My first teleworking experience came in late March of this year as I, along with many state employees, transitioned to full-time remote work. Back in March I was not too worried about this transition. In the early days of the pandemic, the initial shock and uncertainty of everything unfolding was more than enough to worry about. Besides, once you have your state laptop and Internet connection set up what is there left to figure out? As it turns out, there are many things to consider. Those first few weeks of settling in posed several questions that I had not prepared for: Where should I set up my home office? How will teleworking impact my relationships with my roommates? How do I avoid cabin fever as my personal and professional lives now take place under the same roof?
The answers to these questions will certainly vary from person to person. In my short experience with full-time teleworking, the best way to address these questions is through a continuous process of trial and error. Below are several tips I wish I knew back in March:
Change Your Workspace if it’s Not Right for You
For many of us, our apartments and homes were simply not designed to accommodate full-time at-home work. This is especially challenging for those of us who live with other full-time teleworkers. As you try different spaces out, accept that there will be trade-offs. The sunlight and fresh air of my porch were energizing, but the birds were too loud for conference calls. My kitchen table has plenty of surface area and decent chairs, but communal spaces tend to invite distraction. After trying a few different spaces, I found my basement to be the best long-term option for productivity and comfort (I still need to improve the lighting situation down here though).
Set “Work-Mode” Boundaries
When you live with someone (or two or three others) who also telework, it can be jarring to a see a new side of a person when they are “in the zone” with their job. Adjusting to teleworking will undoubtedly affect your relationships with the people you live with. Sometimes you need to let your roommate know you do not have the time to look at a GIF of a dog on a bicycle. Likewise, sometimes you just have to wait until after 5pm to give your roommate a completely unsolicited synopsis of the podcast you recently finished. In any case, the key is to set boundaries, share schedules, and communicate.
Take a Moment to Switch Gears
When reviewing the day’s schedule and putting together your to-do list, it is helpful to plan for a moment to switch gears. Lunch is a great opportunity to get a quick change of scenery. Taking a moment to step away from the laptop to chat with your roommates, pet a dog, call a family member, take a short walk by yourself, etc. can help you reenergize for your afternoon meetings and keep cabin fever at bay.
Get an Office Chair
Aside from being a pain to assemble and totally throwing off the feng shui of my basement, getting an office chair was a major improvement to my teleworking experience. Being able to work comfortably is key to successful teleworking. If your workspace cannot accommodate an office chair, look for ways to improve your current seating arrangement.
Be Flexible and Patient
Adjusting to long-term teleworking takes time. Remember to be flexible and patient with those around you, your colleagues, and yourself.
Ian Rose is a Virginia Management Fellow in his second rotation at the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM), after serving previously at the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).