A lot of kids dream of being an astronaut, a firefighter, or even president when they grow up. None of us, not even the most imaginative, could have ever imagined that our grown-up job would be sitting at the kitchen table in front of a laptop because the office has shut down. 

Yet here we are, in a time and place where as much as half the American workforce is now contributing from home. What’s more, it seems like this will be a long-term rather than a short-term paradigm, and perhaps even a permanent one. How can you make sure you’re ready to go for the long haul?

Photo by Vlada Karpovich

1. Choose Your Space

No person in the world knows your home better than you do, and nobody in the world knows how you want it better than you do. Now that it seems like the home office will be your 40-hour commitment each workweek, you shouldn’t shy away from a decisive redesign. Take a look at where you’ve been working. What does it offer, and what do you need? Assess the space that you have and plan out the space that you want. 

In the process, don’t be afraid of committing to the transformative Marie Kondo style of decluttering; you just might throw out enough to justify renting a dumpster. It may seem like a drastic step, but it’s actually easy and affordable — with weekly costs starting at $200 in some places.  The clean, uncluttered results will help you work more productively, with greater satisfaction. 

And once your space is cleared, give some thought to keeping it in working order. Nothing will impede your productivity working from home like a home emergency, whether it’s a breakdown in your HVAC, plumbing, or electrical systems. Look into a home warranty so you’ll be covered if something goes wrong with your new home office. 

2. Manage the “Co-Workers”

Everyone by this point has been on a Zoom call where a spouse, a relative, a child, or a pet has roamed through the background, sometimes demanding attention from the participant (and viewers). Hilarious though these can be, they’re simultaneously a distracting fact of our new reality. We no longer live in a world with dedicated meeting spaces, meaning that our new “co-workers” at home can sometimes disrupt the ordinary. 

You may not be able to prevent this permanently since people and pets might have to move through your space to get to other parts of the house. However, you can make a work-at-home schedule that’s kid- and pet-friendly but still gives you enough time to yourself each day. And whether a meeting is happening or not, don’t be afraid to occasionally seal yourself off whenever you need that blessed solitude.

3. Get Better Internet

It’s a law of 21st-century commerce that the speed and quality of your internet service are directly related to what you pay for it. Now that you can no longer pay $4 for a Starbucks latte and enjoy good Wi-Fi, the buck has passed firmly onto your shoulders: It’s time to buck up and shell out for better internet access at home. 

Yes, it’s frustrating, and yes, it can be costly if you live in certain areas. But no modern working person should be subjected to websites that fail to load when they urgently need to get information or communicate with their team. So take care of your connectivity issues yourself and enjoy the results!

4. Reorganize Your Networking Strategy

The pandemic hasn’t changed the quintessential human need to feel connected to others, nor to feel important to others. For most people, our sense of self-value remains intricately tied to the opinions of other people, even when that’s not always the healthiest sense of self-worth. The problem now is that most of us are in contact with vastly fewer people to enjoy and reinforce our personalities.

They’re still out there, though. You still have a network, but now it’s time to change how you approach and how you use it. Instead of in-person contact, try branded goods; instead of in-person mentoring, try remote introductions and video meetings; instead of in-person appraisals, try online evaluations that can still help employees or employers realize their effectiveness. Technology gives us the tools to fill in the gaps, so take advantage.

Photo by Ketut Subiyanto

5. Give Yourself “You Time”

Many people who have transitioned to working from home were not previously in a work environment where a whistle blew and they took mandated breaks. Even so, the modern office gave workers designated opportunities to disentangle from work and socialize or re-organize their thoughts; the home office gives few such luxuries. 

So it’s up to you to shepherd your own breaks. Be steadfast about your need for time to yourself and time away from work. Pencil into your schedule the breaks you need and reserve them for activities you need, like sudoku or online card games — or even taking a barefoot drive (yep, it’s legal!) — so that your brain gets a rest, or at least a workout in a new function.

As the old institutions of our great experiment in capitalism have crumbled left and right due to measures meant to curb the pandemic, the home has become a place of industry as well as relaxation. It’s important to divide the two rigorously, or else you can fall into the psychological trap of being unable to tell the difference between them. Take time and space for both yourself and your work, but make certain to adapt previous practices so that you can remain effective during a time when nothing seems to work as it should.