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How to work from home (by somebody who knows how weird it is to work from home)


As more and more office workers transition to working away from each other, I thought it would help to share what I’ve learned during my 18 month odyssey of working remote.

1. Have a structure, and stick to it.
Working from home requires routine and discipline. Your commute and the meetings that move you around the office create a structure that remote does not. Left to your own devices you have to be much more on top of your day than you realize. Start and end your work day at the same time. Enforce and protect your lunch break.

2. Set up a dedicated workspace. Now.
Don’t sit on the couch. Don’t lounge on your bed. Have a dedicated space for business. Use a nook, a window space, a corner, a spare room, the finished basement, or even your shed (I use mine in the summer). The best reason for this is the “separation of church and state”. You’ll be able to close the laptop and physically walk away at the end of the day. You don’t want work taking over your home, and you don’t want home taking over your work.

3. Do something before you start the day.
Under normal circumstances I’d recommend walking to get coffee or going to the gym, but these are not normal circumstances. Try to do something unrelated to work to fill the void of your commute. I hang out with my 4 month old son. I fold laundry (exciting I know!) I bake bread. It simply sucks to just plop down in front of a screen and start working.

4. Wear real clothes.
I have worn my PJs for an entire day like, three times, and it was awful, I think I would probably be depressed if I did that all the time. Wear real clothes.

5. Turn the camera on. Use mute like a pro.
I became one of the worst offenders for leaving the camera off and have recently begun to correct that. Try not to hide behind your avatar or photo, that way we all get to look into your home to see your cat or your taste in art. However, this is more about staying connected. I’ve felt a lot more distant from teams by keeping the camera off. And try to use mute when you’re not talking, it’s weird what the mic picks up.

6. Trust your team. Have a team that trusts you.
This is one of the biggest factors that has made my time working remote successful. I’m lucky enough to have a team that trusts me to get the work done. We’re all professionals, and we’ve proven it to each other in person on multiple occasions. Now let’s prove it to each other online.

7. Take more breaks than you think you should.
I know, this sounds counter-productive, but it isn’t. In an office you stop all the time for small talk or just to walk to the snack drawer, bathroom or walk downstairs to eat at whatever’s around your office. At home, you just sit, and work and sit, and sit. I usually get up and walk around a bit after every meeting. If you nail this and a daily structure, you’ll be surprised how effective you are remote.

8. Block off times home life will interrupt work.
Kids are usually the reason for this, so communicate with your team that your day might be interrupted, don’t hide the fact that your personal and professional lives have to temporarily collide. Again, if your team trusts you to be the awesome professional you are, you’re fine. Plus, I think we will all have added empathy for one another right now.

9. Communicate. Communicate. Communicate.
Gchat, email, text, all the things all the time. This is hard, but thankfully we have about 35 different ways to reach each other these days. It’s easy to drop off the face of the earth when you’re remote. It can look like you’re disengaged, you have to push against it.

10. Isolation is real.
Technology has made remote work possible, but digital tools can’t always fully re-create in-person communication (sorry video conferencing, you’re pretty great but no equivalent). It’s important to recognize that this is very very different from working in the office and that you have to find ways to compensate for the interactions you are used to. I’m a notorious introvert, but I still need my people. I can’t tell you what the solutions are for you, especially in this developing situation. What I can tell you is that based on the fact that we don’t know how long this will last, take some time to think about how you can try to replace the social interactions you’ve come to take for granted. Set up a lunch hangout with your work friends, or have open office hours on your calendar for your teammates to call into if they want to talk about current projects, or just to talk.

And finally, we’re all in this together.
We’re all adjusting. We’re all figuring this out.
The good news is, our clients look to us to be problem solvers.
We’ll find ways to work through issues, and we won’t do it alone.

James Wood, Senior Copywriter
James concepts, writes, rewrites and produces work for Google, Udemy, Arity and many more. In his time at VSA he has worked on everything from print ads and national tv campaigns to brand narratives and events. James lives in Portland, Oregon while he supports the efforts of VSA Chicago and San Francisco from afar.