Help me work from home better.
February 28, 2018 3:54 AM   Subscribe

I find working from home extreeeeemely difficult to do for various reasons. Seeking advice to help me become a better remote worker.

I'd like to be able to work from home effectively, as I have a brutal commute and am grateful for the opportunity to stay at home once every 2 weeks and still work. That's also the day I schedule for deliveries etc, so it's really useful to have the option to WFH. But I am a terrible, constantly distracted home-worker.

These are the things I struggle with:

1) tech - I find it much easier to work with a desktop computer, a proper keyboard and a mouse instead of directly onto a laptop, esp my work laptop which is tiny but has the software I need to work. I have an extra mouse and will be investing in a wireless keyboard (any recs?) but don't honestly have the space at home to accommodate a desktop computer.

2) space - I have a tiny flat and a tiny, tiny space in which to work. I don't generate a lot of paper but I appreciate my large desk at work where I can spread out a little. It just doesn't feel comfortable at home because my desk is small and unstable and won't take a lot of weight so I can't rest my wrists on it really comfortably. I've taken apart the desk and tried to fix it many times, it's just a shitty desk. At the same time it's a whole separate project to find a new desk which is perfect and I don't really have the funds at the moment to do too much investing in new stuff.

3) distraction - Honestly I am distracted by the fact that I am so close to the kitchen and no one will judge me if I eat all day. So I spend a lot of work-time eating. Ridiculous but true.

My work is very fluid in nature; I rarely end up doing what I planned to do on a particular day, instead I have to deal with short-term high-priority things most of the time. This is also quite hard to do from home where I can't have discussions with anybody. I am motivated by being around colleagues, hearing people talking about work, people typing around me etc. I feel mentally very unsettled when WFH, which is something I'd like to change.

It would be helpful for me to hear from others who effectively WFH while struggling with the same space constraints. I'd love to have a big, beautifully-kitted out home office, but that's not going to happen in the near future.
posted by Ziggy500 to Work & Money (13 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get a monitor and hook your laptop to it? The larger display and small footprint really helped me when I had to work from home.

In terms of distraction: yeah, I visit the kitchen a lot, too. YMMV, but my stupid trick was wearing headphones connected to something bulky (laptop, large ipad). Somehow the untethering effort actually reduced the number of times that I'd get up from my laptop and go snack.
posted by Mogur at 4:18 AM on February 28, 2018 [12 favorites]

My partner and I both work from home in a tiny one-bedroom apartment, and we both found having a space dedicated to work is key. It doesn't have to be big or office-like, but it needs to be filled with positive and productive vibes, which your current desk clearly doesn't.

Figure out what you need in your space. My boo needs perfect back support and natural surroundings; I need somewhere comfy where I can zone out and stare at a screen for hours, with a door I can close for conference calls. So his space is a desk in the living room with a fancy ergo chair, facing the window and completely surrounded by plants and books and biologist stuff. Mine is this perfect armchair in the bedroom which cocoons me just right no matter what stupid posture I take, with big flat arms to hold my laptop and coffees and snacks.

I freaking LOVE this chair, but I will never sit in it unless it's work time. It gives it a real productive mystique. We also have a rule of not interrupting each other in our work space, even if it outwardly looks like we're slacking. Sometimes, watching cartoons is just part of your process, y'know?

You might also benefit from being in touch with colleagues... My company is all remote and we are on Hangout all day, which really helps with accountability. Y'all should get Slack!
posted by Freyja at 5:17 AM on February 28, 2018 [5 favorites]

1) Do you have a TV? Could you hook your laptop to it with an HDMI cable or similar?

2) This might not be feasible for you (especially if you hook your laptop up to the TV) but do you have a dining or kitchen table? I clear mine off entirely to work on when I need space.

3) Get some crime zone tape and put it over the entrance to your kitchen

Also headphones can help keep you focused on what you're doing. Set a timer for every hour (or however often you think you should have a break) and only get up for a stretch when the timer goes off.
posted by Polychrome at 5:42 AM on February 28, 2018

I'd love to have a big, beautifully-kitted out home office...

Even if this were possible right now, wouldn't it be a waste of resources for a space you only need a couple of days/month? Instead, identify the essential elements and make setting up this space an immediate priority. The longer you try to make do without the basics, the more time you have to develop bad habits. (Lesson learned from experience.)

