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How To Work From Home: A Complete Guide For 2020

Carey Chesney7-Minute Read
April 23, 2020

One of the many ways social distancing is affecting our lives is how it changes the way we work—or don’t work. Telecommuting has become the new normal for many of us, while many others have found themselves out of a job completely. The days of getting up early, driving to work, chatting with co-workers and settling into our office for the day are on a bit of a hiatus. 

Not to worry though. This guide will give you practical tips for setting up a home office, working from home productively, and insight into some work from home jobs that are available right now. Read on to find out everything you need to know about making this work from home era a success!

Setting Up A Work From Home Space

It might not be ideal or what you’re used to, but creating a comfortable work environment in your home can be rewarding, with benefits that last long after the need for social distancing subsides. There’s no time to take out a home equity loan and build a new office in your house, so making the most of the space you have is the best mindset to start with.

Choose A Designated Area Of The House

You may have visions of everyone quietly doing their schoolwork and office work around the dining room table as a family, and what a lovely thought that is. But it’s probably not going to work out that way.

If you can swing it, designate a room in your home where you can get away from the rest of the crew and focus. A room with a door – preferably one that locks – is great if you have the space. If not, search for a spot that’s quiet and conducive to getting work done. A kitchen or dining room table can make a great impromptu workspace.

What if you have more than one person in your house who’s working from home? As long as you don’t distract each other too much, working together, either in a home office or in another makeshift workspace, can help you feel less lonely and more like you’re in an office environment. But if one of you has a job that requires lots of focus and the other’s job requires a ton of phone calls and video conferences, it’s probably best to find separate areas of the house to conduct business.

Another pro tip? Make sure the space you choose to work is actually a place where you’ll do your work.

“Don’t work where you rest,” Aly Saunders, a marketing copywriter for Alpine Electronics, advises. “I try not to work where I normally relax in my home.”

While it might be tempting to do most of your daily work from the comfort of your bed or couch, it can be harder to get into a working mindset when you’re too relaxed. Stay professional – and upright.

Consider What Technology You’ll Need

Take some time to consider all the tools you’ll need to complete your daily tasks effectively. For most people in this day and age, that means making sure your technology is set up and ready to go.

A computer is a must of course, but also make sure you have an internet connection and the necessary bandwidth for the type of work you do. Ensure the kids have their own technology as well – many schools are offering loaners so you don't have to go out and buy a bunch of laptops – because sharing computers is not ideal.

Think about all the different technology and tools you’d normally use throughout a day in the office and whether it would be worth it to purchase any of these things to make working from home easier. Do you need an extra monitor to hook up your laptop to? What about a good quality headset for all those phone conferences? A wireless keyboard or mouse? If these items are necessary to your job, you may even be able to expense these purchases to your company.

Duplicate The Office Environment

You might consider personalizing your work-from-home desk in the same way you personalized your in-office desk. A few pictures, posters or other trinkets that are similar to the ones in your office can help keep things familiar.

While you’re working, honor that time the same as you would if you were in the office.

Justynn Bauer, owner of The Computer Guys, an IT company, recommends having a set schedule in place, “so you don’t end up doing more home stuff than work.”

Maximizing Work From Home Productivity

Beyond the physical environment, here are a few key tips to keep in mind to help you get the most out of working from home.

Create A Routine

As much as you can, keep your usual work routine. Take coffee breaks when you usually would, start the day with your to-do list if that’s what you do at the office and even plan your time for socializing with co-workers (virtually, of course) like a regular workday.

Get Dressed For Work

If you’re thinking “Finally, I can do work in my pajamas,” you’re not alone, but you may want to slow your roll. While comfy clothes can be great for lounging around the house, they don’t exactly put you in a working mindset.

You don’t necessarily have to go all-out with a suit and tie (unless you want to), but spending some time in the morning getting ready, doing your hair and getting dressed for the day can make a huge impact. Even if it’s just putting your hair in a ponytail and putting on your “nice” pair of sweats, getting ready for the day can make you more productive and keep away the work-from-home blues. 

Manage Expectations

Technology has given us the ability to do a huge percentage of our daily work from home, but some things just need to be done in person. Have clear expectations with your co-workers and bosses about what will and will not be able to get done during this temporary time away from the office. Also, be cognizant of the fact that you likely won’t be able to tackle the usual workload in a day. Be realistic and set goals you can realistically achieve.

Mix It Up

But you said routine was key! I know I know, but even though the work routine can remain structured, scheduling time to get outside, meditate, exercise or just chill is a critical part of keeping a positive mental attitude during times of change.

Stand Up

When you’re working from home, it can sometimes be easy to get so into your work that you forget to move around occasionally, and before you know it, you’ve spent hours sitting in the same position.

Set some reminders for yourself to stand up, stretch and move around. Block off some time in the middle of your day to take your dog for a quick jog around the block. Make sure you aren’t hunkered down in one spot for 8 hours straight.

Eat Lunch

Likewise, don’t forget to eat. If it helps you, you may want to start your mornings by preparing yourself a lunch just as you would if you were heading into the office for the day. Or, you might choose to take advantage of having a full kitchen by using your lunch break to heat something up on the stove or in the oven rather than the shared office microwave.

