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Adjusting to Working at Home Under COVID-19

A father working at home playing with his daughter.

Here’s some tips on how you can adapt to telework or working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and not go completely bonkers.

Well, homebodies. The shit has hit the fan in many parts of the US and world at large as coronavirus continues to spread. 

Numerous professional jobs are shifting to telework–as they should’ve done quite a while ago to accommodate disabilities, chronic illnesses, parents and caregivers, and just plain real life!–and you could be among these ranks, if you’re not one of the 18% of workers who lost their jobs or suffered drastically reduced hours as a result of coronavirus-related closures and public health edicts. Or working an essential direct job, so a quick thank you for your service to grocery store, pharmacy, healthcare, delivery, and infrastructure workers keeping society together in these unprecedented, apocalyptic times.

Telework on its own is really awesome. While not quite the same as freelance work since you still get a regular paycheck and are under your employer’s direction, they share two characteristics in that a vast majority (or in cases, 100%) of your work can be taken with you anywhere. I’ve been a writer, game developer, shitposter, and entrepreneur for 6 years now, and can’t imagine life any other way!

But people are facing some major teething issues with this adjustment to telework because welp, it’s a lot different in a pandemic than normal circumstances when you can get up and go easily. Normally, I side-eyed those annoying pearl-clutching thinkpieces about how the rise of freelancing and telework “will make people too antisocial!” because choosing to isolate yourself when you own your time is more of a you problem, not a telework one. But with this unprecedented public health crisis caused by a highly contagious virus that NO ONE has any immunity to since a vaccine won’t be ready for at least a year from now? Unfortunately, we all have to stay inside as much as we can.

There’s a joke going around on Twitter about how these self-isolation measures won’t actually change a lot of our lives. So, from someone who’s been working from home and any other place with Internet for the past six years? Here’s some tips on how you can adapt and not go completely bonkers.

 

Try Your Best to Make a Separate Area Just for Work

A stylish and bright home office.

It goes without saying that the smaller your home is, the harder it is to separate work from living space. Having lived in cramped NYC apartments most of my life, boy do I ever know this.



But there’s a reason why I suggested “try your best” because sometimes, your home life and your professional life are just going to meld together. It’s simply what comes with the territory when you work at home, and it’s amped up to 11 in the hellish situation we’re currently in. Normally, working at home is a fucking blessing because you can easily get a change of scene at the gym, coffee shop, the mall or wherever else you want while the kids are in school and you and your spouse can have time apart before time together (or vice versa). Or if you live the single life, you can celebrate unparalleled freedom of movement. But in these trying times, you’ve got no choice but to soldier on at home.

So, you do your best to make your own space designated just for work. This is easier if your home is large enough to have a separate room to use as an office, or even just half a room if other people in your home need it to store things, do homework, and so on. If you’re in the tiny home or studio apartment camp, try not to take your laptop to bed or other “sanctuary” areas unless you have chronic pain or a disability that necessitates working in bed. It’d be great to have something adaptable like the gaming bed! Although we’ve had other sorry attempts to further muddy separating life from work, like the misery dorm model, you’ll need to have a little more discipline in your own home.

And you might screw it up a bit, especially in the beginning. It’s okay. It takes time. It’s easy for me to say because I’m used to owning my time and just plunking down my laptop wherever. When your headspace is “work stays at work, I’m at home and thus I’m not thinking about that shit”, it helps to at least try and separate the two. Even if it’s just a cheap little area rug and a room divider. You don’t even need a new desk: this Xabitat ironing board with adjustable height that I reviewed a while back makes a GREAT standing desk! I can even sit at it pretty comfortably and I’m just using a laptop and wireless mouse.

 

Make the Gym Come to You

A woman doing floor exercises in her living room.

Even before the pandemic hit, sometimes I just didn’t feel like going to the gym because of pain or just plain not wanting to make the trip. If I didn’t get a good walk in, I strapped into my gear and did some simple workouts at home. It’s what a lot of us are doing now.

At the time of writing, home deliveries haven’t completely stopped even if retail stores in most states have closed due to contagion risks. You don’t have to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in expensive equipment that’ll require complicated assembly in a time when not even food delivery drivers can come to your door. A simple gym mat will do, I got a padded one in the kids’ section at IKEA that’s less harsh than plopping a yoga mat on these harsh hardwood floors. Free weights and resistance bands can easily be shipped if you don’t already have them, or opt for exercises that don’t require them.

Amazon also sells these elliptical machines with pretty simple assembly where they have stretchy resistance bands instead of standing poles. I always risked falling using the bands standing up, so I just tucked it underneath my desk to use like a recumbent bike during long bouts and writing and shitposting. And I got barely 80 square feet in this room!

While none of this replaces the plethora of equipment you’d get at a real gym, during this awful time it’s a decent substitute so you’re not doomed to atrophying in that gaming chair. Then when things are somewhat safe again, you also got workout routines for those days you just don’t feel like schlepping to the gym.

 

Make the Absolute Most of It

A group of girls playing with colorful frosting.

So, this part can be hard if you’re feeling incredibly anxious (hi! It’s me!) and it makes it harder to see the awesome parts of working at home. Throw in having to make sure your kids stay on top of their online lessons and the toll of social distancing, and it’s understandable you won’t see the forest for the trees. Once again, that’s because telework is freaking awesome when we’re not facing a pandemic that this country is woefully unprepared for.

Home decor is probably not at the top of your priority list right now. But if you’re thinking of transitioning to working at home permanently? Check out some of our ideas for color schemes and layouts so you can figure out what kind of setup fits your vibes best. It’s your space, you can do whatever you want with it! No rules about what you can and can’t put up in your sad little cubicle. Whatever you want or need can be within reach of your workspace. If you’re a tea drinker, you don’t have to worry about the communal Keurig spitting out ass water that still tastes like coffee. You can make your own tea to your heart’s content.

Assuming that it’s okay with the other inhabitants of your home, play whatever music you want. Leave entire seasons of TV shows running in the background. Or just enjoy the silence, if you’re lucky enough to have it. (It only exists in small bursts where I live.) You don’t have to listen to what’s-his-face blather at the water cooler about sports teams or have your workflow constantly interrupted by some irksome meeting request because your boss likes to hear himself talk. No, you can crank up whatever you want AND IT RULES.

Clothes? Leave the suit and tie (or pantyhose) in the closet. Or don’t, we’re not your keepers. Some people find that dressing in their “real” clothes helps them focus and feel like they’re working then they change when they’re done. Do whatever works for you. Me, I didn’t fight to leave the financial industry to constrict myself in pantyhose in Bronx summers that have killed people. Fuck that with a rusty pitchfork, you’ll have to clutch my athleisure from my warm toasty hands happily clacking at this laptop. My toad could give a crap what I wear. If you feel you have to make that separation and wear your professional clothes despite no one seeing it, do it. Otherwise, make the most of not having to be around these people and wear what you want.

Also, no one looks below your waist on those Zoom calls, so…feel free to just wear pajama pants under that button-down for the camera!

 

It’s a tough and scary time right now, and even those of us who are seasoned at working from home are feeling anxious and sorely missing our favorite coffee shops, restaurants, friends’ houses, and other sanctuaries. Like I’ve been saying, working at home and having flexibility is fantastic and what society needs to shift towards for professional sector work regardless of which tax form you receive. But since we’ll be stuck making the best of things for the foreseeable future and it happened so fast, take it from us work-at-home long-timers– it’s possible to demarcate your space a little and try to spend time outside if you can and there’s enough social distancing.

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