Desk: you don't need a perfect desk, but you can't settle for a shitty desk either. Perhaps if you supplied pictures/more info about your existing desk, someone might be able to offer advice regarding how to stabilize/improve the piece. E.g., could you clamp a larger top onto the base for your WFH days? Maybe you should ditch the existing desk entirely in favor of a sturdy folding table (craigslist) or a simple DIY option. This would not necessarily be some big "whole separate project", i.e., it might be as simple as a trip to Home Depot and a couple of hours work. (Do you have/can you borrow tools?)

Space: don't honestly have the space at home to accommodate a desktop computer

With the mouse and keyboard, you're ~2/3 of the way to a desk top machine as it is. All you need is enough space for a monitor. Would your employer supply a monitor for you to use at home? (Or give you a modest budget so you could by one used?)

Make the office as collapsable as possible so that it's not taking up living space during the rest of the month.

I rarely end up doing what I planned to do on a particular day, instead I have to deal with short-term high-priority things most of the time.

Why is this happening? E.g., if this is due to issues created by co-workers, can your manager intervene on your behalf to ensure that your WFH days remain productive?

Perhaps you might be more disciplined if you had to report to someone (officially or unofficially) the day before/after your WFH days regarding plans/accomplishments.

I am motivated by being around colleagues, hearing people talking about work, people typing around me etc.

Schedule calls with a colleague(s) to keep you focused. If you don't have legit work-related issues to discuss, tell a sympathetic co-worker that you're in the process of establishing good WFH habits and that checking in with the office helps keep you focussed.

Distraction...I spend a lot of work-time eating.

Hopefully, distraction/eating will be less of an issue once you have set up an office and addressed the other work-related issues. If not, eliminate/minimize the temptation, e.g., schedule grocery shopping for the day after you work from home, so that you are literally short on supplies when your tempted.
posted by she's not there at 5:44 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Oh man, this is my turf! I have worked from home for years. Lots of good advice above, I just wanted to touch on the food issue.

What I've done to solve this is to keep some "work snacks" around, and those are the foods I go to when I'm feeling snacky during work hours. For me that's roasted seaweed snacks, flavored rice cakes, and peanuts / pistachios (gotta watch those though... I think I was an elephant in a past life), and all the water I can drink.

It does require discipline to not drag out the bag of chips and hummus, and I'm not ALWAYS successful... but generally it's worked out and I'm not having any problems with weight creeping up, etc. I think the key is to have work snacks that have strong flavors or are very filling / satisfying.
posted by machinecraig at 5:54 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

External monitor, in addition to keyboard and mouse, is a huge help. Your work space should be ergonomically adequate. Decent chair, decent light, warm/ cool enough, a fan if that's something you like.

The rest is about developing habits. Schedule kitchen visits. At, say, 10, you have a cup of coffee and slice an apple to take back to your desk. Stretch a little. Make sure you have healthy food in the kitchen - apples, bananas, oranges, cut-up veggies, etc. If snacking is taking over, save part of breakfast to have at breaks, then save part of lunch for afternoon break. Knowing that you have a scheduled break in 30 minutes will help you avoid the mindless trips to the kitchen. You may feel like you're behind, so you take a short lunch. Instead, take a 5 - 10 minute walk. It will energize you.

To create and reinforce habits, rewards will help a lot. If you stuck to your morning schedule, put a check mark on the calendar, same with afternoon. At the end of the day, if you had a productive WFH day, give yourself a small treat of some sort. Maybe you saved $10 in gas and tolls; put it in a jar at your workspace and use it for a better desk, fancy work snacks, or save for better headphones. Rewards feel silly but they are great for changing habits.

Since you haven't yet got the habit of concentrating on longer projects at home, save short-term tasks for WFH days. Maybe it's a good day to clean up email, make calls, or write documentation. If there's a project that you could work on only at home, that might help you focus. One reason to have a dedicated space is that when you sit at the workspace, plug in the laptop, connect to the work VPN, etc., whatever habits you have for that space kick in.
posted by theora55 at 6:25 AM on February 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Mogur's headset idea is absolute genius - I've just been trying it for the past hour and after one trip to make a tray of tea, that's it, I've not moved.

