the kids were on the bus to school and my husband was out the door for work, I did some exercise. Or I read a book for 15 minutes or so. Or I watched a 30 minute show. I did something that was neither work nor housework.
My evening commute was still a work in progress but I tried to make sure I had a break between completing work and starting dinner or taxi-driver duty for the kids.
As I was forced into a “work from home” state I failed to keep commuting. I fell into a trap of setting my alarm for as late as possible before I needed to start work. I’d then work as late as possible before I needed to start dinner. I was going from one job to another non-stop. To get back to working remotely instead of working from home, I need to go back to “commuting”.
Each day in the work from home world is different. When you find something that works, keep it up. I’m constantly on the lookout for more ways to make this current state of things work. And some days my kids are melting down at school and this advice goes out the door. But I try to take a moment and look at this list and resolve to refocus on these tomorrow. Hopefully these things I have found to work for me can help others. If you try them out and they help, let us know in the comments below. What other ways do you find to navigate working from home while also working remotely?