Here’s some real advice from home office pros

While some of us are just dipping our toes into the big wide world of working from home, there are plenty of home office veterans who long ago perfected their isolation game. You’ll find lots of advice—have the right tech, set a schedule, don’t conduct a video conference in your bathrobe—but there’s more to the WFH life than that. We got up close and personal (remotely, obviously) with the experts: here’s how to set yourself up for solitary success. 

1. Let yourself be distracted

“It happens to the best of us—and the average-est of us and the worst of us,” says Curt Da Silva, co-founder of Threeline Trading, a Vancouver-headquartered startup specializing in algorithmic stock trading. The software engineer knows that getting sidetracked is inevitable when you’re at home, and that’s OK. “It's not something to be ashamed of when it happens, but do be aware of it,” Da Silva observes. “If you can, try to introspect a bit about why its happening.” He suggests challenging yourself to think about what’s causing the distraction. Are you feeling anxious about your work? A personal problem? The state of the world in general? “Knowledge is power in the fight to get shit done,” Da Silva says.

If you do find yourself distracted, he recommends getting other “non-work” work done: “I frequently will prep dinner for my partner and myself, take out the recycling or do the dishes when I’m feeling a bit too antsy.” Then it’s back to work work. 

2. Use a door to separate work and home

Susan Collins, principal of SMC Interior Design, says that literally separating work from home is her key to staying focused. “For me, it is very important to have a door on the office,” notes the North Vancouver–based interior designer. Having a barrier between your work life and home life helps to separate the two, and ensure that you’re not working too little—or too much.

If you have kids or other responsibilities that make this separation hard, Collins says a glass door is a great compromise. “It’s very helpful for my family; that way they can peek in and see if I’m busy without interrupting me or texting me, and I can hand-signal them if I’m on the phone.” The best part of having an office door? For Collins, it’s that extra-tangible feeling at the end of each day: “I really like closing it when I’m done.” 

3. Dress for the job you have

If you start work at 9:00 and set your alarm for 8:59, you’re doing it wrong, Jordan Sanders says. The Vancouver resident has worked from home as a consultant, and even though he didn’t technically have to get out of his pyjamas to work, he realized he was much more productive that way. “If you work in your pyjamas, you’ll end up feeling a bit lazy or sloppy,” Sanders explains. “I think I work as well as I dress—when I wear something that’s a little more formal, that’s going to translate into the work I am doing.”

Sanders also stresses the importance of getting some face time (or FaceTime) in with your coworkers, even if you’re not allowed within two metres of each other. He would make time to talk over the phone, chat over Skype or just check in with his colleagues to keep himself sane. “Even if it wasn’t necessarily about work that day, I just wanted to make sure I was socializing a bit.”

4. Hit that “speaker” button

Dan Barham, senior program manager for work styles and business unit engagement at Telus Corp., suggests using a speaker phone or headset during phone calls—hands-free chats allow you to move around, and it’s probably no surprise that wedging your phone between your shoulder and neck can cause muscle strain. “If you’re sharing a space with others, mute yourself when you’re not talking to prevent random background noise,” Barham says. Ideally, your company has their phone system setup using a Cloud PBX, so you aren't stuck using your own personal smartphone.

5. Set ground rules with your partner

By now you’ve probably seen the viral article stating that divorce rates spiked in China as a result of couples being quarantined together. That’s kind of extreme, but sharing a space with your partner 24/7 is something to keep in mind if both of you are working from home. Vivian Tang, a graphic designer for Vancouver-based Point Blank Creative, recommends setting guidelines and boundaries with your partner when your home becomes your coworking space—communicate with each other, even if that means not communicating at all. “For example, earbuds in means that they don’t want to be disturbed,” Tang says. “You can also just let other people know that you’re about to do some deep focus work and not to disturb you.”

Still, Tang also recommends taking advantage of having someone to hang out with during your break times. “It’s nice to coordinate your lunches and breaks together and chat about non-work-related things.”

6. Get creative with your workspace

Having a designated room for work is ideal, but not everyone has a home office...or even a spare room. “I live in a studio apartment,and don’t have a desk, so I had to be creative,” says Vancouver-based lifestyle blogger Vicki Duong. Duong works at her dining table. But just as some experts say that you shouldn’t work from bed (it can affect your posture, productivity and sleep), Duong doesn’t want to work in her eating space—maintaining a work/eat balance is also important, folks. The solution? “I work at my dining table, but I sit facing one direction for working and another for dining,” says Duong, “and that allows me to be in 'work mode.’”

7. Enjoy a change of scenery

Being stuck in one chair all day is less productive and effective than moving around, says Igor Trninic, managing director of Vancouver-headquartered Breakthrough Academy, which offers business training to home services companies. Even if you have a great home office setup, adding some variety can keep you from feeling restless. I’ll often read and reply to emails or Slack in the morning on a nice patio, then do focused meetings in my home office, and walk around outside while on headphones if it’s a regular phone call, Trninic says. Fresh air and sunshine are always better than a closed-off room.