Welcome to the Pandemic Pyjama-Force
As the coronavirus pandemic forces the world to stay home, more people than ever are finding themselves joining the remote, pyjama-clad workforce.
And as a result, I’ve noticed a rush of online news articles offering advice for how to successfully navigate the wonderful world of working from home.
By now, I’ve already been working remotely for five years, and I spent a huge chunk of that time managing an online team who also worked from home. So I always click on these stories in the hope I’ll learn something useful.
But what I usually find is a lot of “common sense” articles offering the same regurgitated advice. Earth-shattering tips like, “Make sure you get your technology in order” as well as generic advice that might only work in theory, like “Set up a home office so you have a dedicated workspace.”
And without fail, they all include my least favourite piece of advice as their number one top tip: “Get up every morning and get dressed for work so it feels like a real job”.
Which I don’t agree with that at all.
Overall, these articles usually cover the basics of working from home but they don’t tell you what do you do when the bloke next door fires up his whipper-snipper right outside your new dedicated workspace’s window just as you’re preparing to jump on a call.
Or how to overcome the overwhelming urge to spend the entire work day binge-watching Netflix because your boss can’t see you and no one would know…
So after reading a number of these cookie-cutter articles, I realised working from home is not as easy for everyone as it’s become for me and I decided to two things:
#1: I’m going to write an article with some bonus tips to help with the work from home struggles these articles don’t talk about; and
#2: I’m going to offer free coaching sessions for workers who need help making the adjustment to working online.
Because after managing a remote team for many years, that’s one small way I can help people who are struggling during these crazy times.
So let’s dive in…
You don’t really need a home office (but you might need a blanket fort)
While conventional wisdom dictates you should have a dedicated space set up where you can concentrate, this isn’t always practicable. We don’t all have a spare room lying around we can turn into an office.
Last week we were housesitting in a complex where the neighbours behind us blasted 80s music from 4pm until 6pm every afternoon while they worked out in their home gym.
And in the mornings, the neighbour across the street spent an hour working on shaping his hedges and trimming his lawn with what sounded like a chainsaw.
So in the mornings I worked at a table in the bedroom away from the whipper-snipper, and in the afternoons I worked in the lounge room away from Bananarama.
If you don’t have a dedicated office room in your house where you can close the door on noise, it might be better to have a dedicated mobile desk — one of those lap desks you can move to different chairs, or an adjustable standing desk you can roll around.
That way, you can work wherever the quietest place in your house is right now, or outside when the sun is shining, or right next to the modem when you need the best connection for a video call.
But no matter where you decide to work, there’s an excellent chance your neighbour will fire up his whipper-snipper when you’re about to jump on a video call.
And when that happens?
Find the quietest room in your house, put on a headset and microphone if you have one, and build a blanket fort using two dining room chairs and some thick blankets. You’ll be surprised how well this works and how much fun it still feels as an adult to hide inside a cubby house made of doonas (or duvets if you’re British).
Just tell the person you’re meeting with online that the guy next door has decided to trim his hedges and you’ll call when he’s done. Half the white collar workforce are probably working from home now so everyone gets it. We’re all in this together…
Don’t get dressed up for work. Just make your face feel fancy.
Every article about working from home tells you to get dressed in appropriate clothes so you feel ready for work. They seem to indicate that putting on your pant suit will magically get you in the zone, mentally prepared and ready for action.
But I don’t agree.
The best thing about working from home is your clothes don’t matter anymore.
Yes, I do get changed out of my pyjamas every morning after I wake up but only so I can get into clothes that are exactly like pyjamas.
I call them work pyjamas.
That means leggings, trackies, baggy shorts and t-shirts, bare feet and big comfy jumpers that fall off my shoulder. That also means no bra, no make up (which is normal for me anyway) and wild hair whipped into a ponytail.
Clothes are no longer a priority. For remote workers in the USA, there’s even a National Work Naked from Home day. It’s on February 7th, in case you’re interested…
Now if you want to get all dressed up to sit at home, knock yourself out. But for me, not having to iron my clothes, paint my face or cram my feet into tiny leather prisons are some of the best things about having a remote job. So why do most news article about working from home suggest you should forego the biggest working from home perk?
It’s because they think the change of clothes will help you make the mental shift from home to work mode, and you know what? They’re right. But in my experience, you can achieve exactly the same result by whacking on a pair of earrings. Or a necklace. Or a pair of glasses.
As long as my face feels a bit fancy and “businessy”, I’m ready to roll.
If celebrities can go to the supermarket in velour tracksuits with the words JUICY branded across their bum, you can work from home in whatever the hell you want. Just work out what little touch of business bling helps you switch into work mode and run with it.
