by Israel Steinmetz

I don’t currently work at home, but I have at various times over the past ten years as an employee of Artios Christian College. Working from home comes with a host of unique challenges and opportunities. For many people, they’re encountering this unique situation for the first time recently as a result of COVID-19. Here are 5 quick tips for working from home that have helped me as I’ve worked from home:

Tip #1 – Carve out space

I’ve been in full-time ministry for over fifteen years. Ministry is one of those jobs that tends to come home with you if you don’t set careful boundaries. So, I’ve tried to leave my work at the door when I come home so I can focus on my first ministry—my wife and children. But what if you’re working from home?

My best recommendation is to carve out a space in your house that can be set aside for work, at least for the hours you plan to work. Ideally, this space would be relatively quiet, have a door that can close, and have a comfortable workstation that matches your responsibilities. Having a specific and functional space where you work every day will do wonders for your ability to focus and be productive.

Tip #2 – Carve out time

The great thing about working from home is that you can often set your own hours. The terrible thing about working from home is that you can often set your own hours! The truth is that we are social creatures and much of what we do in a day is driven by social structures, specifically the expectations and approval of those around us. When you have a set schedule and a workplace with coworkers, the strongest social pressures tend to be to stay on task and do your work in the assigned time. But when you’re home, the strongest social pressures tend to be to spend time with your family or work on personal tasks and household chores. Or, to just binge-watch the latest season of your favorite show!

So, create a schedule that allows you to be a faithful and responsible employee. Depending upon your work-from-home scenario, you may already be required to spend certain hours working. In other cases you’ll be responsible for getting your work done in a set amount of time or putting in a certain number of hours. Whatever the case, carve out a specific schedule for each workday of the week and stick to that schedule as faithfully as possible.

Tip #3 – Create rules (which create exceptions)

Workplaces create a corporate culture in large part to support the productivity of employees. This can look very different depending upon the job and the values of the leadership. I’ve visited traditional companies with hundreds of employees partitioned off into cubicles in a big room surrounded by closed-door offices for executives. Each person is expected to stay in their little bubble and not engage in any behavior that would intrude on another bubble.

I’ve visited a tech start-up loft in downtown San Francisco with an open floor plan where people stand at workstations facing one another, a few steps away from a breakroom that would rival most boutique cafes, and a room set aside just for spontaneous ping pong and foosball breaks! I’ve worked on farms and in factories and in direct-sales and in church offices. Every place has a unique set of rules to facilitate the goals of the organization.

Effectively accomplish your responsibilities

So, create a set of rules for your home workplace that allow you to effectively accomplish your responsibilities. This will include rules about noise, interruptions/distractions, lunch breaks, dress code, productivity and creativity, etc. Be intentional about creating these rules and communicating these rules to those you share the home with.

And then understand that the creation of a rule sparks the creation of a dozen exceptions. And that’s okay. What is important is that habits and cultures are created in which it is clear what is a regular way of doing things versus an occasional and unpredictable interruption of those rules. If it’s against the rules for a child to come into the workspace asking for help from you instead of the other parent, then this should not be happening on a regular basis. If it is happening on a regular basis, your child is making the rules, not you!

Tip #4 – Go to work!

Humans are complex creatures who rely on habits, routines, non-verbal signals, and all sorts of complex ties between thought and emotion to control our behaviors. There are certain things that you can do to help yourself be consistently motivated and productive in your work. And some of these things will seem completely unnecessary when working from home, but the most unnecessary things may end up being the secret to remaining a faithful worker from home.

So, I challenge you to treat working from home as much like working away from home as possible. Set an alarm to wake yzzou up or signal that it is time to transition from home/family life to work. Get up and brush your teeth, take a shower, and put on clean clothes.

Consider holding yourself to a work wardrobe even while working from home. I know this may seem strange, but our clothes send signals to our brain. Working in your pajamas sends a signal to your brain that it’s time to go to bed! Comfortable as it may be, it’s rarely going to help you focus on work, particularly if you’re like me and your bed is a short distance from your office!

Send yourself other signals to let yourself know it’s time to work. Maybe this means limiting your access to food to the times and types you’d have at your away-from-home workplace. Maybe this means scheduling lunch breaks to occur at set times and even packing your lunch ahead of time. What it comes down to is this. Your brain is going to believe that you are home, because you’re home. It’s up to you to trick it into believing you’re at work when working from home.

Tip # 5 – Have mercy

While some of us love working from home and had already chosen it before COVID-19, I’m writing to those who were recently forced into working from home against their will and without preparation or training. If that’s you, you’re probably feeling frustrated, overwhelmed, even depressed. It’s likely that conflict with your spouse, children, or roommates has increased. Your productivity is likely down and your anxiety is likely up. Some of you are in survival mode. Many of you don’t have the luxury of the guidelines I’ve listed above, trapped in a space that is too small with people that are too small and far less control than you wish you had.

Have mercy. Have mercy on yourself. Have mercy on your family and roommates and distance co-workers. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Extend grace to everyone, knowing you’re all in a difficult and unexpected position. Breathe. Ask God to relieve the tension, and stress, and conflict, and anxiety. Know that it’s normal and natural to struggle in a situation like this.

Grieve. Release. Pray.

It takes time to create a new normal and it’s okay if the new normal never quite feels right. It’s okay to miss the break that work gave you from taking care of kids, and to miss adult conversation, and to miss human interaction with coworkers. It’s alright to miss your routine and your desk and your breakroom and all the things you used to take for granted. Grieve. Release. Pray. Keep moving forward and keep giving yourself and others as much slack as you possibly can. This is a marathon, not a sprint. And as a wise person once said, “This thing we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.”