The days of sitting in a cubicle less than 6 feet away from another person seem far behind us as we settle into required work-from-home routines due to COVID-19. It’s been a big adjustment for many of us, but there is a silver lining. At least you don’t have to hear your co-workers sipping their soup loudly while you’re on an important phone call or hear them drumming on their desk while you’re trying to get financial reports to your boss by deadline.
But how do we work from home? If you’ve never done it before, it can be a challenging new prospect, especially while also juggling all of life’s newfound COVID-19-related responsibilities, like teaching your kid fractions or figuring out how to bake sourdough bread (it’s OK if you mess it up the first time).
Three days after the pandemic hit and New York began closing up shop, Heathcote resident Tracy Lazarus jumped on LinkedIn to share some tips on how to be productive while working from home, something she’s done for the past 14 years.
First and foremost, Lazarus said that everyone who is working from home full time for the first time has to cut themselves a break. Not only is almost everyone dealing with the intricacies of how to properly connect to the office’s work server (where do I put the IP address?), but they’re also dealing with new stresses brought on by the pandemic.
“We just can’t be as productive in this environment. It’s just impossible because of all the other demands that people have right now that they wouldn’t normally have,” she said. When life gives you lemons, the saying goes, you make lemonade — but even that may have to wait until after you finish the laundry, clean the kitchen, walk the dog, make a smoothie, go for a socially distanced walk with your neighbor and then realize it’s 9 p.m.
For one, Lazarus said that getting up and getting dressed will help jump start the workday and get you into the correct mindset to work.
“Even for me, I try to get into my workout clothes in the morning and get out of the pajamas,” she said. “Get up, get dressed. It’s for your mental health … [and] you should look good. You should look presentable.”
Working from home has also become synonymous with Zoom, which means you have to look presentable for video calls.
Scarsdale resident Adam Wald, a software sales professional who has been working from home on and off for about 15 years, said communication with your partner is paramount when it comes to sharing space and jumping on calls.
“I feel lucky enough that I’ve been able to set this world up that I have, now that the world kind of just fell into that situation,” he said.
But sometimes even with a bit of old-fashioned communication, people in the house can be loud and focusing can become a challenge.
Jackie Friedland, an author who has been working from her home in Quaker Ridge since 2016, said putting in headphones and putting on white noise at the loudest possible volume helps to drown out the annoyances.
“I think this is the new normal for the foreseeable future and people have to figure out what’s working for them and what’s not and grab onto it,” she said.
Melissa Cates Claman, an entertainment lawyer who has been working from home for five years, said that getting up, changing out of pajamas and moving to an area set aside for working helps get her into the correct mindset for the day.
But, as Friedland said, when you first start working from home, everything that needs to get done around the house will call to you.
“Suddenly you need to clean the inside of the oven, you remember something you have up in your attic that will take you two hours to figure out how to find it,” she said.
Friedland’s solution is to prioritize objectives for the day and segregate work time and play (chore) time. Friedland has also learned some tricks of the trade to not get distracted. If a neighbor or friend drops by Friedland’s house during a “work time” hour she’ll act as though she’s talking on the phone and head to the door to let the soon-to-be disappointed neighbor know that she is too busy to talk at that moment.
“I find that if you give an inch, you lose the entirety of the time you had set sequestered for yourself,” she said.
Creating a structured day is key to having a productive workday. Setting a start and end time will help incentivize you to keep working and will also allow for a seamless transition from work time to personal time. With her family at home now, Lazarus said it’s been difficult to keep the schedule she had before the pandemic, but she’s still trying to hunker down and get to work on a regular schedule.
“I keep myself on a schedule so that I’m working the way I normally would. You have to mentally tell yourself to stick with your regular schedule as much as you can,” she said.
Christine Peckett, a translator who has been working from her Edgewood home for five years, said the pressure to make deadlines is what motivates her. Deadlines would never exist without organization, which Peckett said is crucial when moving to a work-from-home environment.
“You need to get yourself some goals and deadlines and respect them. Hold yourself accountable,” said Peckett. “If you don’t, you might procrastinate and you, most importantly, might not get [the work] done the right way.”
Finding a specialized “work spot” in the house can energize those productive juices, though trying to work in different spots every so often might also help.
Cates Claman and Lazarus both have specific areas where they work every day. Peckett on the other hand enjoys roaming with her laptop and sometimes enjoys sitting outside when it’s nice.
Lazarus said she built a space for her work so she wasn’t distracted. Once she closes the door she transports into work mode and it keeps her on track.
“I don’t go in [my office] for down time. I go in the office and it’s a place I associate mentally with work, so it keeps me very focused,” said Lazarus. With large computer screens and a comfortable chair, Lazarus said she set up her office to be a place she enjoys.
Taking a break is also important to a healthy stay-at-home workday. How often one should take breaks, though, is the real conundrum. Friedland said she tries to avoid breaks altogether, as she views the time spent at her desk as “stolen time.” Avoiding breaks correlates with another important tidbit from Friedland on how to work from home successfully: don’t snack.
“Then you just keep getting up to get more and every time you stand up out of your chair, you lose not only the time you’re out of the chair, but the time it takes to get you back into your thinking zone,” she said.
Cates Claman and Lazarus, on the other hand, both swear by taking frequent breaks. Cates Clayman actually uses breaks as an incentivizing tool to keep her workday progressing.
“I like to try to just start in the morning telling myself, ‘OK, If I get a few hours done in the morning, then I’ll take a break at some point,’” she said.
Finally, along the same line as taking frequent breaks Lazarus said that everyone should go outside and get some fresh air — and do so either during a break or when the workday is over. Stepping away and venturing out might be just what you need to avoid Googling how to do long division by hand — something your little one may need to figure out by themselves.