My Life At Home

I’ve Been Working From Home for 20 Years—Here’s How to Get Through It

We're all going to be just fine. Say it again: just fine.

March 23, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Now more than ever, home is where many of us are seeking refuge and solace in light of the novel coronavirus. This is a tough time, but we’re here for you—whether it’s a new pantry recipe or a useful tip for your kitchen, here are some ideas to make things run a little more smoothly for you and your loved ones.

The toilet just overflowed.

And my husband, teenage son, and I are sharing a little over 1,000-square-feet of work space, chill space and yes, throw-a- tennis-ball-against-the-bedroom-wall space during this coronavirus quarantine.

It’s a lot to handle, but it's an even bigger challenge to tune everything out when you have work to do and you’re trying to adjust to the unfamiliar rhythms of working from home.

That’s why you’ve got to flip the switch and reframe the feeling of “ugh, I’ve got to WFH” to “Oh, I can work from home—cool.” Take it from me, a journalist who has worked from home for two’s not all that bad (especially considering there are a lot of people unable to even do their jobs right now). In fact, it’s actually pretty great, which is why I’m sharing my time-tested tips to not only survive—but thrive—while working from home:

Make your space work for you

Your office isn’t perfect. Consider how annoying it is to work under fluorescent lights, or huddled under a pashmina because the building is a little overzealous with the AC. With a home office, you’re in control of everything, from lighting to windows open (or shut). Take a deep breath, drizzle some essential oils into your favorite diffuser, and do what usually gets you focused. Headphone with smooth jazz, chewing a piece of gum, or playing TV in the background—do what you’ve gotta do.

Set ground rules with your peeps

For so many people working from home right now, an additional stressor is that everyone else is at home with you. One tip for surviving without anyone having a major meltdown: communicate constantly and calmly. If you’re trying to speak with someone on the phone in one room and your son is FaceTiming loudly with friends in another, someone is going to lose it—but not if you communicate ahead of time as in, “I’m starting a call right now. I will need quiet but just for 15 minutes.” Another great plan: Set up a schedule for the day that includes meals, so everyone isn’t eating breakfast or lunch at different times. In fact, we’ve used meals as a time to catch up and share worries, updates on friends, and swap memes. It’s a therapeutic moment of togetherness during these tense times.

Don’t sit in the same place every day

When you WFH, you’re not trying to simulate your office cubicle. This means that you don’t need to sit at a traditional desk if you don’t want to. I’ve worked at my kitchen counter, jerry-rigged a slab of wood atop an AC unit to maximize the view and, yup, worked on my overstuffed couch. You want to find a spot in your space—however small—that will inspire you the most that day. If dragging a table and chairs over to the window helps, by all means, do it.

Separate life from work

It’s 100 percent okay to spread out all of your files, calendars and to-do lists around your work area during the workday, but at the end of the day, do yourself (and your family) a favor and pack up your work stuff and put everything in a basket or bin. I’m a stickler for this because neither I nor my family members want to be surrounded by my laptop and files when I’m off the clock.

DIY an at-home café

If you’re missing your office kitchen—endless tea varieties, cappuccino at the press of the button, canisters full of snacks—DIY it. Make a giant pot of coffee, fill a ceramic creamer with your favorite flavored blend and put spoons and sweeteners out in a decorative tin. It sounds extravagant, but it really helps make home feel more business-like. Likewise, if you’re missing snacks, put them out just like your office manager does every morning, and make your own water cooler by filling a giant carafe with ice water and fruit, and perch it near your workspace.

Dress in happy colors

Even though you may not meet a soul (other than your family) that day, dress to impress—yourself. For me, this means wearing a blouse in an upbeat color, a signature necklace or a scarf in a pattern that enhances my outfit. It’s honestly a cliché to stay in sweats, and while I get the goal of being comfy all day, taking steps to shower and wear "real" clothing will help you feel better about the day. And, since most of us are going to be connecting on video calls for the foreseeable future, it may actually make you feel better about being on-camera.

Book Virtual BFF time

When you don’t have any co-workers, you have to work even harder to connect—and that’s in the best of times. It’s critical to reach out to at least one person daily, and that need will increase exponentially as this WFH reality extends over time. It’s really quite easy: scroll through your list of contacts in your phone. Is there a college friend you haven’t connected with recently? Check in. Are you spreading goodwill to family members? Now’s the best time to do this. Hopefully we’ll all continue to connect like this—even when this challenging WFH mandate comes to an end.

