Working From Home During a Pandemic: 10 Tips From a Freelancer
A friend and colleague said to me the other morning, “You’ve been freelancing for so long. You should do a blog on working from home.” It’s true. I’ve been working from home full-time for the last 20+ years as a freelance writer. While my techniques for success were established over time, my hope is that something here will help you navigate your new normal for working at home during the COVID-19 pandemic:
1. Define your workspace. If you have a home office, you’re set. Skip to step #2. If you don’t, then try to claim a section of your home as yours, like your kitchen table. If there are too many people around, and you can’t find peace anywhere, try making your workspace “to go.” On a normal day, I would take my laptop to coffee places and work for hours. It’s a great way to change the scenery and my energy. Keep your files and notes neat so you can scoop up and remain portable. During the pandemic, work in Starbucks (the living room) or take a conference call at Dunkin Donuts (the parked car in your driveway).
2. Get out of your pajamas. At a minimum, get dressed from the waist up. Put on a clean shirt and do your hair, just in case there’s an impromptu video call. Really go for it and shower and brush your teeth first thing in the morning. Trust me, you’ll feel more productive.
3. Think “today’s goals” vs. “a 9-5 workday.” As a freelancer, my schedule is not typically defined by 9-5 work hours or a Monday – Friday work week. Instead, my workflow has always been driven by the workload. What do I have to get done today? Who do I need to speak with today? What feedback am I waiting on today? I always start each day with a sticky note of “to do’s” that I wrote the night before when I shut down.
4. Break goals down into bite-sized tasks. If you can shift your mindset to today’s goals, then start thinking about the day in bite-sized tasks to reach the goals. Write email follow-ups first thing in the morning. Edit first drafts before lunch. Read a brief while waiting for the client to get back on first drafts. Take a conference call with the team. Check things off the “to do” list as you accomplish them. It’s a great visual reinforcement.
5. Do non-work things throughout the workday. Yes, I’m advocating for mixing work with non-work tasks. The freedom to float from activity to activity is part of the joy of working from home, and for me, it helps with productivity. Throw in a load of laundry, take lunch away from your “desk”, get some fresh air by walking around the block. These mini-moments can help you recharge your battery. As long as you’re maintaining productivity, your boss shouldn’t mind.
6. Reframe your expectations. One of the biggest challenges of working from home can be feeling unstructured. I say embrace this and use it to your benefit. It can give new meaning to open concept workspaces. You are the open concept … open to adapting to this change in life. Your rhythm is going to be off. You’re going to feel scattered, unproductive and unfocused. There will be typos and files unattached. Working from home is going to kick your butt some days. Accept it all. If you try to not compare now to how you used to work in the office, you’ll give yourself a pass to establish that new normal we all keep talking about. Refer back to tips #3 and #4 to help regain your balance.
7. Connect daily with colleagues and clients. It’s easy to fall into your own little corner and not speak to others when working from home. I know how isolating it can feel. Technology can keep you connected during this time, and not just via voice but by face. (All the more reason for tip #2). But these things have to get planned. Schedule a virtual lunch with your team. Invite others to a Friday bagels (frozen-cause-we’re-sheltering-in-place) breakfast. Send out official invites to do these things so they’re on the calendar. And be honest, too. If people hear or see a little one chattering, laughing, barking in the background, so what?
8. Plan ahead for tech snafus. Download apps and programs that everyone else in the office is using (e.g. zoom) over the weekend so you have time to play with them before the morning call. Mute your phone/computer when on calls to avoid the annoying echo that drives everyone crazy. If there’s a 9am con call, don’t be downloading the latest version of the anything at 8:55.
9. Work when your kids sleep. It may mean working at 9pm, but it will probably be quieter and you might be able to focus more easily, thus be more efficient and effective. Conversely, do easier tasks, such as email follow-ups or rereading documents, when the kiddos are raring to go.
10. Own your mindset. I’ve always felt that freelance work can be a feast or famine experience, so when the work is here, I am grateful for it. I also seek levity whenever possible, especially during times like these. This is why I’m listening to holiday music in April while I work.
We will get through this. Hang in there.