There it is, just a few feet away: a refrigerator jammed with food.
Working at home has its temptations, including stress eating, especially with isolation from colleagues and friends, and too little isolation from kids, partners or roommates.
So, one key rule of working at home: Resist the Refrigerator. It’s easy to eat junk and gain weight when temptation is so close all day.
Here are more tips for those forced from real office cubicles to makeshift home office cubby holes. They’re based on 38 years of working from home:
• Be disciplined. Be at work on time. Stay focused on work.
• Establish a dedicated work space. A room with a door works best. But even a corner will work.
• Set up your space somewhere specific and keep your work there. “Whether you have a door or not, the rest of the family will know that when you are in the office, you are working,” says Debbie Elliott, an NPR correspondent who has worked at home in Alabama for 28 years. “It also prevents all your work junk from cluttering up the rest of the house.”
• Make sure you have a chair with back support. Sit up straight. You risk back pain and carpal tunnel with insufficient support. Leaning forward as you work is especially harmful.
• Minimize distractions. Establish ground rules. Instruct kids and others at home when it’s OK and not OK to interrupt. Check on them at regular intervals. My daughter Casey says she appreciated the sign on my closed office door that said I’d be available at a specific time. “In the mornings,” Casey adds, “You’d make sure I had what I needed to stay busy for a while and would come check on me every little bit.”
• Make sure you have enough internet bandwidth, especially if kids and others are using the same bandwidth. What worked well at work may not work as quickly and efficiently at home. Check with your ISP provider on getting more bandwidth, if necessary.
• Think about internet security. It won’t necessarily be the same as the robust system at work. This is especially critical if you’re not using your employer’s Virtual Private Network.
• If you are using a laptop and are used to having an external monitor at work, try to add one at home. It can be incredibly frustrating to go from two screens to one.
• Don’t always rely on email or texts for contact with colleagues. The only human contact you may be able to have is the voice at the other end of the phone. And a conversation can be clearer and easier to understand than a series of emails. Check in after conference calls and staff meetings “which can be tricky,” suggests Elliott. “Make sure you have an accurate read on things.”
• Don’t expect the work demands or requirements to change simply because you are working remotely. “Have regular check-ins with your supervisor to make sure you’re on the same page,” adds Elliott.
• Get up and out every once in a while. Walk around the block. Check on the others at home.
• Get dressed and shower every day. Sure, you can get away with jammies, fuzzy slippers and sloppy grooming. But you will feel better and work better if you dress comfortably and have a somewhat normal workday routine.
• Expect chaos if you’re not home alone. It will happen. It will be a challenge. Control your temper. Take deep breaths.
Remember, too, that you won’t have to do this forever. You will get through it. And, someday, you will be able to tell your grandchildren about the pandemic of 2020, and how you had to walk to work every day — from the bedroom to the home office — despite blizzards, thunderstorms and blazing heat.
Howard Berkes spent 38 years as a correspondent for NPR, and was honored with more than 40 national journalism awards, while working from a home office in Salt Lake City.