How to Work from Home

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Editor and writer Lori Straus sitting at her computer in her office
Photo by Erin Watt Photography

The novel coronavirus that’s sweeping across the world means many have to work from home. This can lead to a few attractive traps if you’re not careful, not to mention cause issues if you have kids at home. I’ve been working from home part-time since 2013 and full-time since 2017. I’ll share with you a few tips.

Set Boundaries With Kids Where Possible

I started trying to achieve a better balance with my kids when they were about three and five. It began with requiring them to knock before they entered my office. I enforced this rule strictly years ago. If they entered my office without knocking, I sent them back out of the room and told them to try again.

This helped them understand that my time in that room was special and that it had boundaries. They’ve since forgotten, but they’re older now and play with each other well, so I don’t mind the odd time they just walk in anymore. (Plus, I can hear them walking up the stairs. My office was elsewhere in the house when they were younger.)

If working from home is new to your family, you’ll need patience. If your children really seek your attention, try a timer instead: set it outside your office for 15 minutes (or a time you find appropriate) and enforce that your child can’t enter until that timer goes off.

And if your children really can’t be without seeing you, try enforcing very strict no-talk times. My children know they can read or draw in my office while I’m writing, but they’re not allowed to talk.

Tell Your Kids What You Do, Not That You “Have to Work”

I never wanted my kids to hate the idea of work. As most of us here know, work can be very fulfilling. If my kids asked me what I was doing, I answered in a way that was appropriate for their age. “Work” is a very abstract concept. “I’m typing a story for someone else” is more concrete.

Your Housework Also Needs Boundaries

When you are first faced with the freedom of working from home, you may suddenly realize the different chores you could get done: you could walk with a duster from your office to the basement and dust the stairs all the way down. (And back up!) Or you could carry your laundry into the machine and turn it on. Of course, instead of taking a 10-minute cooler break, you could vacuum.

Although these ideas make sense at the beginning, if you’re not careful, you’ll suddenly find yourself doing a lot of housework and no paid work. Your boss will certainly not be happy with that.

Go ahead and throw in that load of laundry, but make sure that’s the only chore you do during your work hours. This holds double if you have children at home: they’ll require more of your attention so they don’t go batty, too.

And Don’t Forget Boundaries for Social Media

Hopefully your work hasn’t suggested using social media to stay in touch. Assuming it hasn’t, don’t start messaging your coworkers via your favourite social media platform. That’s just a rabbit hole you’ll have a hard time climbing out of. Turn off social media like you would at work (you do, right?) and leave it off until the evening.

Routine Is Critical

Depending on where in the world you live, you may be working from home for a few weeks or longer. Even though right now could be March Break for you like it is for me, get yourself into a routine. It will save lots of decision-making every morning and help you be more productive throughout the day.

Use Help When It’s Available

The coming weeks are going to get stressful, so use help when it’s offered. That includes getting your kids to help more around the house and accepting help from your neighbours. Teach your kids age-appropriate chores, like moving loads of wash into the dryer, dusting baseboards, or having them pull the food you need to cook with from the fridge. These may seem like small tasks, but they’ll save you time in the long run, even after this period in our history is over.

In addition, if you have neighbours willing to help, accept that help whenever necessary. For example, if you have to look after a dependent and don’t want to leave the house with them, a neighbour may be able to pick up groceries for you.

Working from Home Can Be Done

I’m sure you also have colleagues and friends who’ve been working from home for a long time. Ask around for advice to help you be reasonably productive given the situation most of the world is finding itself in. And if you have any questions for me, leave them below. I’ll check in once or twice a day to respond.

About the author

Lori Straus

Lori Straus is a freelance writer. She has written for tech companies, non-profit associations, and small businesses. She also writes novels under Lori Wolf-Heffner.

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