After 17 years of remote working, I still struggle with one persistent issue: I forget to pee.
This is likely not on your list of concerns as you transition to a remote role, or if your employer has just announced that the temporary work-from-home arrangement is now permanent. You are probably more concerned about how to navigate with kids who are online learning in the next room, or what the best tech set-up should be, or if you will ever emerge from your home office.
A little thing like taking bathroom breaks can say a lot about how at-home we are in our home office, and likewise, a new job. I might be getting so focused I dismiss my most basic needs, or not hydrating and moving my body enough. It might reveal that I have too many priorities, and that I am not one of them. Fortunately, a little shift like setting a cell phone alarm to get up from my desk and refill my water bottle once an hour can resolve the issue entirely.
When it comes to working remotely, the small things are a big deal. We asked long-time work-from-homers to share their tweaks for making the time, space and routines you’ll need to be productive, confident and happy in a new remote role.
Match the outfit to the mindset
Pajama sales soared when the world went into COVID-19 lockdown, and we are here for a comfier way of moving through your home/work space. But choosing clothing and accessories strategically will help set the tone for productivity, focus, and enthusiasm in your new role, say our pros.
“Get up and get dressed and ready in the morning,” says Anitra Durand Allen of The Mom on the Move. “Mentally, you will feel like you’re going to work and be less distracted from all the home life stuff that needs to be done.”
No need for a suit or stockings, or even shoes. Choose the items that make you feel most like your professional self, and then create a routine out of putting on that look. That might be a vintage scarf or cool kicks. Or it might be, “lipstick and amazing earrings – every day,” as it is for content marketer Erin Schuknecht MacPherson.
If you think dressing daily is for video conferences, think again. It is for the feeling it instills within you. Accordingly, creative strategist and arts producer Adrianna Desier Durantt sprays on a bit of perfume before every Zoom call.
Hydrate (then hydrate some more)
“It’s easy to forget to drink your water when you’re at home, but it’s so important for your body and mental clarity,” urges Prince Birkland (who clearly gets me and my bathroom issues.) “When your water bottle is empty, it forces you to get up and take a long walking break.”
Create a hydration station in your kitchen that is stocked with fizzy water or your favorite tea, and a place to enjoy the quiet time of your refill ritual.
Don’t forget to hydrate your skin, too. Forced air can dry out your skin, so keep hand lotion and lip balm within reach.
Create a functional workspace
We’ve all camped out at the kitchen counter or inside a closet while in a work pinch. Take care of yourself by tending to your long-term work from home space, which will not only aid your performance but will also up your physical and mental well-being.
Wherever you set up, make it intentional and feel as permanent as possible – desk over folding TV tray, plenty of device chargers rather than fighting over one with your housemates, all the supplies you’d expect to be in available at a cubicle, and the software you’d use if you were stationed in an office building.
“Make your work environment physically comfortable,” offers therapist Devra Gordon. “Invest in a well-made office chair that is the right width for your body. It makes a huge difference when the items you use the most are really tailored for what you need.”
That includes your computer and other technology. “If you can afford it, spend $150-200 and get a second monitor and wireless keyboard and mouse. This will allow you to prop your laptop screen up and save you some neck strain,” recommends Stacy Maloney, Senior Director of Change Management at Gap, Inc.
👉 Most companies will supply work from home equipment and supplies or offer reimbursements for your purchases, so be sure to ask first before you spend any of your own money on those items.
Your ideal space might not look great on camera, so if you’re video calling, use simple digital backgrounds or scootch over to a spot where you can comfortably, confidently be seen. Invest $10 to $50 in a ring light on a stand or that clips on your phone or laptop. Point the light directly at your face so you look even more rested and ready to go.
Add a personal touch
Since this is your space, you can make it all about you, says school communications director Charlene Prince Birkland.
“Before we built a standalone studio, I was working at the kitchen counter, which felt like working in a coffee shop with my sons and husband walking in and out. I added flowers to my space on the counter, and made sure to have it feel bright and personal to me. It gave me something pleasant to focus on when I was irritated with the noise around me! If you have your own space, I highly recommend an adjustable desk that lets you stand or sit. When I am standing, I always turn on music and have a solo working dance party. You’d be surprised how productive you can be dancing in place while typing!”
Calming music might be more your speed. Spotify and other music streaming services have many deep focus or peaceful piano playlists, or search for nature sounds to play on a loop.
📖 Read more in The Study: Setting Up Your Remote Workspace
What’s around you that prevents you from showing up ready day after day? Do a walk-through to honestly assess whether you need to hide laundry piles, wear noise-canceling headphones or rearrange your office to boost your focus.
Cleaning your desk regularly could clear up a lot of distraction says addiction counselor Erin Bess. “It’s amazing what taking the 15 minutes to declutter your workspace can do! It helps clear my mind when my space is clean.”
Are you still getting bombarded with requests for snacks or a whining dog? “Set clear boundaries with your family. Just because you’re physically at home doesn’t mean that you’re at their beck and call,” advises blogger Amy Otzan.
