Cube to Couch: 5 Work From Home Tips for a Smooth Transition

With the COVID-19 pandemic spreading and the sudden growth in the number of remote workers who have never worked from home (aside from the occasional WFH Friday or during sick days) I thought it might be helpful to share some of my own tips to help make the transition as smooth as possible. 

It has been nearly three years since I was an on-site employee, but I’m still in and out of offices occasionally, so that culture isn’t completely lost on me. 

We all (most of us) know how to be professional in a workplace environment but being professional from home takes an entirely different mentality and process. Working remotely for one or two days is one thing, but working from home for an extended period of time has its own nuances. The following list of helpful tips would’ve been welcomed reading material a few years ago as I prepared to walk away from the “cube life.”

1. Communication: Adopt a Different Communication Strategy for Working From Home

When we work in an office, we often take for granted the role of things like body posture, physical and facial reactions, and just being able to see what others are actually doing during a meeting. Even on conference calls, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to read these subtle cues. 

That is why it’s imperative to adapt your communication style for when you’re not in the office in order to minimize misunderstandings. Establish lines of communication with your colleagues so they know exactly how and when to get in touch with you. There’s nothing worse than trying to work with a remote employee who is constantly inaccessible. This hurts trust and impacts how you’re perceived within the company. It could even hurt your advancement opportunities. 

While many companies and offices are mandating WFH employment at the moment, typically remote employees have a certain stigma as being lazy or not working very hard when, in fact, it’s usually the opposite since we feel extra pressure to go above and beyond in order to “be seen” by our peers and superiors.  

The other (possibly more important) aspect of communication is listening. Again, since you can’t pick up on physical cues, you need to make sure you’re listening intently, taking notes, and asking questions. Ineffective articulation is one thing, but the other side of the coin when it comes to misunderstandings and mistakes is the inability to actively listen and comprehend. Be sure you fully understand before getting off a conference call. Another helpful tip is to send or have someone send meeting recaps to ensure that everyone is aligned.

2. Schedule: Make an Extra Effort to Be On Time While Working From Home

Set multiple alerts for meetings. This is something I’ve struggled with at home. I’ve been late to countless meetings because I’ll get an automated alert 10 minutes before a meeting starts, which gives me just enough time to get fully engulfed in some other work task and lose track of time. And without the visual cue of others heading toward the conference room at the start of a meeting, the time can easily be overlooked. Then, when you’re late (or habitually late) coworkers may think you’re being distracted by things outside of work.                        

Keep as close to a normal working schedule as you can. Whether you work 9-5 or not, align your schedule with what’s best for you and what works for the company. Not having a commute is great, but you still need to get up and be online at the start of business. You also need to stop at the end of your day, whether it’s 5 o’clock, 6 o’clock, or whenever, close your computer and shut it down to maintain your home-life and work-life separation.       

Something I also struggle with is eating my normal meals throughout the day. I may be in the minority here as I’ve heard from many other remote workers that they just snack all day, but for me, I tend to forget meals and work straight through lunch. If you’re a snacker, great! If not, just remember to eat breakfast and carve out a lunch break during the day. You’ll be more productive and much more pleasant to work with.

3. Location, Location, Location: Create a Separate Space to Work From Home

Working remotely and working from home can mean two things. Since this particular situation is calling for most people to work from home, I’ll focus on that. DO NOT WORK FROM YOUR BED. Even if you live in a studio apartment, I highly recommend you find another space to work from. Somewhere you can mirror your office setup as closely as possible, and somewhere you can remain comfortable (but also awake) for hours at a time. If you try working from bed, you’ll get too comfortable and your eyelids will get very heavy. It’s also nice to have your bed to go back to after the workday is done.

4. The Work From Home Dress Code? Use Your Best Judgment  

For me, it’s simple. I wear whatever I want. Some people may not have this luxury as they may have video conferences, but I typically just have conference call meetings so what they don’t see won’t hurt them. I’ve heard from other workers-from-home that they like to be in the routine of waking up and getting dressed to prepare for the workday, but I tend to prefer comfort over routine. For this topic, it’s all about preference, so choose whatever makes you most productive, but at least give yourself “casual Fridays”… you’ve earned it!

5. Eliminate Distractions: Create Strategies for Staying Focused While Working From Home 

Some amount of distraction is inevitable. Outside of your video/conference calls and your urgent deliverable deadlines, you’re going to have some down time. Feel free to throw in a load of laundry or start the dishwasher, heck, you can even get in a few scrolls through social media if that’s your thing, but don’t get carried away. Limit distractions as much as you can. This goes back to location. Make sure you’re in an area where you’ll be the least distracted because this is probably the hardest part of working from home.  

When I had my first home office, I mounted a TV in the room thinking I could just mute it and it wouldn’t distract me. Boy was I wrong! Whenever my eyes would wander, they would go directly to the TV and they’d stick there until the next scene, segment, or commercial. I wasn’t really interested in what it was showing, I couldn’t even hear it, but I was still distracted, and it would eat up a lot of my time. 

As sad and disappointed as I am to go through March without college basketball (and any other sports for that matter), I promise you, it is a blessing in disguise. Everyone still has their cellphones and it’s easy to get lost in the monotony of scrolling through our apps, and inasmuch as that can be more interesting than the task we have at hand, it’s not helping anyone; especially ourselves

When I was working on-site, I tried to view my work-from-home days as opportunities to gain more trust and privileges. I would respond to people more quickly and over-communicate so it was clear that I was working diligently. This, I believe, is what led me to have the opportunity to assume a permanent remote position within the same company. A permanent remote position may not be everyone’s aspiration, but I urge workers-from-home during this time to view it as an opportunity to gain more trust.                            

Lastly, regarding distractions, I suggest making a weekly and daily to-do list. It can be hard to keep your work-life organized at home without the help of some tools like whiteboards or calendars that you may have in the office, and this is where lists come in handy. I’m constantly adding, removing, reprioritizing, and checking things off my lists. They’ll help you stay organized and sane when requests are coming at you from all angles. This ties in with another aforementioned tip – taking and sending out meeting notes/recaps. They’ll keep everyone on the same page in terms of to-do’s, priorities, what to expect, and when to expect things.

There you have it. Some helpful ways to smoothen out the transition from the in-office routine to work-from-home etiquette. No matter how long this WFH state of business remains, hopefully these tips will help guide you through this unprecedented period and we’ll all have learned some valuable lessons about how to conduct ourselves professionally outside of the office. Most importantly, everyone needs to put their health and the health of those around them at the top of their priority list during this unsettling time. None of this matters if we’re not looking out for ourselves and our communities.