Work. From. Home.
Work from home.
Hey, I’m working from home …
No matter how you cut it, say it – or even punctuate it – hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Americans are doing it because of the coronavirus pandemic. And I’m one of them.
But it’s not my first work-from-home rodeo. I worked remotely from home when my oldest daughter, now 16, was an infant. Sterilizing baby bottles and locating missing binkies, I simultaneously reached out for comment while working on deadline as a young reporter. Fond memories, indeed, almost magical, despite the lost binkies.
But there wasn’t an ongoing pandemic. There were no city, state or federal mandates making me work from home. No boss – safely 6 feet away – had sent me packing to wait for the All Clear.
It’s different this time. So how to get through it? For me, working from home is a combination of power and style, of grit and panache.
As I did in pre-coronavirus times, every day starts with a run or similar vigorous physical activity (google HIIT workout). I do this in darkness before the sun rises. Not that I necessarily like early mornings or darkness. I do it because I face head-on the uncertainty – especially now – that darkness represents. Running in it is the (very satisfying) equivalent of shaking my fist at all I fear and cannot control.
Next, get dressed. A suit, often three-piece. My early, work-from-home days taught me that being a pro gets things done. Working in pajamas all day is a slippery slope. A suit and tie remind me that I’m a professional – in my case, a working writer. Plaid, paisley and stripe patterns (yes, worn in combination) keeps things interesting and gets you prompt attention from neighbors when strolling to the mailbox.
As a writer and creative, I often work in solitude without phone, email or text interruptions. I’m lucky. Others, however, must engage in constant, often distracting, communication. Truthfully, I don’t know how they get anything done.
OK, OK, I’m getting to it: the kids. I have three, and they’re all home from school. (Remember that master-of-your-destiny thing? Officially on hold.) Each morning after breakfast, I call my crew (Olivia, 16, Zoe, 12, and Eve, 7) to the dining room table where we review the daily schedule and any special needs (“No, Eve, a new Hatchimal is not a special need.”)
For better or worse, I run it like a company. Production cannot be slowed; quotas must be met; and customer satisfaction is always No. 1. No, not very romantic, but it forces structure and predictable routines, key ingredients no matter where your classroom.
Afternoons are the toughest. Fatigue sets in. Travel between bedrooms converted to classrooms gets harder. I surf the internet for relief, distraction and inspiration. I doze. This is where you must power through. Think of your kids’ futures. Think how your grandkids might one day ask, “What was it like during the virus? Were you scared? Did you work from home?”
One thing that has happened on my work-from-home journey over many years is a greater awareness of home and hearth, and the people and architecture within. Load-bearing walls seem to metaphorically carry the weight of my almost 50-year existence, complete with patches of imperfection.
What I wished someone had told me when my home first became a workplace is adjust expectations. You won’t get it all done; you can’t; and you shouldn’t. At this very moment, for example, I see a mountain of laundry in the hall, a wet towel draped over a side table. A coronavirus news update comes on TV, then a commercial for turkey stuffing that reports families spend, on average, only about 37 minutes of quality time together a day. I may have to check my sources on that – if I only had time.
So put your paisley, plaid and stripe on. Power through the tough moments. Look around your house and at the people in it.
And do your work.
Whitney Ross, chief operating officer, AR Corp., Wilmington
"I have three kids ranging in age from 6 to 12. My husband is the main care provider, since I’m so busy at work. He has his own business and made the decision not to earn for as long as it takes. It’s only the first week, but we’re having a really good time.
What’s working for us is having a schedule and getting outside as often as possible. Also, getting dressed and ‘ready’ in the morning seems crucial. At first, we tried pajamas all day, but it sucked the motivation out of the room. Headphones have been key, too, since we’re all working in the same room. I converted my dining room into a study room.”
Nathan Christy, telecommunications consultant, Wilmington
"I’ve worked from home before but never longterm. I’ve taken early-morning conference calls from the house and responded to one-off emails, but working from the office has always been a better solution for me. When my colleagues and I address daily concerns and pain points, the office setting gives real time feedback that typically takes much longer to receive when working remotely from the house. Not to mention that the work environment allows absolute focus on work, putting family life temporarily on the back burner. This allows me to be much more productive throughout my day and keeps work priorities at the forefront of my mind.
As I learn to work from home, it is difficult to separate work life from family life because of not being able to remove myself physically by driving to the office.”