You’re Still Doing Remote Work All Wrong
One year later, an army of remote workers are still making rookie mistakes that lead to burnout
On March 18, 2005, I cleaned out my desk at Registered Rep. magazine, the financial publication I was (I can admit it now) a rather terrible business reporter for, and left a job I’d held for two years. I didn’t leave on bad terms. I liked all my co-workers and there were no sour feelings, but I also didn’t have another job set up. I just knew I wasn’t a very good business reporter, my boss agreed with me, and thus we went our separate ways. I turned in my key card, filled out some paperwork with HR, and hit the Irish pub across the street for a round of goodbye beers. I wasn’t sure what I’d do next. Maybe try freelancing for a while?
And that, friends, was the last day I worked in an office. Six months later, I founded the sports website Deadspin out of my apartment, and I’ve been working at home as a writer ever since. It has been so long since I worked in an office that my non-office work life is now old enough to drive. Considering every story I’ve read about in-person office life in the last 16 years has been about all the terrible things you’re doing to each other in cubicle-land, it does not seem that I am missing out on much.
What I discovered upon leaving office life was how much more immediately productive I became when I no longer had to commute back and forth every day, when no one ever came by my desk to interrupt me just as I’d really start to hit my groove, when I didn’t feel like my boss would come up and start breathing down my neck at any given moment. To be sure, working from home isn’t for everybody, but it clearly worked for me: I can’t imagine working any other way now. I certainly didn’t get it right the first year, but I have developed all sorts of lifehacks and shortcuts to maximize my efficiency and sustain a comfortable work-life balance. I’m good at this.
I’ve watched during the past year as you have broken every cardinal work-at-home rule that I’ve honed to a science over the last 16 years.
But then the pandemic hit, and suddenly, many of you were working at home, too. And you, no offense, are terrible at working remotely. You’re all rookies, and you keep making rookie mistakes. I’ve watched during the past year as you have broken every cardinal work-at-home rule that I’ve honed to a science over the last 16 years; it’s a little like watching a toddler try to use a chainsaw. And now the whole world’s a bloody mess.
With the accelerated vaccine rollout and large swaths of the workforce likely returning to the office at some point this year, we’re (hopefully) going to be returning to some semblance of normal — or at the very least a New Normal. But there are still going to be hundreds of thousands of people working from home that previously weren’t before the pandemic. You all need to step up your remote work game and get a lot better at this or risk taking the rest of us down with you. To that end, here are five unbreakable rules, if you’re going to commit to remote working for the long haul.
- Do not just wear your pajamas all day. I’m not saying you have to put on a suit and tie like you’re working at a bank or something. (But also it wouldn’t hurt?) Your mind, body, and soul can’t help but not take anything you’re doing all that seriously if you’re still wearing your bedclothes all day. You obviously don’t have to be formal, but you have to set very clear boundaries for “work time” and “off time,” and a great way to do that is to dress accordingly. I recommend, at a minimum, workout clothes, which at least hint to your mind, body, and soul that you should be doing something right now. Changing your clothes before you sit down to work tricks you into believing your surroundings have changed. And tricking yourself that you’re under more scrutiny than you actually are is a key part of working from home. It is truly shocking how many people tell me that they just wear pajamas all day when they’re working at home. No wonder you’re not getting anything done.
- Conversely, do not forget that you are also in your home. Whenever someone who has always worked in an office finds out I’ve worked out of home for so long, they always say something like, “I don’t know how you do it. Don’t you just want to go lie down rather than work?” But in practice, it’s the opposite problem: When your home is your office, that means you are in your office all the time. After all, there is always some work to do, and if you are not careful, you will just spend all your waking hours doing it. And we have enough of a national issue with workaholism and burnout as is. The problem is not remembering your home is your office; the problem is remembering that it is not just your office. During the pandemic, it is increasingly obvious that some of you are just sitting at your desk every hour of the day… and nowhere else in your home or apartment. It’s your living area. Live in it.
- Limit how much time you spend on social media. This is just a good life tip in general, but the problem with being at your computer all day — particularly when we’re all in the middle of a global pandemic — is that you can get sucked into a doomscrolling black hole. (And after all: That’s supposed to be what lying in bed and not sleeping is for!) Social media is making us all crazy anyway, but when you combine it with cabin fever, you get, well, you get the total madness we’ve all been experiencing over the past year. I recommend the Freedom app, which will block whatever sites you want it to, for as long as you want it to. You’ll be surprised how much happier and productive you are.
- Set a clear schedule with set parameters. This goes hand in hand with Rule №2, but you have to make yourself, every day set a time that you stop working, no matter what. (You know: like a job.) I recommend thinking of the day not in terms of hours, but in terms of tasks. Make a list at the beginning of the day. If you get all the tasks done before your set hour, great: You get time to go read a book, play a video game, or put your pajamas back on. But no matter what: Don’t go past that set time, or add to your lists of tasks. Otherwise, you just won’t stop.
- Go outside. This is vital, even in a pandemic. (Especially in a pandemic.) People that work from home constantly have to remember that, in spite of all immediately available evidence in front of their face, there is in fact a whole big world just beyond their doorstep. Go see it. Your home, your computer, and your work will be waiting for you right where you left it. And who knows? You might even find work a little easier to crack into upon your return.
Seriously, you all need to head back into the office; I can see how this is making you all nuts. But in case we’re all still stuck, sans office, for a little while longer, you can start by finessing these five unbreakable rules for working at home. For your sake. For mine. For everybody’s. You can thank me later.