Level-Set With The Kids

If you have children who are home from school or daycare and are suddenly looking to be entertained all hours of the day, it might be a good idea to make sure they understand what the expectations are for this time. If they’re older, you might have a conversation about making sure that they respect your work hours and that they’re staying on top of any school assignments they have. For younger kids, you might spend some time each morning planning a few activities for them that they can do on their own that will keep them fairly busy.

If you have help from another adult, such as a partner or other family member, get together to work out a schedule for who can take care of the kids throughout the day. If you’re both working during the day, maybe you can work out a schedule that allows you to take turns while the other gets work done. If you have people willing to help who aren’t there physically, you may want to think about setting up some time for them to hang out with your kiddos over video chat.

If you’re a single parent with no outside help, it may be worth having a conversation with your boss about your work bandwidth, and whether you could have some flexibility with due dates or working hours.

Go Outside

Just because you’re social isolating doesn’t mean you need to hole up in your home completely. Make sure you’re getting some fresh air every day. Going for walks or to the park are still acceptable and even encouraged, as exercise can help boost your immune system. Just be sure to stay a safe distance away when saying hello to any neighbors you pass by.

Create Boundaries

When you’re working from home, the line between “work” and “home” can get really fuzzy. If you’re able to, try to stick to the schedule you’d keep in the office. Once you’re done for the day, put away your work gear and do something to relax.

Check In With Your Team

When there isn’t a shared water cooler or coffee pot for you all to gather around, it’s easy to get lost in your work and forget to socialize with your co-workers.

Thanks to today’s technology, there are more ways than ever to stay in contact with the people you work with, even when you’re out of the office. Try to keep up with them as much as you would in-office. If you all usually eat lunch together, why not have a video chat lunch meeting where you can catch up on your lives outside of work?

Additionally, because this is a scary and uncertain time for a lot of people, it can be helpful to regularly ask each other how you’re handling everything. If someone seems to be struggling, reach out to them and ask how you can help.

And be kind to your IT team, says Bauer.

“They are running ragged trying to help at all hours of the day, while supporting their families, too,” Bauer says.

Bauer points out that many workers are having issues getting tech because of the low stock coming out of China. As we all sort through this crisis, she stresses patience.

Finding A Work-From-Home Job

If your current job doesn’t allow you to work remotely, you can find other positions that support a work-from-home lifestyle. Traditional companies tend to prioritize a physical presence at the office, but there are plenty with a more progressive approach.

Remember to do your research before signing up. There are many work-from-home scams that prey on people looking for a job. Research a company before you apply, and stay far away from any company asking you to buy equipment or software before starting.

Here are some popular work-from-home jobs:

Virtual Assistant

Virtual assistants are like secretaries, handling a large variety of tasks remotely. This may include setting appointments, responding to emails or conducting basic research. The type of work varies depending on the industry and employer.

Like other freelance positions, virtual assistants may be juggling several clients. This also provides more flexibility, especially for parents with children at home. Virtual assistants usually make anywhere from $15 – $75 an hour.

Call Center Representative

Call center jobs are a practical option for anyone who needs a work-from-home position that doesn’t require a degree. These companies provide their own on-the-job training, so previous experience is rarely necessary. The 2018 median salary for call center representatives was $33,750 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

You may more openings for this job now that virtual call center representatives are in demand. Even though you don’t need a degree, job seekers will need effective communication skills – and pretty thick skin.

Data Entry

Data entry jobs have few requirements, but you’ll usually need your own computer, a solid internet connection and competent typing skills. Data entry can range from entering information into a spreadsheet to transcribing oral interviews.

Many data entry jobs let you work on your own schedule, perfect for employees trying to balance family life and work. The median salary is $32,170 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Teacher/Tutor

As video technology evolves, online teachers and tutors are becoming more popular, especially in countries like China. Online teachers still need to have a license, but tutors don’t need any official certification. According to a recent report, online tutoring is projected to grow 12.75% between 2017 and 2021. That’s twice as much as previous projections.

The more advanced the subject, the more money you can charge. Tutors who can work with college students will make more money than those who tutor elementary school children.

Freelance Writer

Whether you’re an expert in healthcare or home remodeling, there’s a company that needs your writing services. Freelance writing is a growing online career option that you can do from anywhere.

Even if you can’t find a job in your specific field, you can still write about the issues surrounding a particular industry. Rates for articles depends on the topic, but usually range from $50 – $150. Once you make a name for yourself, you can begin to increase your rates.

A Final Word On Working From Home

Whether you’re currently working from home or seeking a first-time opportunity for remote work, it’s likely that you’re not in this situation by choice. In these challenging times, workers across the country are being forced to make sacrifices and adjustments that would have sounded absurd just a few months ago.

But even if you thrive in an office environment, working from home can be gratifying in unique and unexpected ways. With a little creativity – and more than a little patience – your work-from-home situation can be a rewarding and productive experience for everyone in the household.

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    Carey Chesney

    Carey Chesney brings a wealth of real estate sales and marketing experience to his buyers and sellers as they navigate highly competitive markets. Carey and his wife Ilze work together as Realtors® in Michigan.