Has your workplace switched to working remotely over the past week? Truthout staff members have been working from home since our founding in 2001. We have developed some tips and tricks to stay as healthy as possible — and even have fun — while holed up in our homes. Now, we are sharing them with you.
Before we begin, we want to acknowledge that many people do not have the luxury to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. We encourage those who are afforded this opportunity to seek ways to support friends, family and neighbors who have lost work, while continuing to practice crucial distancing measures.
So, here are some work-from-home strategies from the Truthout team. We hope they help ease the isolation and make your day just a little bit easier in this painful time.
The adage of not taking your work home with you is especially true when you’re working from home, so the first and most important thing to do is separate your working environment from your resting environment. Any separation that you can make between where you rest and where you work will help keep the miasma of stress from permeating the places you go to escape from it. If the work itself is stressing you out in real time, treat yourself to the small kindnesses that you’re generally barred from in a conventional office setting. Get up and walk around for a little bit, or eat a nice snack from your fridge. Put on a face mask! The only people who can see you and judge you are God and your cat, and that’s assuming you both believe in God and have a cat. All in all, the home and the body are sacred spaces that should be tended to with the utmost care to keep stress from setting in and making a stint of working from home miserable, so stealing small happinesses where you can (and making sure to physically put away your work and be done with it once you clock out) have been the ways that have helped me stare into the yawning void of our dark timeline to cover whatever new horror bursts forth from its terrible maw every day.
When I first started working from home, I would sit down at my computer and get to work. I would eventually notice how hungry I was only to realize I worked straight through lunchtime. My suggestion: Have a snack near your workstation (a bowl of pretzels, chips, etc.) and if you have to, set a timer for when you should take your lunch break. Otherwise, you may find yourself with tunnel vision at your workstation, concentrating on the task at hand. Don’t forget something to drink, too. I have my 32-ounce tumbler of water with me each morning.
Take Actual Breaks From Your Screens
Get up out of your chair. All the time. Stretch hourly, and take at least one walk outside if doing so is feasible under the circumstances. Keep the blood flowing in your body and your mind will be rewarded.
—William Rivers Pitt
Working from home can often lead to one being chained to a computer, even when not working. While it’s understandable that we’d want to keep refreshing social media feeds to see the latest news about coronavirus (and everything else that is being overlooked because of the pandemic), it’s also important to keep a small amount of time for yourself away from electronic screens. Reading books or meal-prepping easy things to eat for the work week (which will also prevent any unnecessary expenses from food delivery) are some of the things I do when I need a break from the internet.
When you work from home and don’t have the routine of your coworkers around you, your at-work routine will be different than an at-home routine. It is still important to step away from your workstation for a few minutes in the morning and in the afternoon (not including a lunch break). This will help break up your day and make you feel better. If you feel comfortable doing so, take a quick walk around your neighborhood or even something as simple as unloading the dishwasher or folding a load of laundry. It gets your mind off of work so you can return refreshed.
Brush Those Teeth!
Resist the temptation to just roll out of bed and hit the power button on your computer five minutes before the start of your shift. As someone who has done this many times, the little bit of extra sleep is not worth it. It’s important to set yourself up for the day as much as possible. Get your morning shower in and get dressed as if you’re going out to a physical office. I don’t mean dress in your best office clothes; I mean don’t just throw on pajamas or sweatpants. When someone randomly shows up at your door or you realize you need to make a quick errand, you’ll thank me. Most importantly of all: Do not tell yourself that you will brush your teeth after you finish drinking your coffee. Before you know it, it’ll be 3 in the afternoon, and you still will not have done it.
Waking up five minutes before you have to roll out of bed — and devote your attention daylong to the bleeps, the sweeps and the creeps of an electronic device — will leave you in a state of melancholic drowsiness through the last click of the day. A laptop can take seconds to boot (if you are lucky), but I prefer to give my mind a block of time after waking up so I can at least remember my name, my password and that I love coffee before I start working. My advice at minimum: Leave enough time to brush your teeth, take a shower and change your clothes (or at least change into fresh pajamas).
Connect With Other Humans — and Use Those Emojis!
In my experience, the biggest risk of working from home is becoming socially isolated, even without a pandemic. While some people are self-quarantining or being asked to quarantine because they have tested positive for coronavirus, this is not the time to cut off all contact with the outside world. Social distancing does not have to mean cutting off non-physical communication with people. Now is the time to be checking in with co-workers who are also working from home, as well as family and friends, whether it is through a phone call or a video chat. Make sure to keep an active support network, pandemic or not.
If you work with others and are now communicating via online forums, be sure to set up a channel, message thread or email thread that’s purely social. You can use it to share the kind of small talk, jokes and life updates that you might share in person. Plus, you can vent about being stuck at home — and post pictures of your cat lounging in various positions! At Truthout, we also have a “Healing” channel in our virtual office (we use Slack), where we share cute animal pictures, comforting memes, poems, songs and positive news. It helps keep us going amid the tumultuousness, anxiety and heartbreak of the news cycle. When we have meetings, we often start with a “zany question” like, “What’s the weirdest dream you’ve ever had?” or “Are you Ernie or Bert?” or “What mythical beast would you be, if you were a mythical beast?” Just don’t ask, “What are you wearing?” as a zany question on a conference call. There will be silence. Because we’re working from home, and if you’re wearing the same thing you were wearing last Friday, no one really needs to know.
