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The Do's And Don'ts Of Working From Home During A Pandemic

So, you’ve been given the go-ahead to work from home in the face of the onslaught of COVID-19.

You’ve checked out a laptop from IT (the guy was wearing gloves; so were you), logged onto the company VPN, and you’re ready to go.

What the hell do you do now?

Fear not, folks. As a veteran freelancer I’ve been doing this working from home thing for ages. I know the pitfalls and the hacks. I’ve maintained my sanity (well, most of my sanity) in the face of years of social isolation. Hell, I’m writing this thing from home right now. You want to avoid rookie mistakes? Here’s the inside scoop.

Do: Have a dedicated work area

If you’ve got a home office, you’re ahead of the curve on this one. If you don’t, stake out a space that’s just for work. Computer, chair with good back support, good lighting, free of distractions. Depending on your set up this might just be your kitchen table -- but when you’re in work mode it needs to be solely that. This’ll help you switch from “home” to “work” mode.

Don’t: Park it on the couch

If nothing else, you’ll screw your back up. Worse, there’ll be a big ol’ TV right in your field of vision and sooner or later you’ll switch that sucker on, and that’s your productivity shot to pieces for the rest of the day. The temptation to sweeten your work hours with fun distractions is a strong one, but there’s a line beyond which you must not pass and cranking up Netflix is on the other side of it.

Instead…

This violates two rules of working from home: don't sit on the couch and do wear pants. (Image: 20th Century Fox)

Do: Crank some tunes

We’re not robots, after all… even if a lot of the stuff I’ve been listening to lately sounds like it was made by robots. Curate your work soundtrack with music you dig that isn’t likely to distract you from the job at hand. That could be anything for you -- remember the scene in The Big Short where Christian Bale’s hedge fund manager blasts out thrash metal at high volume during his thinking time? If you’re that guy, I’m in awe. Otherwise, low key and calming is probably your best bet. And hey: you won’t have to argue over the playlist with taste-free workmates.

Which reminds me…

Don’t: Have kids

Possibly that ship has sailed in which case, sucks to be you. If you do, you’re going to have to contend with rug rats getting underfoot while you’re trying to reconcile those TPS reports. Good luck -- kids tend not to understand that you’re technically at work because you’re physically right there, and obviously available to answer questions, look at drawings, make sandwiches, and put Frozen on again. You’re gonna have to sequester either yourself or your sprog, and frankly I’m out of ideas in that regard. Thank god Bluey’s back on, hey?

Do: Keep to a set schedule

The lines between work time and leisure time tend to blur when you’re working at home, and there’s a tendency to go slow on the understanding that you can still chip away at your tasks after hours -- after all, you don’t have to commute, right? This is a bad idea. You’ll end up either blowing off your work after five or torpedoing all your self-maintenance in service to your job, slowly transforming into some kind of remote-working subterranean Gollum. Nobody wants to be Gollum.

So…

Nobody wants this. Nobody. (Image: New Line Cinema)

Do: Wear pants

Have some goddamn dignity. The running gag about working from home is that pants are optional but really, you need to pay attention to your grooming standards. No need to suit and tie, but at minimum something you wouldn’t get stared at for wearing at the shops is required.

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Don’t: Order delivery for lunch every day

The kitchen is right there and, presuming your supermarket wasn’t razed to the ground by bog roll trolls, should have some food in it. You’re an adult -- throw together a sandwich or a salad. Heck, I’m not judging here. Hook into some leftovers or grill yourself a burger. The point being: ordering food every day is probably gonna eat into your budget very quickly, and whatever you’re saving on your commute is gonna go on bike-delivered banh mi or whatever your lunchtime jam is.

Do: Keep comms open

Social isolation is the biggest factor when working from home, so you’re gonna want to chat with some folks from time to time. If your employer has some kind of work intranet communications set up, that box is already ticked. If not, set up a group chat on the app of your choice with either workmates or friends in the same boat. Curate that guest list hard, though -- you want people who aren’t gonna spam you with nonsense all day. You’ll have a hard enough time adjusting without some meme queen firing off SpongeBob GIFs every 15 minutes.

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Don’t: Waste time on social media

For many, social contact means social media, but that’s a big ol’ time sink you don’t need. Close the Facebook and Twitter tabs for the day. Besides, right now they’re both full of pandemic-fueled paranoid screeds, and if you go down that rabbit hole you’ll never get anything done.

Do: Move

Take breaks. Get up every hour or so and move around, even if it’s just to make a coffee and check the mail. Do a bit of a stretch, maybe some lunges. Basically, don’t be a sedentary slug waiting for somebody to bring you Solo and the Wookiee. It’d be a shame if you dodged the coronavirus just to ruin your health by devolving into an amphibian in front of the laptop.

If Jabba the Hutt had followed our advice when he started working from home, he'd be in much better physical shape today. (Image: Disney)

Don’t: Let this get to you

For mutants like me, the working from home thing is second nature. But we’re freaks. For you, this will seem like a holiday at first, and then like a 20-year stretch in a Siberian Gulag, and finally like some kind of existential torture inflicted by a malevolent AI trying to understand how humans work.

Buck up. You’ve got this. Establish a routine, keep an eye on your distractions, maintain social contact, and stay healthy. We’ll see you on the other side.