In lieu of desk space, could you get a white board and magnets that stores under the bed and is only brought out for work days?
posted by humph at 7:32 AM on February 28, 2018

Instead of working from home, can you spend part of the day working from a nearby library or coffeeshop? I didn't think I'd like it when I was a remote worker, but leaving my house gave me structure and stimulation. Libraries often have carrels you can reserve and floors with differing nose levels and big tables (and may have desktop computers, if there's some stuff you can do from a browser).

I never did this, but I know lots of people designate an article of clothing to indicate it's time to work, e.g. thesis pants or writing hat.
posted by momus_window at 7:56 AM on February 28, 2018 [6 favorites]

I agree with all of the people who mentioned setting up a routine. Get dressed "for work" (it can be a special set of comfy work-from-home yoga pants), and set up your work area "for work." This can be something as simple as putting a lamp near your computer.

When I got started, I always had a very set list of tasks that I did in order - check schedule, check voicemail, check email, do "to do" list for the day, and so on. Creating the lists was especially helpful, as I enjoyed checking the items off.

I also scheduled house chores during work breaks - i.e. during my morning break, I would start running the dishes, at noon, I would put the dishes away before lunch, in the afternoon, I would fold and put away laundry. It gave me a jump on the weekend chores and freed that time up to be more exciting - and it also got me up and moving. Win-win.
posted by dancing_angel at 8:18 AM on February 28, 2018 [1 favorite]

Invest in a wireless keyboard that works well for you, and get a monitor (or TV) that you can use as a second display for your work laptop. The monitor can even attach to the wall, so it's possible to do this and consume very little space. Locate it where you can sit in a place where you're comfortable. The laptop itself can just sit wherever, so long as it's connected to the monitor and your input devices are wireless.

For a desktop, I actually just use a sheet of thin, smooth wood as a large lapdesk, and it's the most comfortable I've ever worked. Don't know what it's called, but it's a 2'x2' piece of smooth 1/4" stuff that's located in Home Depot near the 2'x4' sheets of blackboard and whiteboard. Slide it behind something to store; it takes a teensy amount of space. Oh, and it's around $5.

As for the kitchen distraction, I feel you. It helps me to have planned-out meals that I LOVE and can look forward to for lunch and dinner, so I'm less likely to ruin my enjoyment of them by snacking. Food makes me sleepy, if eaten in the morning or at lunch, and smoothies are less likely to, so they're my go-to, usually, and I save the heavier stuff for dinner. And lots of water. My rules is that if I think about going to the kitchen, I have to take a drink of water first.
posted by stormyteal at 9:09 AM on February 28, 2018

Seconding the library idea that momus_window proposed. I find it SOO much easier to work from the library or a cafe. The light activity around me, even other people's conversations, weirdly helps me focus and "get in the zone". It also helps to know that I won't be disrupted by others, and that I can't get TOO comfortable, yet I have a good sized table/work space. Unfortunately this wouldn't resolve your hardware issues, except you can bring the mouse with you.
posted by watrlily at 6:12 PM on February 28, 2018

I've been working from home almost every day for about 2 years now, and some things that have helped with the issues you mention:

- I now only keep healthy snacks in the house. Fruit, veggies like celery and baby carrots, good cheese, healthy crackers, etc. YMMV whether this is something you want to do or if you can based on who you live with, but it pretty much guarantees I don't overeat during the workday. And you know, I like apples but I don't find them distracting in the same way tortilla chips are! BTW, it took me forever to finally make this change and I was super cranky about it at first, but I got over it in about a week or so. Bonus: keeps me from mindlessly snacking at night too!

- I leave the house every day at the start and end of the workday, and often at lunchtime as well. This is because I have a dog and I'm walking him, but it really helps mentally get me into the working and then not-working mindset. And it's good to get out of the house in the middle of the day too.

- For the high-priority tasks, does your workplace use any kind of synchronous communication like google chat or slack, or video conferencing? I personally find that if there's something I need to respond to right away that involves any coordination with other people, getting on a quick video call with the relevant person/people is way better then an email thread. Text chatting is a good second-best option. But this is working with people who are all over the country - if most of the people you work with are all in one office, it might be harder to get people to do this.
posted by lunasol at 12:22 PM on March 1, 2018

Ikea sells a number of slim desks that work well for WFH. I can only use a lapdesk for so long before I start getting knotted up.
posted by canine epigram at 2:45 PM on March 1, 2018

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