How To Work From Home Like A Boss
Hunkered down in your bunker staring compulsively at your screens, self-isolating, gripped by anxiety… It’s just another day at the office for those of us long accustomed to working from home. For everybody suddenly, indefinitely consigned to WFH in this coronavirus-riddled parallel dimension that we’ve all slipped into, it’s an adjustment, to say the least. No more commute. No more water-cooler conversation. No more conversation.
Black Mirror humour aside, working from home doesn’t have to be a claustrophobic nightmare. It can be the dream: this correspondent has been freelance for five years and would find it hard to go back to an office gig. Even harder now, but let’s not dwell on that. Here are five things that can make working from home bearable, even enjoyable, and prevent you contracting cabin fever as acutely as Jack Torrance in The Shining.
Giving the lie to the cliché of rolling out of bed and onto your laptop, working-from-home guides uniformly recommend getting dressed first thing – as if you were actually going to work. What you wear affects how you think: a psychological phenomenon called “enclothed cognition”. And even loungewear can make you feel better, as evinced by the imaginative combinations on @wfhfits. Whether a suit or sweatsuit, you’ll want to feel comfortable going outside in it, self-isolation or quarantine allowing. Studies show that office workers exposed to more light in the morning are less stressed and depressed and they sleep better. Pull on some socially acceptable sweats and go for a socially distanced stroll around the block (walking boosts mood and metabolism), before you get into your work then realise that it’s 4.00pm and you haven’t seen the sun. Take al fresco breaks. On lockdown? Sitting by a window helps. Again, it’s advisable to be dressed.
It’s not clear if sitting is itself bad for you, or just the fact that, while doing so, you’re not moving towards the optimal amount of two hours a day of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, equivalent to 15,000 brisk steps – which most of us fell way short of even before the current restrictions. Either way, getting off your glutes is vital for your health – physical and mental. Exercise improves cognitive function, making working from home that bit easier, and can be as powerful a mental pick-me-up as antidepressants and psychotherapy. (NB: Training too intensely can increase anxiety, especially in times of stress, and lower immunity, so don’t smash yourself.) As with work, you can exercise from home partially or fully naked, although your fellow residents may object. But the goal here is to not go as psycho as Patrick Bateman. By dressing for the gym, you maintain some normality and, thanks to “enclothed cognition”, you may work out more effectively.
Remember cafés? With those lifelines for stretching your legs and speaking fleetingly to other humans now cut off, the quality of your home brew has become absolutely critical: no coffee, no remote workee. Pod-based machines are convenient, but they’re environmentally unfriendly unless you buy biodegradable or reusable pods. And even then, where’s the romance, the artistry, in pressing a button? (Don’t mention instant – there’s only so much barbarity a man can take.) A proper coffee-maker that involves actual making gives you the opportunity to elevate the process into your own version of a Japanese tea ceremony: a Zen ritual or mini-meditation in which you’re mindful of your five senses, present, breathing, not looking at breaking news alerts. Besides, coffee begins to degrade from the very moment that it’s ground. So, if you don’t grind your beans fresh every single time, you’re not really working from home – you’re just playing.
“But, how do you do any work from home?” is a common question. On the contrary, without the endless meetings and interruptions of the office, you can do more work – or at least you could until the schools and nurseries closed. (Daddy’s busy.) The real question is: how do you not do work at home now that you live in the office – particularly without the commute to bookend your day? Finding yourself on the sofa at 9.00pm, laptop open, is a pernicious occupational hazard. The answer is to clock in and out at set times, and mark the transition in some way: walk around the block or garden, work out, read or listen to whatever you did back when you commuted. Then create a dedicated workspace somewhere you don’t usually relax: your spare room, say, or the far end of your dining table, rather than your sofa or bed. This correspondent’s backpack still does a valuable job when working from home: come end of business, the laptop goes in the bag, which goes in the hallway, out of sight and mind.
Suddenly compelled to clean before you can work? Remember that while too much clutter overwhelms your attentional selection mechanisms, too little shuts them down. The right level is individual, but mess can foster creativity, and a few decorations can make a surprising difference to your outlook and output. Employees who enrich their workspace with plants and pictures are 17 per cent more productive, those who design the layout a whopping 32 per cent: the sense of control supposedly promotes greater efficiency, comfort, engagement and happiness. Plants themselves cultivate productivity and cut fatigue on attention-demanding tasks – even looking at nature out of the window, or in a picture, works. A picture of a loved one meanwhile lessens the sensation of a “moderately painful heat stimuli” on your arm: the study authors suggest that a visual reminder of social support may alleviate other painful or stressful experiences. Couldn’t hurt.
Illustrations by Mr Ilya Milstein