Working from home is a delicate balancing act. You need focus, but also stimulation. You have to get your head down, but not in a way that means you don’t leave your desk for six hours straight.
This is about dancing the line between productivity, creativity and motivation. With a little pizza thrown in. And minus the usual delights (and gripes) of your team.
The WFH gig is not the easiest thing in the world, especially for those who landed here unexpectedly due to the coronavirus outbreak. But it can be mastered: and it works best if you think just a little bit outside the box.
From imaginary colleagues to cocktail hour and a dash of comedy, here are 15 creative tips for doing exactly that:
1 - Find a nook that works for you
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The key to a productive work space? Knowing what conditions allow your creativity to flow. You might get more inspiration with nothing in sight. Or you might thrive in an atmosphere filled with spark joy mementos. What’s your ideal creative environment? #mykonmari office moment by @rachelorganizes.
It’s unrealistic to think you might have this beautiful, clutter-free desk two seconds into making the transition to working from home. More likely your “desk” in an era of coronavirus is wedged uncomfortably between a fridge and a kitchen counter. Or you’re sharing it with a plus one who has little understanding of personal space.
My friends, fear not, because however your working area takes shape, the key is to make it your own. Follow the lead of tidying guru Marie Kondo, and surround yourself with things that “spark joy”. This may be photos of loved ones, your favorite mug, a few cushions or a even bumper pack of Doritos. You’ll find no judgements here.
2 - Hold a virtual pizza party with your team
Work isn’t just about work. You need time to chat and connect, too. Rather than simply assume this will happen, it’s best to schedule time in for it, say the folks at Harvard Business Review. “The easiest way to establish some basic social interaction is to leave some time at the beginning of team calls just for non-work items,” they say. “Other options include virtual pizza parties.”
In other words, schedule a call as a group and all eat pizza at the same time (in a dream world, that would involve pizza being delivered to all remote participants simultaneously, but that may not be possible right now). Or, everyone have lunch at the same time, or an afternoon tea session – with an Aperol Spritz or two along the way.
However you choose to do it, these kind of sessions will serve to take the edge off any WFH stresses, and keep your team as close as ever. And hey, you all get to check out one another’s kitchens at the same time… don’t say remote work isn’t a blast.
3 - Get an imaginary colleague
It’s natural for tensions to bubble to the surface when you and your partner are forced into a WFH situation together (especially if you’re tussling over table space) but this tip shared by entrepreneur Vanessa Edwards is pretty golden.
You can use the same strategy if you’re working from home with flat-mates or your family, or even if you’re alone and fail to live up to your own high standards of what WFH should look like. Whatever the issue, “Cheryl” is undoubtedly to blame.
4 - Don't sweat your wardrobe choices
People tend to get hung up on clothes when they’re working from home. But honestly, it doesn’t matter what you do – or don’t – choose to wear. You can sit down in your dressing gown and be a powerhouse of productivity. Equally, you can dress in your very best two-piece, and still hit a rut.
One of the beauties of this whole working from home thing is that your wardrobe of choice has little bearing on what you do (unless you’re on a video call, of course: then you might want to swap out the jim-jams). The only rule is, do what works for you. If that’s a ballgown, great. If it’s luxe daywear pyjamas – as with comedian Mindy Kaling here – so be it. The (virtual) world is your oyster.
5 - Try a little empathy
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When we can’t get hold of a colleague, we can sometimes form a narrative of what they are doing or not doing. This can damage trust and hurt a relationship. Instead, let’s practice empathy. Let’s pick up the phone and ask “are you ok? I’m worried about you.” It makes someone feel that someone else cares about them. #togetherisbetter #takecareofyourself #takecareofothers
Remote work can bring out your less honorable instincts, especially if you’re fairly new to it. As leadership author Simon Sinek explains above, managers may be tempted to micro-manage to make sure everyone stays on task – as they’re lacking that face-to-face authority.
Equally, employees may not stay in contact as well as they should, which makes team leaders worry about what they’re doing, and if projects are falling behind. As Simon says, the best approach is to come armed with a hefty helping of empathy.
No-one is going to be perfect at remote working. Team work won’t fall magically into place. People will be late, overly-demanding or go off-radar. But – especially in these anxious times – it’s best to go easy on one another. Have kindness, be cool and always assume the best, not the worst, of people.
6 - Make room for those comedy moments
It’s easy to get stifled when you’re working in a home environment. There you are, frantically churning out emails or a data report, and before you know it, you haven’t moved once in six hours straight.
Comedy is your respite from all the intensity. It’s amazing how far a little belly laugh can go to redress the balance, even for the most diehard workaholics. There are so many excellent comedians to follow online, including the Instagram genius that is Celeste Barber.
