In times of crisis, the ability to work from home often saves the day. If there’s a snowstorm or hurricane at your door, if you’re ill or you have a sick family member, or if another emergency prevents you from commuting, remote work gives you the flexibility to get things done outside the office. Given the social distancing that’s being asked of people in areas affected by the coronavirus, you might not even have a choice but to telecommute. If you’re not used to working from home, however, this can be a jarring experience — it’s hard to switch from a familiar office environment to suddenly working in the space where you sleep and relax.
In collaboration with Wirecutter, a product recommendation site owned by The New York Times, here’s how to get the best out of working from home, stat.
Get familiar with your company’s telecommuting tools
If you haven’t already installed your company’s preferred videoconferencing services, VPN services, and other tools that make remote work, well, work, now is the time to do so. (If your company doesn’t already have tools, Wirecutter recommends Zoom for video and TunnelBear for VPN.) This will help keep you connected to your teammates and the company resources you may need when you’re offsite. Consult your friendly I.T. department for instructions on remote access so you can connect to the company’s servers or to your office desktop computer.
Then — this is the important part — test these tools at home. When I previously managed the VPN and I.T. services for a small company, several teammates had issues the first time they connected to the servers remotely, and it sometimes took half a day just to troubleshoot the problems. It’s best to make sure everything works before it’s critical for you to connect.
Get useful gear, even if you work from home only occasionally
Even if your remote-work arrangement is only temporary, some gear is worth investing in for your comfort and productivity. Wirecutter recommends:
A great webcam like the Logitech C920S HD Pro Webcam: To frame yourself in the best light, whether you’re videoconferencing or checking in with distant family.
Noise-canceling headphones like the Bose Noise Canceling Headphones 700: To block out everyday distractions like traffic noise or your neighbor’s dog barking. They’re handy to have on airplanes, too.
A laptop stand like the Rain Design iLevel 2: To prevent hunching over your computer, since this causes strain on your shoulders and neck.
A Wi-Fi hotspot like the Verizon Inseego Jetpack MiFi 8800L: To keep you connected if your home Internet goes down. Most people can use their phone as a hotspot, but that drains the phone’s battery and can hog your phone plan’s data limits.
Ask your employer if it will reimburse you for these home-office essentials. Other expenses you should be reimbursed for include: Internet access, office supplies, and co-working fees (if you work out of a co-working space). These are items you can’t deduct on your taxes, but the company can on its taxes. If telecommuting becomes more regular for you, your employer might even spring for other essential home-office gear, such as a monitor, an external keyboard, an office chair, and a height-adjustable desk, to make working from home ergonomic.
Make a dedicated work space in your home
Remote work makes it possible to work from anywhere — even on your couch or bed. But few people are productive in slouchy positions, which are also bad for your back. Ideally, your home office would be in a room with a door. That door can help signal to other people in your household to not interrupt you (remember BBC Dad?), keep pets out, and provide a way for you to physically and mentally close up shop each day.
If you don’t have a spare room, a corner in your dining room, living room, or even your bedroom can work, too. To make sure your work life doesn’t spill into your home life, however, do as much as you can to separate that space. A privacy screen or curtains hung from the ceiling can add that division, and even a tall plant can mark off the work territory.
Working from an unfamiliar desk can throw off your groove, so try replicating your office desk’s setup at home. Get the same supplies you use at the office and place them all in the same spots on your desk: For example, a paper inbox tray on the left, a pen holder and sticky notes on the right, and so on.
Act like you’re at work, but balance it with your home life
Temptations abound when you’re home but supposed to be working — the fridge is steps away, and there’s a new video game that isn’t going to play itself. To overcome the impulse to slack off, create a daily routine and stick to it. In the morning, shower and get dressed as you would for work. Block out time each day for focused work, as well as for lunch and short breaks. Create virtual boundaries by setting your online status to “focused,” “out of office,” or “lunch,” and set your online status to reflect what your regular working hours are so teammates know when you’re available. If you have family members or pets that often demand your attention, make plans to have a caretaker help with young children and pets when you’re not on break. And remember to log off and end your workday when you typically do — it’s as easy to overwork when you’re at home as it is to procrastinate.
“It’s as easy to overwork when you’re at home as it is to procrastinate.”
Even though today’s tools make it easier to stay constantly connected, you may still feel isolated when you’re working from home. During your breaks, unchain yourself from your desk and take a walk and talk to another human being, such as a grocery clerk, a crossing guard, or a waiter (if you go out for lunch). Keep in touch with your colleagues regularly over group chat, such as Slack — even if it’s just to say hello in the morning.
Remote work is convenient, but it takes a bit of effort and planning to make it really work. Once you’re set up and know what to expect, though, you can enjoy the time savings and productivity boost many people who work from home enjoy.
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A version of this article appears at Wirecutter.com.