Don’t sit home in your pressed trousers and freshly ironed white shirt because a newspaper article told you it would make you a better employee. I’ve done some of my best work in my work pyjamas…
You’re definitely going to get distracted, so plan for the unexpected.
Now that you’re working from home, you have an overflowing laundry basket in in your office. And when you look up from your computer to your backyard, you notice the lawn is so long it’s trying to reclaim the garden furniture.
When you escape to the office each day you can leave all these household tasks behind and forget about them. But when you work from home, all the things you’ve “been meaning to do” are now staring you down they’re a pack of hungry seagulls and you’re holding a bucket of fries
Some people get so distracted and frustrated by their outstanding household tasks that working from home feels unbearable. But one of the other best things about working from home is you can actually take care of some of those things throughout your work day, as long as you budget the time in your schedule.
Now that it takes so little time to get ready and you’ve cut out your morning and evening commute, you’ve probably won at least an hour of time in your day. Probably more.
So get up at the same time you normally would, start your work day as soon as you’re ready and allocate that extra hour or two to dealing with your distractions. Throw on a load of laundry and hang it out, absolutely guilt free.
Fix the sink that’s suddenly backed up and flooded your kitchen. Answer the phone that rings incessantly and ask the telemarketers to remove you from their call list. Open the door to the kid who just kicked his football into your back yard.
And do these things happily without wanting to rip the heads off the telemarketer and the kid who interrupted you, because it’s all good.
You planned for these distractions.
My approach has always been to expect the unexpected and pick just one household chore I want to knock over throughout my work day. That may feel inadequate compared to the huge number of tasks I need to do, but it’s a whole lot more than I could have done if I worked in an office.
Netflixia is real, but there is a cure.
There will be days when you just can’t be bothered working. When all you feel like doing is curling up on the couch, under a doona, and binge-watching Netflix.
This is called Netflixia and it can feel completely debilitating.
Because the couch is right there. Calling you. And your boss can’t see you and if you just send an email every few hours, no one will know…
On those days, you’ll probably open your computer with good intentions but then waste hours mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, checking news updates (especially in the age of coronavirus) or Googling random curiosities, like “What are bowling balls made out of?”
When you find yourself in this pitiful state, create an account with Focusmate.
Focusmate is a productivity community where people from around the world keep each other accountable by working together silently with their webcams on.
Ok, I admit that sounds kind of creepy but trust me, it’s utterly brilliant…
To get started, you book a session for, say, 11am and you’re matched with a partner. If you don’t turn up, you’ll be letting that person down, and that’s often enough just to get you to join the call.
Then you meet with your webcam on, say “hi” and you each have 30 seconds to explain what your goal is for the session. Then for 50 uninterrupted minutes you each work on your own projects quietly and, while you do, you can see each other in the corner of your screen.
It’s nowhere near as awkward as it sounds and I don’t understand why it works, but there’s something about making a commitment to a total stranger that forces you to actually show up and get some work done.
One session is sometimes enough to snap you out of your Netflixia and get you into work mode, so you can be productive for the rest of the day. If it’s not, just book another session straight after.
You get three sessions for free each month or unlimited sessions for a fiver.
When you live in a tiny house, Mozart can help.
As a tiny house/bus dweller, I know all too well how hard it is to concentrate when your partner is in the same room (sometimes only a metre away from you) bashing out emails, muttering under their breath and talking on the phone.
When there’s two people working in the same tiny space, staying focused is hard and it’s not uncommon to find yourself reading the same damn paragraph 10 times…
When that happens, try Mozart.
But not all Mozart…
You might have heard of “The Mozart Effect”, a phrase coined after a study in the 1990s found that listening to Mozart’s classical music increased the brains ability to perform tasks related to puzzles and shapes.
I started listening to Mozart in 2012 when I was halfway through a Bachelors degree online and struggling to stay focused. My Oma gave me some of the classical CDs my Opa left behind when he died and suggested I put them on while I was studying.
Et voilà, it worked!
Listening to Mozart got me through a university degree, the writing of an entire book and every major work project I’ve completed since then.
But there’s a catch.
Not all Mozart’s music works for me.
I know absolutely nothing about classical music but through trial and error I’ve found Mozart’s faster and more complex pieces — the ones where it seems he tried to cram as many notes as possible into each second — put my brain into some kind of deep focus state.
So you’re looking for his Symphonies and Sonatas. The Piano Concertos work too. It’s the kind of hectic music you can imagine playing in the background while Tom and Jerry run around trying to set each other’s asses on fire.