The next time you find your shoulders seizing up with stress, take a break with your go-to comedy hit of choice, or dial a loved one for some time out. You deserve it.
7 - Embrace your animal helpers
As the world gets its work from home orders, a huge crowd of dogs and cats are undoubtedly yapping and purring in delight. Our four-legged friends are just loving this transition, and – if you happen to have such a companion at home – they’ll play a key role in your WFH journey.
A cat, for example, will likely spend some time inspecting your new set-up, before demonstrating the importance of day-time napping. A dog, meanwhile, will lean heavily on your leg until it’s numb, then pester you for lunchtime walkies.
Both will remind you firmly when it’s time to stop at the end of the day (perhaps by actually sitting on your keyboard until you move). In times of strife, these fellas are a proven recipe for happiness, so if you’re lucky enough to have them – hold ’em close.
8 - Tap the healing power of plants
Ask us about the extraordinary power of plants, and we’ll write you a book. They purify the air. They reduce stress and anxiety. They can even enhance cognitive skills with the ability to spark creativity and ideas.
So, if you’re working from home, think about cultivating a little jungle patch of your own. This might be surrounding your work area, or it could be a separate space for time out and zen (as above).
If your houseplants are looking a bit lacklustre to begin with, don’t worry about it. You now have a bit more time on your hands to tend to each one (look on YouTube for tips), and it makes a nice little break to do exactly that.
9 - Take time out to work out
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I'm grateful to have such a flexible coach who respects my mental health while pushing me to dig deep. Follow Coach Morgon's Plyometric Circuit mini hell that he crafted for me. Each exercise is 15 to 20 reps. Aim for 2 rounds; 3 if you're nasty. You can warm up for 20 minutes on the bike and cool down for 10 minutes at an easy to moderate pace. I'm hard headed so I did everything in one shot. 📹 @esnelldesign
Exercise is so important when it comes to good physical and mental health; and all the more so when you’re cooped up at home.
Now that you’re a signed-up member of the WFH crew, you have to carve out time to make fitness happen. And we’re not talking a half-hearted star jump or two while you wait for the kettle to boil, but instead a series of targeted cardio and strength drills that will really get you working.
New York-based ultrarunner and chef Latoya Shauntay Snell has the right idea. These short-burst activities are quick enough to do in your lunch break, and most don’t require special equipment. At the same time, they’ll get every muscle in your body working at top whack, for a workout that really counts.
10 - Make music, feed your soul
Now we all know the power of a killer playlist. But since you’re working from home, you can afford to explore your musical side a little further – with zero fear of judgement by your co-workers. Now’s the time to start busting out those guitar chords. Or dust off your long-lost recorder habit, last seen in fifth grade.
Get creative: music fires up brain power, after all. It’s a great way of taking a productive break. And if you’re too worried about your neighbors to indulge in a musical jamboree, be sure to check in with the many big-name performers (such as Coldplay’s Chris Martin), who are now running their own WFH jamming sessions. Magic.
11 - Keep the good snacks flowing
We’re in the grips of a global health pandemic. Now is not the time to enforce that celery and rye bread eating regime. Instead, go ahead and treat yo’ self. You want that leftover four-cheese pizza for breakfast? You shall have it. Urgently craving a Coco Pops sugar rush come 11am? Knock yourself out.
Of course, the current situation means the food you want may not actually be available on demand. But the rule is, don’t hem yourself in with limiting rules. You’re working from home, which means you can grab fuel as and when you want. That may mean eating incredibly healthily. Or it may mean snaffling your way through a tubful of slightly stale crisps come 4pm. Either way, who’s to judge?
12 - Seek out creative inspiration
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How is everyone doing? We are definitely living through some very scary times right now. I want to share a simple painting tutorial that you guys can have a go at if you’re at home self isolating and looking for something to do. I am loving watching the blossom unfold from my window at the moment, so I thought this would be a nice seasonal piece, using wet on wet technique and building layers. Swipe through to see the steps. The colours you will need are red (any red is fine), yellow ochre and sepia brown (burnt umber works too) Step 1. Lightly sketch out a bird on a branch using a light brown water-soluble pencil. Step 2. Mix a little bit of red with lots of water to create a pale pink. Paint a very light wash of watery pale pink with a large round brush in the background, leaving the birds unpainted. When that is completely dry use a small round brush to paint flowers using the same pale pink mixture. Once you’ve painted a flower in pale pink drop a little dot of darker pink into the centre whilst it’s still wet. Step 3. When that’s completely dry paint the bird light brown using a medium round brush, leaving a white stripe on its head. I used a watery mixture of yellow ochre and sepia brown. Allow the colour to pool in some areas. Step 4. When that’s completely dry use sepia brown to carefully paint the branch behind the bird and blossoms. Paint the bird’s wing and tail with a watery mixture of sepia brown allowing the colour to pool in some areas. Use a very watery mixture of sepia brown to add feathers to the bird’s chest. Use a dark mixture of sepia brown and a small brush to add centres to some of the flowers and to paint the bird’s legs and eye. Let me know if you have a go at painting this! Tag me or mention me in the caption, I would love to see your interpretation of this project. #emmablockillustration #emmablockworkshop #staycreative #createeveryday #creativity #watercolourpainting #watercolor #joyofwatercolour
Sometimes in life, particularly when you’re working from home, you just need to get creative. And for all those moments, painting (or any kind of artistic activity) awaits. Art has a powerful way of keeping you in the moment, so much so that many people use it as a form of self-care.