“I saw one person online with a genius solution. She had red, yellow, and green pieces of paper that she would tape outside of her office door. It if was red, she had to be left completely alone. If it was yellow, only come in if you really need her and it can’t wait. Green? Come on in!”
“Oh...and lock the door,” reminds Desier Duranntt, who works at home with two small children and is preparing for the arrival of a third. If that’s not possible, practice introducing children, pets, or construction noises rather than apologizing for them. Many of us share guest appearances and appreciate the moment of connection over the changing world of work.
Everything from projects to peeing can be placed in your calendar so that you stay on task and keep up the self-care, even if chaos ensues in the next room or on your team Slack channel.
“Create a schedule for everything – checking email and social media, returning phone calls, doing actual work, eating, checking email again, etc.,” advises stylist and home organizer Stephanie Mandrell.
Your calendar system might offer some simple ways to schedule daily breaks. Digital media manager Kelly Whalen uses Microsoft Outlook's auto-feature to add in focus time, lunch and other times to step away from the desk, which also prevents coworkers from messaging you during those blocks. Tech add-ons like Clockwise, a smart calendar assistant, can also work wonders by optimizing your calendar to match your scheduling preferences and creating uninterrupted blocks of time to focus.
…and stick to it
The most important part of your schedule is sticking to it, particularly in a pandemic, when other people are moving around in your space, or you’re under stress in a new job. No matter whether you’re working a few hours a day or in the double-digits, a regular routine will ease the transition and overwhelm.
Freelance writer Amy Kuras says that little rituals plugged into daily schedule give her a predictable and soothing rhythm. Pressing play on a power soundtrack every day after lunch or carving out Friday afternoons to catch up on professional reading or invoicing can add happiness to your weekly calendar, too.
📖 Read more in The Study: Managing Work and Life Integration
Connect with your board of advisors
Your work life likely comes with a supervisor, a CEO, maybe a bunch of people to manage, or clients or teams. Outside of that office, it is critical when working from home to form and call on your most trusted mentors or peers who can offer you support, a shared perspective, great advice, and hopefully, lots of laughs and snarky memes.
“Have a team of friends in chat, social media DMs, or text threads who live in a similar work-from-home life,” writer Laurie White encourages from more than a decade of remote working experience. “I bounce ideas and creative questions off of these people, celebrate accomplishments, and commiserate on the other stuff, check in when we haven’t seen each other online in a while, and really share the ups and downs of daily life. I live alone, but am honestly never alone if I don’t want to be, and I don’t know what I’d do without them personally or professionally.”
When I first started working remotely, an entrepreneur friend confided to me that the best part of having a home office was being able to log on at 9 pm, and the worst part was being able to log in at 9 pm. When I shared this with a business coach later, she told me that knowing when to shut down the workday was just as important as showing up.
“Make some distinction between work life and home life. It is entirely too easy to let it all blend together so you’re never really off,” White counsels. “You’re not commuting either way or meeting up with colleagues at lunch, and you don’t need to work ‘extra’ to fill that time, or leave the laptop open every waking hour. Take care of you. The work is not going anywhere, trust me.”
When you’ve got your time to turn off down pat, you may also have to practice work schedule boundaries with your boss, too. Have a straightforward conversation with your supervisors or staff to understand or set healthy limits on hours when you will be available and expectations for returning calls or emails. If there’s flexibility, it might still be wise to be clear – “I will be on every morning at 8 am and out of office from 3 pm to 4 pm while I pick up kids from their learning pod” or asking if there’s an urgent phrase to communicate the need for quick response on weekends.
If you oversee other staffers, you can model these boundaries by using Boomerang or other email add-ons to write emails whenever you can, then send them during agreed-upon work hours. Taking your own days off, acknowledging holiday plans, and honoring sick time by not contacting your colleagues are other ways to underscore that they can safely and freely do the same.
📖 Read more in The Study: Need More Job Flexibility? Don't Request It, Advocate for It
Acknowledge when remote work isn’t working
The time may come to turn off remote work altogether. The job, the demands, the situation at home, or some other much smaller or more significant reason may make you realize that this is just not the gig for you. That’s okay.
“It’s not for everybody,” social worker Maggie Litgen acknowledges. “I spent years wasting money and my mental health to finally accept it isn’t for me.”
Litgen says she understands many people are required rather than choose to work remotely now. Given her experience, however, she offers that it is ok to incorporate healthy coping mechanisms rather than feeling trapped at their home desk.
Exploring safe options for working in-person a few days a week or renting a coworking space may address the issue. Therapy, time, a mastermind group, mentorship or coaching could be the support you need to make the transition. Or, it could be that it’s best for you to find a new role with less or no remote requirement.
Just like sticking with a work-from-home routine, your well-being, from where you sit to what you wear to hours you work to when you pee, is what matters most.
📖 Read more in The Study: Managing Remote Work
Jessica Ashley is a writer, content strategist, and coach whose life’s work (paid, unpaid, and in endless school board meetings) is focused on empowering women through tough transitions with creativity, grace and maybe some cussing.