In an effort to stop the coronavirus from spreading, Amazon, Spotify, Google and Facebook are among the many corporations telling their employees they’re better off working from home. And while I watch many of my typically office-based friends jump for joy at the prospect of no longer having to leave their homes to travel on public transportation or maybe even sit in traffic for hours to get to work, I cannot help but feel a bit concerned. Though it isn’t clearly understood just how long companies will be asking their employees to work remotely, as days become weeks and maybe even months, the excitement over the arrangement will certainly wane; especially if there are children in the home who also are confined, since many schools are closing indefinitely to do deep cleaning or keep exposure to the virus at bay.
As a work-from-home mom of two children under two who has spent nearly a decade as a freelance writer working remotely, I’ve learned a few tips that help me stay sane, even while trying to complete assignments on strict deadlines, surrounded by screaming babies and barking dogs. Here are five of the most important tricks of the trade:
1. Get out of bed and fix your face. When I first began working from home in my 20s as a single person with no kids, I made the mistake of turning right over in bed and starting my workday fresh from sleep. If a day came when I had a heavy workload, I sometimes never even left my bedroom (except for food and bathroom breaks). After many months of doing this, I looked in the mirror one day and realized I looked horrendous. I was in a constant state of dishevelment and it had started to take a toll on my mental health. As I gazed upon my hideousness, I thought about my grandmother who was a stay-at-home parent, and how she made it a point to put on her face and comb her hair every single morning, even though she never left the house on many days. I always wondered why she did that—until I realized how raggedy not following a morning routine eventually makes you feel. Even if your home becomes your workplace, you should still look the part. That’s the sure-fire way to ensure you feel it.
But the need for getting out of bed doesn’t end there; it is also about holding certain spaces sacred. “In bed” is a space that couldn’t be any more sacred. It is where you (ideally) spend an entire third of your life in a state of calm and relax to recharge. Other, sexier things may also happen in bed, but there is nothing sexy or calming about work. Instead of invading your sacred “in bed” space, designate an area in your home where you can sit or stand and get work done.
2. And make it off-limits to the kids or anyone else. Ideally, this would be done by having a room to work in where the door can lock—and then you barricade yourself in by moving all of the large, heavy furniture behind it. (This provides the added bonus of self-isolation to keep you safe from Coronavirus). Though it can sometimes feel like that is the only way to get a moment of peace to work in your own home, there are other ways to set boundaries and protect them: Start by letting anyone who could potentially interrupt your workflow or gain access to your workspace know the hours that you work. Tell them you will not be available during those hours, but give them an alternative method (other than busting down the door) to contact you. Send everyone in your home a loving, early morning text message or email laying out the details of your work-from-home arrangement and letting them know they can reach you anytime via those modes of communication.
3. Find ways to cope with triggers. Admittedly, people still tend to intrude on others when they work from home. Your mere presence can translate into availability to your loved ones because once they see you, they want to love you. That means YOU WILL SOMETIMES BE INTERRUPTED, and after one interruption too many, any human could snap. Before your work-from-home situation becomes a potentially homicidal one, find ways to cope with being triggered. When I have been intruded on by a screaming baby or inquiring family member one time too many, I go for a walk and remove myself from the environment. I also quietly switch up my workspace during the day, so that anyone trying to find me has to first play a round of hide-and-go-seek.
4. To babysitter or not to babysitter? Choose wisely. Parents know that the home becomes a zoo once the kids are no longer shipped off to their holding cells—ahem, school. Regardless of the age of the children, making the investment in a babysitter can give you the reprieve you need to get work done with minimal interruptions. Still, the additional cost can become overbearing for families who are already struggling to get by on their salaries. If the expense is too great, consider hiring a babysitter for a couple of hours a day, or even ask a friend or family member to pitch in and help. Just having a couple of hours to think freely will make a world of difference in your productivity.
5. Plan, plan, plan. If you can’t afford any extra help, the more order and structure your children have in the home, the less likely they are to become a nuisance to you throughout the day. As a work-from-home mom, I quickly learned that a happy baby is a happy lady. Have their favorite cartoons on deck. Premake breakfast, lunch and dinner as often as possible. Buy a couple of new toys, balls, books or educational kits to keep them engaged. Your sanity will thank you.