Helpful Hints for Working from Home
The COVID-19 pandemic reshaped the workplace in a few days, and millions of people who worked in an office before the virus spread are now working from home.
The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA) has a 50-year history of supporting people who work from home. In our monthly Twitter #EFAchat, Freelance Friday, we asked our members to share what they’ve learned about setting up a home office and staying focused on the job. We offer our experiences to new remote and freelance workers, in the hope that we can ease your transition during this time of crisis.
Our workplace is changing, too. For many freelance editors, social distancing brings the opposite—more people in our work area. You might be working from home with an already-working-at-home family member who is not used to socializing throughout the day and works better without distractions. We hope these tips ease the transition for both of you.
Advantages of Working at Home
Many of us prefer working at home. We work during our most productive hours, eat and exercise on our own schedule, and set our own tasks for the week. There’s no commute and no dress code, no cubicles or chatty coworkers. Instead, we’re home with our pets and plants, working quietly or with music we like. We save money on gas and food, and we use our breaks to keep up with chores. We work outside in good weather or in cafes (before COVID-19) for a change of scenery. This flexibility is the reason many of us prefer freelancing, and it helps us adapt to change.
Life Hacks for the Home Office
We asked our members on Twitter (@EFAfreelancers) how they create a good work environment and limit distractions. We collected their tips below. (Read the full transcript.)
These are suggestions. Experiment with them. Find the best combinations for you and the type of work you do. Your mileage may vary.
Physical and Mental Space
- Get dressed. You don’t have to, but you might feel more awake in day clothes and be more productive. Casual clothes are good, and a work shirt, if you do video conferencing.
- Learn to create boundaries between working at home and living at home. Use doors, schedules, headphones, and earplugs.
- A dedicated workspace with a door or divider can put you in the frame of mind to work. If you use a common area or move around with your laptop, have your own desk or shelves somewhere.
- Turn off notifications for phone, email, and social media. Mute devices.
- Communicate! If you’re approaching a deadline, say so. Most people respect that, but they can’t read your mind.
- Travel to a place called Work, where you can’t hear anything your family is saying unless they call you on a phone.
- Schedule your work and nonwork activities. You won’t have supervisors and ingrained habits to keep you on track at home.
- If you aren’t required to work 9–5 (or other set hours), find the best times for difficult tasks. Schedule easier tasks around them.
- If you need silence to do certain tasks, set a daily quiet time. If that’s not possible, do those tasks before and after your household is awake.
- Have an email policy. Don’t check your email until 11 a.m., between 8 and 12, or whatever works best for you.
- Schedule breaks for meals and exercise.
- Do laundry between work sessions. A load of laundry equals two work sessions with physical activity after each one.
- Set a timer and work until it goes off. You can change the amount of time for different tasks. (We like the Pomodoro Technique.)
- Many of us need silence for editing and proofreading, but like music when we write and do administrative tasks.
- If music with words is distracting, try songs in a language you don’t know. Movie and video-game soundtracks are good sources of instrumental music that’s designed to keep you focused. Music that imitates natural sounds like rain and waves might help you.
- If you’re distracted or having a bad day, try not to be too hard on yourself.
- You won’t be navigating office hallways or subway stairs for a while, but you still need to move. Work out with exercise videos for yoga, cardio, and strength.
- When you’re doing desk work, stretch every hour.
- Don’t keep snacks at your desk. Make yourself go to the kitchen when you want something to eat.
- Walk outdoors, if you can. (Freelance editors like to Tweet pictures of what we see on our walks, using the hashtag #Stetwalk.)
- Washing an 18-month-old’s hands 100 times a day counts as a workout!
Success in a Crisis
It’s hard to focus on anything other than the current emergency. Constant stress is exhausting. Taking care of yourself and your family might be a second full-time job. What is a successful workday during this time?
- Maybe it means you finish an urgent project, or just put in 2–3 billable hours, or complete three tasks.
- Respond to clients on a timeline of 48–72 hours (instead of replying the same day). Hard deadlines are nonnegotiable, but for now, let go of some expectations.
- Celebrate your successes. Every time you finish something, it’s a win!
- Have a little fun. This is more challenging now, so remind yourself to look for it. Sometimes using a special coffee mug counts as the fun for the day.
- Try to reframe work as a welcome distraction from what’s going on in the world.
We hope these tips help you adjust to working from home. Experiment and find what works for you. Be realistic about your workload, schedule, and stress level. Be flexible and make a plan that works for everyone in the house. Most of all, stay at home and stay healthy!
Thanks to everyone who participated in the chat, including Stacy Traiger for leading it and compiling these tips, as well as to Sarah Cypher and Ruth Mullen for their editorial support on this tip sheet.