Whether you’re drawing or print-dying fabric, creative processes can encourage you to get in the flow in a way that combats everyday anxiety and stress. It’s meditative, not least because it’s more about the process than the end product.
You don’t have to be the next Picasso to enjoy these benefits. Simply pick up a paint brush during your next break, or after work, and spend half an hour or so shaking off the day with a dash of expressive art.
13 - Treat it like a game
Flash Pack’s resident adventure columnist Ed Stafford has some great advice on how to cope with isolation anxiety that could apply equally well to working from home. Ed has faced down a fair share of hairy situations in his time, including walking the Amazon alone (a record-breaking feat).
His advice for staying calm during coronavirus is to treat it like a game. That’s not to suggest that the whole coronavirus situation is funny, or light-hearted: of course, it’s anything but. Yet, as Ed points out, if you keep focusing on all the awful things about coronavirus, you’ll end up panicked, which doesn’t help anyone.
So if you’re struggling with any aspect of working from home, treat it like a game. Don’t take it too seriously, but instead see it as an experiment that you are trying out for a while. You might make mistakes along the way, but who cares? You’re new to this, so keep laughing and cut yourself some slack.
14 - Hit cocktail hour in style
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You all know you can't get Coronavirus from drinking Corona right? Right?? Plus you can do some bad ass flair with a Corona. Give it a try! . . . . #Corona #CoronaBeer #LightBeer #Barblade #BeerFlair #BarbladeFlair #Beer #BottledBeer #Flair #Flairing #FlairBartender #FlairBartending #TheBartenderStudio #TomDyer #TomDyerFlair #BarbladeStall #Stall #Flip #BeerFlip #🍺
Congrats, you’ve made it to the end of your WFH day in one piece. Time to celebrate.
Back in the 1950s, every work day ended in a cocktail. Especially if your name was Don Draper. So why not revive the tradition for a 6pm snifter during these uncertain times? One of the problems of working from home is that it can be hard to switch off. An evening cocktail hour is not only a nice idea – it’s a necessary one; the cue you need for downing tools.
Reward yourself for a day’s hard work with the tipple of your choice, and spread the love by tuning in your mates on video. You could turn the whole ritual up a notch by working a few flair moves, as with award-winning champion Tom Dyer here. Exercise and booze rolled into one: what more could you want? Although, on second thoughts… maybe just stick to the drinking side of it.
15 - Never forget how capable you are
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We are creative beings. And for those of you feeling ALL the feels these past weeks, know that we will not only persevere…but we will rise stronger and more capable than ever. It is in the DNA of the human spirit…and this time is refining us for our next iteration ✨❤️ #covid_19 #stayhome #positivevibes
It’s too easy to focus on the things you can’t do when working from home. The distractions, the poor wifi, that background noise called kids. But journalist and entrepreneur Alexi Panos is here to remind us that we are stronger than we believe and braver than we know.
This period is challenging for us all, but it’s also an opportunity to test your limits and see what you’re really capable of; when working from home as much as anything. Sure things will go wrong. It might be frustrating or you make mistakes. But you are about to find out just how adaptable and inventive you really are.
Even with all the social distancing and isolation measures at play, this core power of ingenuity means it’s possible to stay closely connected while working from home. Don’t believe us? Just watch this mammoth virtual effort from the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, who are taking team work to new and innovative lengths:
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Original caption from the Rotterdam Philharmonic: "From us, for you. We’re adjusting to a new reality. Creative forces help us, let’s think outside of the box and use innovation to keep our connection and make it work, together. Because if we do it together, we’ll succeed."
Inspiring stuff. May your work from home experience be every inch as joyful and harmonious…
Main image: Thought Catalog on Unsplash