With most of the country now under stay-at-home orders to deter the spread of the new coronavirus, millions of Americans find themselves telecommuting for the first time and grappling with a new dilemma: how to keep work life and home life separate when both happen in the same place.
"With the sudden imposition of remote work, coupled with the potential for partners, housemates, children and parents to also be in isolation, you need to be able to set the same kind of boundaries that home workers have defined for decades,” Glenn Fleishman, a tech journalist and home-office veteran, writes in his new e-book Take Control of Working From Home Temporarily.
Telecommuting experts offer these tips on creating spaces and routines to help you maintain professionalism and productivity in your new “office” and keep work from creeping into personal and family time.
Create a dedicated workspace
Establish a place that is just for work, for at least part of the day — a place where you can be in office mode, and where others in the house know not to disturb you unless necessary.
Ideally that's a room with a door, but it can also be “a defined area in space other people use, or a temporary space you set up and break down each working day,” according to Fleishman. Even a large walk-in closet can do in a pinch, he writes (just make sure it has proper ventilation).
Resources for sudden teleworkers
You can find practical, detailed advice on adjusting to telecommuting and setting boundaries between work and home life in these e-books, both of which are available as free downloads.
Emergency Telecommuting: A Quick-Start Guide to Working Well in a Crisis — From Wherever You Are, by Debra Dinnocenzo (Mancini-M'Clintock Press)
Take Control of Working From Home Temporarily, by Glenn Fleishman (Take Control Books)
If you have kids home from school, create easy-to-understand cues to mark off a work area and minimize interruptions, suggests Debra Dinnocenzo, president of VirtualWorks!, a consulting firm that advises companies on telework and virtual-workplace issues.
"If you've got crepe paper, if you've got masking tape, rope off or tape off an area. Put up a sign,” she says. “Get creative about visual cues: ‘When Daddy is wearing this hat, Daddy is working.'”
Keep regular hours
In times of rising unemployment and economic uncertainty, Dinnocenzo notes, “no one wants to be the one that's [seen as] not pulling their weight.” That can be compounded by employers that consider people working from home to, in effect, always be at work.
It's important to resist the pressure to work longer days, whether it comes from employers or yourself. “Every office and job will be different, but you should fight to retain a similar amount of work while home as you had the office,” Fleishman writes.
That could mean your old 9-to-5 (or 8-to-4, or 10-to-6), or revising your shift to meet the needs of homebound kids or elderly parents. Whatever your circumstances, arrange a schedule that makes sense for you and your employer and stick to it.