Hello to all of you social distancing and avoiding the office. Welcome to the WFH party!
I have long enjoyed a balanced mix of WFH and personal interactions, spending roughly equal parts of my workweek meeting with clients or sourcing building materials and selecting finishes in-store, and working from my home office on spaceplans or selecting furnishings online for clients. Now that we’re all practicing some social distancing, I thought I’d throw out some tips I’ve learned over the past seventeen years for best practices on the WFH front:
#1. Create Work/Life Boundaries
Working in your PJs from a laptop on the couch—that’s the WFH dream, right? I can’t throw stones on that whole fantasy, because I’ve done plenty of that over the years (seventeen this July). What ends up happening though, is that you do a little work here, a little work there, scattering those bits of work throughout the entirety of the hours that you’re awake, and the lines between work and life start to blur. Before too long, you’ll feel like you’re always working, even if those moments of work only accumulate to being a normal eight hours (or less). When this led to work/home imbalance in my own life, I established a rule to only perform WFH tasks in my home office. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated home office, but whether you’re camped out on your dining table or using the desk in your guest bedroom, set up shop there every day you’re working from home so that mentally, you can leave the office at the end of your shift just by leaving the table.
#2 Dress the Part
This is actually part of #1, because it’s a great tool for creating work/life balance, but speaking from experience, it can end up doing some damage to your psyche to slob out day to day while you WFH. In the past, I generally had three different wardrobe selves: (1) if I had a meeting with a client, I showered and dressed professionally for the day. (2) If I wasn’t seeing a client but had to go out in the world to shop for tile or fabric or whatever, and only planned to see vendors, I might shower, but typically didn’t fret too much about what I was wearing. (3) If I was working exclusively at home, I would wear whatever I slept in and added pants. If my family was lucky.
Consequently, it became easier and easier for my self-esteem to flounder (“I’m such a slob!”), and again, it blurred the mental boundaries between work and home. I’ve found that when I dress professionally Monday through Friday, my mood is better, my self-esteem is much improved, and I have fewer feelings of isolation. It’s just a little mental pick-me-up, and after you enjoy a week (or two) of soaking up the freedom of working in your PJs, I highly recommend getting back to office-type wardrobe selections on a routine basis. Think of it as another way of creating that mental shift from work to home, much like Mr. Rogers did when he came home and changed into his sweater and slippers.
#3. Establish an EOD Ritual
Dogs aren’t the only ones with Pavlovian responses—we humans are excellent at them as well. So if you make a habit of doing something specific at the end of your workday, you can easily “leave the office” at the end of the day after a week or two of doing that consistently. If you work in a dedicated office space like I do, this can be as simple as turning off your computer and closing the door behind you. If your new WFH spot is the kitchen table, take a minute to tidy up at the end of your workday, unplug and put away your laptop, get a glass of water and call a relative or your best friend so that you have that feeling of crossing from Work You to Home You.
#4. Improve Your View
Having a window to look out while you’re working can help improve your mood and lessen feelings of loneliness. If your new WFH environment doesn’t include a window you can see from your seat, you can fake something similar. Mirrors, travel pictures, family/pet photos—these all make wonderful elements to surround yourself with to improve your new view. Bring your full-length mirror out of the closet and prop it against a wall that will reflect another window—it can make a world of a difference in how you feel while you’re sitting there day after day.
Here’s an example of something I’ve done in my own home office to expand the amount of daylight in the room:
The room I office in only has one window and it’s awkwardly placed in the corner. By installing this mirror next to it, if looks like two windows from my desk:
#5. Enjoy WFH Perks!
Listen to your favorite tunes. Pet that furry co-worker who’s plopped themselves at your feet (or in my case, on top of my keyboard). Revel in the privacy of your new Executive Washroom. There’s a lot of beauty to this WFH thing. And the food court? I hear it’s fully stocked.