For those who are working in solitude, this is my advice: Physical distancing doesn’t have to be social distancing. Even though online coworking platforms feel less personal, with care it’s possible to infuse humanity and warmth into them. If you are communicating with collaborators via group instant messaging channels, take a moment to check in via direct message with individual coworkers about how they are doing emotionally, physically, psychically. If someone mentions a detail about how they’re doing in passing, take the time to turn away from the task at hand and follow up about it. Over and over again I have been touched by the ways in which my coworkers and collaborators at Truthout — many of whom I have never met in person — have broken through the default impersonality of the online medium to support me in these genuine and caring ways. Don’t be afraid to ask for a phone call to seek emotional support about a non-work issue with a coworker from time to time. Coworkers in physical proximity offer this sort of support to each other fluidly; in a digital workspace it’s harder to initiate conversations like these, but they create a rush of solidarity and new connection when they happen. Meanwhile, make sure you are planning at least one solid non-work social interaction per day. If you live alone during this time of pandemic and social distancing, this likely means video calls or phone calls with friends or family members each evening.
—Alana Yu-lan Price
Communication takes a lot more focus and intent when working from home. It’s important to keep in mind that folks can read a lot into what you write when they don’t have your facial expression or tone of voice to provide context. Responding as efficiently as you’d like may come off as terse or agitated. Using emojis, even if you’re not inclined to normally, can make a big difference. When in doubt, reach out! Some things just don’t communicate as well over text, no matter how hard you try and jumping on the phone or a video chat will get you better results.
Have Some Fun
If you find yourself getting distracted online while working from home, I recommend playing music or podcasts as you work. This will help focus you not only on your job, but also media you might not otherwise enjoy because of lack of visuals! From my own experience working in news, sometimes we need some laughs in trying times. I recommend anything in the McElroy family of products because of their lighthearted, good-natured humor. In particular: “The Adventure Zone,” an actual-play Dungeons and Dragons podcast of three brothers playing a role-playing game with their dad; “My Brother, My Brother, and Me,” where three brothers give hilariously bad advice to real-life questions; “Wonderful!” which features married couple Griffin and Rachel McElroy talking about all the things they enjoy; “Sawbones,” where another married couple (Justin, who is not a doctor, and Sydnee McElroy, who is a doctor) discuss medical history — And yes, there are coronavirus and quarantine-based episodes!
Get Yourself to a Window
Reconsider your lighting situation. Moving my desk from a dark, poorly lit corner of my home to a spot right in front of a bright window was the best thing I’ve done for my productivity. Not only is natural light great for productivity, but studies have shown that it can also increase general wellbeing and decrease eye strain. When I’m basking in the sunlight, I get to feel like I’ve gone outside when all I’ve done is walk from my bed to my desk. Plus, when I need a little break, I can look outside — and peek at what my neighbors are doing.
Got a Toddler With You? Here’s a Survival Plan.
If you’re dealing with the intrusion of young children into your work life while working from home — may the force be with you! If you are sharing the responsibility of parenting with someone else who is also trying to work from home, make a regular weekly schedule that has clear shifts during which you each are responsible. That said, be gentle with yourself if you momentarily have to step out of work life and into family life to nurse or help with a nap or a mess or comfort a crying child after a fall. Strive also to be gentle with the coparent or other person who is taking care of the child in your workspace: It can be hard to internalize the fact that when you’re at work, it means you don’t get to make the parenting decisions or judge the decisions that the other person is making, but for this to work, you need to get into that mind space. Tell your child each morning what the “plan for the day” is going to be (who will care for them when), even if your child is not verbal yet. When your work shift starts, give the child a hug and say you are going to work but will be ready to play at X time. Then walk out of sight and work as far away as possible from where your child usually plays. If your child comes running into the space where you’re working, kneel down, offer a big warm hug, and then explain firmly that you are still working and reiterate when you will be ready to play. Then enthusiastically start suggesting the most riveting activities that you can think of for the child to do next.
—Alana Yu-lan Price
Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Still working in bed at 2 pm? Haven’t exercised in two weeks? Did you eat a chocolate bar for breakfast… for the past three days? Like me? It’s ok. We are submerged in a global crisis. You are worried about those you love, and everyone else in the world, and yourself. You are anguished about the future and the present. And even if, for some weird reason, you’re not worried at all, it’s still ok that you’re working in bed at 2 pm. Because that is not the most important thing in the world. Do that work, talk to your cat, and — in the immortal words of activist Mariame Kaba — keep it moving.
The Truthout staff is sending love to everyone feeling lonely, isolated, scared, bored and distraught right now. We are with you!