How do you stay focused and upbeat while working at home? Let us know below!

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Lambeth Hochwald

Written by: Lambeth Hochwald


Pol M. April 21, 2020
I've also been working from home for more than a year now and I've realized that there are more pros than cons.No worries on what time should I wake up to make it to work on time, need not to think of what to wear, I have so much time for myself,friends and family and the list goes on. Here are also great tips on working from home espcially during this pandemic:
Liz S. March 27, 2020
I am going to claim dibs on longest WFH … 9/01/2020 it will be 35 years. I know … longer than many Food52 readers have been alive. Anyway. Everyone is different, but I am NOT a work from bed/couch/wherever my laptop fits person. I have a spot with good ergonomics … even from the start. I have always started my work day with a "schedule": work/breaks. At the beginning, when distractions threatened to disrupt things, I used "bribes": if I get 3 hours in by 11, I can ride my bike to that great Mex restaurant for lunch. At the start, I lived in an apartment in a Los Angeles community. Now, I live on 8 acres in NW Montana, my own house, with my dog and cat. Getting outside is built into my schedule for the pets as well as my own mental health! I adjust … currently, I've lightened up the work hours and increased the outside time. Mostly, for me anyway, the key has always been to plan the day, but also be aware that things might disrupt the plan. I have a 2 year old dog … 2 years ago, when I brought him home as an 8 week old puppy … my plans … even with what I thought was excellent prep … went awry. Kind of insignificant compared to what so many are adjusting to these past weeks, but I guess my advice would be to be kind to yourself and whoever you share your "house", to be open to various "plans" and see what works for you and yours. And start each day with hope.
AntoniaJames March 25, 2020
Speaking of cycling, here's another tip. Leaving the office to go for a bike ride at the perfect time of day (mercury has risen since early morning in April, but before the wind kicks up) is a "meeting" for the purpose of scheduling. So, if you need to take that ride, tell anyone who wants to schedule another meeting then (or if you need to set expectations of deliverables or availability), you're in meetings for however many hours you'll be gone. Same is true obviously for walks or, when it's open, going to the gym or pool, or (one of my favorites) naps!! ;o)
AntoniaJames March 25, 2020
I too have been WFM for a long time - going on 19 years. I've always had a separate office within our house, so some of these points don't directly apply. I do though strongly recommend that you clear everything away - file / sort into action or other relevant folders, etc - at the end of the day. At the same time, identify and note your first priorities the next morning. It's a great way to get the separation you need from work and the rest of your life, which is so important if you don't have actual physical distance to help with that.

One additional tip is a fitness ritual of mine. I have written down on an index card about a half dozen short strength or stretching activities that I do systematically. I revise that list periodically to add new ones, drop others, just to shake things up.

I do a plank every time I go into my office before sitting at my desk - not just in the morning, but every time. If I'm in meetings or doing heads-down work for more than an hour, I break that time up to do one of the other strength or stretching exercises, which take 1 - 2 minutes each. Then, before I leave the office (each time, not just at the end of the workday), I again do one of the stretch or strengthening exercises. I rotate them sort of randomly, or choose ones that make particularly sense at a given time, depending one what kind of other exercise I've done, outside the office, that day or the day before. (I say "the day before" because when I take a longish (20 - 35 mile) bike ride one day, I'm sometimes still a bit stiff the next day.)
I hope people find this helpful. ;o)
Bevi March 25, 2020
Completely concur with all you have written. I find it very important, after WFH for a dozen years, to schedule time for exercise and make it a regular time slot. In the Spring and summer, my workout will most likely by gardening time, with bike rides saved for after EOD.

boulangere March 25, 2020
Completely agree. What is EOD?
Arati M. March 26, 2020
I love these ideas, Antonia—so helpful. I think I'm going to try the plank-desk-plank rotation today!!
Arati M. March 26, 2020
EOD is End of Day.
Bevi March 26, 2020
End of (business)Day
cassiem March 23, 2020
great tips, though 1000m2 isn't bad at all!