Switching to Remote Work? Prepare Your Home Office (And Your Mind)

A woman works from home.
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As a precaution, companies across the U.S. are implementing work-from-home policies, sending 9-to-5 office workers home to log in from their kitchen tables.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention encourages the measure to curb the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. Several well-known companies like Apple, Facebook and Twitter were early adopters and have already told their employees to work remotely. 

Here’s all of our coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, which we will be updating every day.

On its face, working from home seems like a win-win. Employees are less likely to get sick or spread disease, and companies are still getting productivity from their workforce. But if you work for a company outside Silicon Valley – perhaps one with less tech infrastructure – working remotely may not be as easy as it sounds. Especially on such short notice.

So if you haven’t given remote work much thought before now, here’s what you’ll need to do to set yourself up for success.

Basic Work-From-Home Requirements

Through our Work-From-Home Jobs Portal, The Penny Hoarder is constantly reviewing and vetting remote companies and job listings, and we’ve noticed some trends in home-office requirements.

Understanding these requirements may help you better prepare yourself for a shift to temporary remote work.

  1. A good computer

    Hopefully your work computer is a laptop that you can easily pack up. If it’s not, be sure the computer you’re switching to at home is able to run the software you need. Do a few tests beforehand to avoid in-the-moment technical issues.

  2. High-speed internet

    Your home internet connection is likely slower than your office’s. If your home WiFi is spotty, consider hardwiring your ethernet cable directly from the modem into your computer. When possible, reduce your bandwidth. During a teleconference, for example, you may have less latency issues if you turn off your webcam and go audio-only. Also consider dialing in to your Zoom meeting by phone to avoid internet problems altogether.

  3. A phone line

    You may be used to using a fancy office phone. For now, you might need to switch to your cell phone if you don’t have a landline. In addition to losing out on some useful features, the sound quality may not be as good. If you aren’t comfortable with using your personal phone number, you can set up a Google Voice number and sync it to your smartphone for free.

  4. A distraction-free work space

    This one may be obvious: You’ll need a little peace and quiet to get in the zone, right? As best as possible, try to curate a space to get your work done. Bonus points if your makeshift office has a door that you can close when you need to focus.

On top of the basics, your day-to-day duties in the office may require supplies you don’t have at home. Be sure to ask your employer how to handle certain scenarios, like printing and faxing. If you don’t already use a cloud-based system like Google Drive, be sure to fill up thumb drives with crucial documents. Or email them to yourself.

The Penny Hoarder reached out to several remote workers to compile our list of affordable home-office essentials. Chief among them: a comfortable office chair. If you don’t want to shell out money for a new one, try your local Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity, which typically carry office supplies.

If all else fails, there’s Facebook Marketplace.

The Work-From-Home Mindset

Working from home is often depicted as magical. Wake up 30 minutes before you log on! Work in your pajamas! From your couch! But veteran remote workers know that’s not sustainable.

For Ed Kim, a Korean resident, working remotely wasn’t exactly what he expected.

“I have been working from home the past month and it is boring,” Kim told The Penny Hoarder over LinkedIn. “Being stuck at home and not having face-to-face conversations is the hardest part for me.”

“Otherwise, it is nice saving time from my long commute,” he added.

To overcome feelings of isolation and lack of motivation due to remote work, implement these strategies throughout your day.

Get Ready in the Morning

A man gets dressed in the morning.
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The key to working from home effectively is to treat it as closely as you can to an office job. That means you should get up on time, shower, groom and get dressed appropriately. These habits can keep you motivated and focused.

Also, if there are any impromptu teleconferences, it’s probably best that you don’t look like you just woke up.

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Stay Social

One of the biggest downsides of remote work is the isolation. That’s why it’s important to stay in touch with your coworkers.

Loren Margolis, CEO of Training and Leadership Success, has been advising organizations that are transitioning their employees to remote work in light of the coronavirus. She recommends keeping the frequency of communication as close to normal as possible.

“Do you make it a point to stop by someone’s cubicle or office on your way back from the coffee machine? Set up a quick Slack or Zoom chat with them around the same time that you normally would,” Margolis said. “By maintaining your usual habits, working from home won’t feel so different.”

Give your coworkers a call (ask first). Schedule time just to chat if you need to. If your company doesn’t utilize Zoom or Slack, seek support elsewhere.

For example, a Redditor with ADHD reached out to the r/ADHD community for motivation when their university moved all classes online. Hundreds of people responded. The subreddit also has a channel on Discord, a free messaging tool similar to Slack, where members can chat with each other in real time for advice.

Eliminate Distractions

When you’re home, there’s the TV. The fridge. The pets. And if your community’s schools and companies close down amid virus fears, your kids and partner might be there with you.

“There are so many distractions at home that prevent you from being as productive as you are in the office,” Margolis said.

Pro Tip

Still can’t focus? Try these additional time-management tips to keep you on track while working remotely.

“Involve whoever else is in your house in setting you up for success,” Brie Reynolds of FlexJobs told The Penny Hoarder. “So whether you have a roommate, spouse, kids or your dog — whoever that might be — making sure that they know how this is going to change the way that they are interacting with you when they are home.”

Journalist Kristen Hare, writing for Poynter, shared tips based on more than a decade of experience working from home while raising two kids. She recommends not letting mental health fall to the wayside.

“If you’re dealing with anxiety about the coronavirus, your kids probably are, too,” she wrote.

To keep your kids occupied, Hare suggests various aged-based activities for babies, toddlers, grade schoolers and teens. Scheduling your high-priority tasks and meetings around those activities is crucial to staying productive. And there might be periods when you need to relax your rules about screen time. Don’t sweat it.

Take Breaks (Outside if Possible)

Giving yourself a break will keep you productive in the long run. If you don’t unplug, you’ll likely crash. 

Tamara Lush, a remote correspondent for The Associated Press, shared tips on Twitter for first-time remote workers.

“Resolve not to eat every meal in front of your computer screen. Attempt to eat lunch in another room. You will snack. Don’t beat yourself up about snacking. This is a stressful time and we all need to be gentle with ourselves. Now is not the time for food guilt,” she tweeted.

Just as important: creating a barrier between your work and life. Remote work makes that extra tricky, so be deliberate about it.

“Create a ritual when you’re done with work. Go for a walk outdoors, walk the dog, drink a cocktail. This creates space between your workday and your home life,” Lush advised.

Adam Hardy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. He covers the gig economy, entrepreneurship and unique ways to make money. Read his ​latest articles here, or say hi on Twitter @hardyjournalism.