As someone who tried working from home for a week and failed, here are the errors I made so that you can do better and slam dunk working from home.
Did your company adapt to working from home because of your boss’ leadership or COVID-19?
For the majority of us, it was the latter.
We have a presenteeism culture in many workplaces which means that people are rewarded for putting in face time at the office rather than measured output. This alongside the costs of getting people set up with remote working equipment like laptop has meant that many companies were not prepared for the COVID-19 environment.
Today, many of you are working from home who haven’t done so previously. I am one of those people. I keep seeing many people humble bragging about their perfect working from home (WFH) set-up, where everything in their house looks like a magazine cut out or Instagram filter come to life.
So, let’s disrupt that picture-perfect filter with some brutal honesty: I failed at working from home.
I have zero problem in not being perfect and instead admitting that I emerged from the WFH experience craving an office structure and I went back to the office as soon as I could.
What went so spectacularly wrong?
So much. Here is everything I did wrong when working home so that you can do better than me, particularly if you don’t have the option to go back into the office yet.
What NOT to do when working from home:
1. Eat everything in your fridge
If you think I’m joking, you did not see my fridge at the end of the week. I had access to my fridge for the whole day and like many of us who love our food, I went for it. The problem was that I didn’t feel good afterwards – I felt bloated on what was mainly junk food and felt worse for it.
Learn from my gluttony by putting some firm timeframes around meal times like you would if you were normally in the office. If you’re a Hobbit and following the Middle Earth diet of second breakfast and elevenses, that’s cool too.
2. Not setting boundaries around your time
Many people knew I was working from home and called or messaged me during the day because they knew I could respond. Like any person I will tolerate the occasional personal call as you would at work. But I didn’t appreciate the increasing blending between my personal and work life and the fact people didn’t understand that started to really grate.
Before you get annoyed at people, look at whether you have set boundaries in place. Do people know not to call you between certain hours? Set and reinforce boundaries that will enable you to balance your work and personal life. You’ll likely have to reinforce those boundaries multiple times but people will eventually get the message.
3. Feeling guilty about logging off
I started my work day at 8am and kept going until dinner time because I was online anyway, what was a few more emails. And then a few more after dinner because the laptop was right there. I felt guilty for logging off because I could see that other people were still online. And if they were online, shouldn’t I be?
Avoid the guilt trip by instead, setting a firm start time and end time to the day and sticking to it. When you’ve worked your hours for the day, put your laptop away and out of sight. This removes the temptation to log on and check your emails – the Inbox will never be empty and it can wait until tomorrow.
4. Working when you’re sick
I am that person who will push through even when they are not well. So I continued to work from home when shivering from under a thick blanket and surviving on tea. I felt rubbish and only felt better when I sat away from my laptop to nap.
Do not be that person. If you are entitled to sick leave – use it. No one will thank you for being the office or WFH martyr. Actually rest your body so that you can get rest up and get better quicker.
5. Stay slouching in your pyjamas all day
It is very tempting to stay in your pyjamas and pretend you’re starting a fashion trend that could absolutely translate to the office. I tried this and rocked my pyjamas with the best of them for Day 1 and 2 of WFH. By Day 2 however, the pyjamas outfit lost its spark and I just felt like a bit of a slob.
On Day 3, I pretended that I was going to the office and felt much for it. I grabbed a shower, did my hair and dressed in a smart professional yet comfortable way – translation: crisp shirt on top for conference calls, Lululemon shorts on the bottom half because I love my Lulus and they make me feel like I’m ready to run up anything – including the corporate ladder. Main point is actually get ready and step out of your bedtime clothes so that you can step into the work mindset.
6. Work from your bed
I worked from my bed and the couch because it was comfy. And while it was incredibly comfortable, within a day, my back started to hurt from lying down or leaning forward on the couch for more than 8 hours a day.
We’re in this for the long haul so you may as well leave lockdown without needing to spend whatever money you saved in not ordering UberEATS on physio appointments. Sit at a table, with a chair and check your posture regularly. I’ve been in share houses before where we didn’t have a communal table and instead I used a laptop tray. This is the next best thing to a table so that you can sit up straight and not have your laptop burn a whole in your crotch from the heat they give off. The central point here is to invest in a set up that will save you money at the physio – you might even be able to claim some of your new equipment as a tax deduction so yes, it is worth it.
7. Assume your colleagues don’t want to hear from you
Whereas you might have bumped into your colleagues in the office as part of the normal work day, we tend to take these stolen hallway or lunch break conversations for granted. I assumed my work family wouldn’t want to hear from me because they’d be wanting to get on with their work. That assumption was so NOT the case and I instead got a steady stream of messages each day because people wanted to keep in touch as normal. They wanted to hear from me every morning because that was their normal.
People are finding different ways to stay connected in this virtual environment we didn’t plan to be operating in. What works is maintaining key relationships including have a regular team check in or catch up with your boss. And try doing a video call rather than relying on phone calls so that you can actually see their face and read their body language as it makes for a much more engaging conversation.
I recognise that I’m breaking the mould by not giving you a perfect rendition of how to work from home.
I can absolutely follow this up with what you SHOULD DO to love working from home. However, I wanted to give space to the fact that a lot of us are going to fail at working from home before we find our groove. And that’s ok.
We are working through a pandemic rather than making an active choice to work from home.
And we will all get through this, some of us with a greater appreciation for pyjama fashion than others. So, the next time you see the picture-perfect Instagram shot of a WFH set up, think of it as the outcome of small failures and learnings over time. Finding what works for you takes time and your perfect WFH set-up may look very different – rock it anyway.
Read more: 10 steps to love remote working