As an additional benefit, under the right circumstances, Mozart delivered directly into your eardrums can muffle even the most furious whipper-snipper…
No work after wine or nine
When you work from home, boundaries between business and pleasure get blurry. While for some people, switching into work mode can be a problem, for others it’s the opposite and they can’t switch off. To overcome this, I recommend setting some ground rules about when you will and won’t work at home.
When I managed a team of virtual customer service agents, my rule was “No work after nine or wine.” I could see that the team’s work performance dropped after nine o’clock when people were getting tired and suffering eye strain after a long day on the computer.
I also knew that some people on the team checked emails late into the evening after they’d had a glass of wine with dinner, and that didn’t always end well.
So my rule was no work after nine or wine, whichever came first.
Boundaries are important. Set some ground rules so your work doesn’t become your life.
And if you can’t force yourself to switch off, then set up restrictions in the Screen Time settings of your smartphone so your apps self-destruct at a certain time and your device switches off for you.
Take regular dance breaks
Working from home is a luxury… But the human body was not designed to be sat on its ass, hunched over a laptop all day.
It’s not good for our physical health, our productivity or our emotional wellbeing, so we have to be more mindful about moving our body throughout the day.
We’ve been told by fitnessy people that we should aim to walk 10,000 steps per day and that’s easier to do when our job takes us out of the home. When we work in our lounge rooms, we might only clock 1000 steps if we’re lucky.
When I was working remotely on the tiny off-grid island in the South Pacific where I lived for three years, it only took 20 minutes and 1500 steps to walk around the entire island. And even though it’s a tropical paradise, believe it or not, doing the same loop every day got really boring.
Oh look, another palm tree…
Even with a standing desk, I rarely clocked more than 4000 steps a day so my lovely fitnessy friend Crea suggested I put a step next to my desk.
You know those blocks they use in step aerobics classes? One of those. Except you can’t buy those in Tonga so I just took a wooden block and gafa taped a role of non-slip grip material so I wouldn’t fall and break my face.
Then every hour, or whenever I started to feel lethargic, I got up from my desk to dance over the step. I put on one of the cheesy tracks I used to dance to at Club Troppo when I was 18 (think Run DMC, Ricky Martin, the Venga Boys…) and I’d step up and down in time with the music.
I’d sing and shimmy my shoulders and punch the sky, trying to move and stretch out every part of my body as far as I could.
And sometimes that was all it took to break me out of a funk, boost my productivity and improve my concentration during a long writing or work session.
Just dance to one song every hour so you set your happy hormones free, get your blood pumping to where it needs to go, and help keep you in a good frame of mind to tackle the work day ahead.
I’m offering free coaching sessions for remote workers
Working from home is a skill. It takes practice, a shift in mindset and a whole new level of organisation.
And it’s not for everyone.
The extroverted social butterflies who need a lot of human contact might feel isolated at home alone all day without anyone else to talk to.
And the hyper-curious and easily distracted souls (multipotentialites, I’m looking at you) might find it hard to sit down and focus on one thing when there are ten other more exciting things trying to get their attention.
So in this era of coronavirus madness, I want to extend an offer of help to people working from home who are struggling to find their groove.
During April 2020, I’m offering four 15 minute mini-coaching sessions every day, Monday through Friday, to help people settle into working from home during a pandemic.
This month, I can be the colleague you chat with by the watercooler when you’re on a break.
We can talk about whatever is going on for you right now, and find solutions to any issues you’re struggling with.
Maybe you need support or resources to improve your productivity or output… Or perhaps you need to troubleshoot your technology… Or come up with a communication strategy to achieve an offline meeting online…
Or maybe you just need to hear someone’s voice because you’ve been working by yourself all day and it’s lonely.
Whatever you need, I’m here.
And I’m not just talking to newbie remote workers… Because even for those of us who worked from home before all of this, there’s a whole new set of challenges we’re facing as freedom-seeking digital nomads being told we’re not allowed to leave the house anymore.
So this offer is open to anyone working from home who needs a bit of extra support right now.
To be eligible for your free mini-coaching session, you just have to be a subscriber on the Magic of Everything mailing list and follow me on one social media channel.
So if that’s you and you want to drop by my virtual watercooler and have a chat throughout April 2020, just fill out this quick 5 minute form and I’ll get back to you to book a time. I’m available to take calls between 11am and 5pm AEST and you’ll need to have access to WhatsApp and Zoom.
Because we’re in this together.
Laura has been working and travelling the world slowly since 2001 — exploring cultures, writing stories and learning languages in almost 60 countries. Now she helps other restless and curious souls design a life they love by exploring alternative ways to live, earn, explore and impact the world.