How to Work From Home for the First Time
Wondering how to work from home for the first time, with the best tips to succeed, stay productive and stay focused? Find the best practices for working from home with this 2020 guide.
“Working from home” makes you picture working from bed, hanging out in pajamas, looking out the window being so glad you’re not crammed in a subway, or in your car, starting your commute, but this isn’t so accurate for people who work from home and take work seriously.
Working from home means doing your same job, but not in the office. As the future of remote work nears us, this is reality for a lot of professionals already.
If you have to work from home because your company is ‘going remote,’ or you switched jobs, or if personal matters made this a more workable option for you, listen in. We’re going to tell you a few ways to start working from home and how to re-imagine work from your new home office.
Are you and your partner, or spouse, both working from home for the first time? See our survival tips for couples in which both partners work from home.
Looking for some new apps and websites to add to your repertoire? See our list of apps that help you work remotely when you scroll through this article about remote work productivity tools.
What’s the difference between working from home and working remotely?
“Working from home” is the phrase typically given to one of two things. The first is a temporary action of working in your home, rather than the office, maybe due to extraordinary circumstances like a hurricane or snowstorm.
As an example, I feel like you’d say, “The roads aren’t plowed, so I’m working from home today.”
Second, working from home can mean working remotely as a more permanent situation, but specifically from one’s place of residence. Some people are the single (or one of few) remote employees in a larger company that has tangible office addresses. They work from home because their skills are needed, and they happen to not be located within a commutable distance from said office.
Working remotely is (to me) more of a permanent circumstance. Some people work remotely by choice, and conversely, some don’t.
Working remotely seems to be something millennials want because it represents freedom – freedom to work from somewhere that specifically is not home, nor an office. While this of course applies to non-millennials too, it’s common to say you’re “working remotely” if it’s from a cafe, a place you’re traveling or living abroad, or lastly, a coworking space.
Working remotely, or being a remote worker, can also become a mindset of sorts. If you’ve been out of a traditional office long enough, you start standing by the ideas that “work doesn’t have to take place in an office” and that time spent behind a desk next to a colleague doesn’t necessarily mean you were doing work the whole time anyway (yikes).
How to be successful working from home for the first time
Your first time working from home will be a productive success if you put your mind to your goals and remember that work can happen anywhere. Remember that avoiding burning is possible if you stay positive.
Start with these helpful tips for starting a work from home schedule and lifestyle.
Maintain your morning schedule.
That’s right – wake up when you typically would (and that goes for going to bed at the same hour as well), unless you typically wake up at 5 am to commute, which you won’t have to do now!
Keeping the same routine helps you to avoid feeling lethargic and tired if you sleep in until your first meeting by phone at 9 am that you take from bed. That’s not a great idea.
Take a shower before sitting down to work.
Taking a shower is a way to wake up. If you’re a morning shower-er, then it’s part of your morning routine as well. Try to keep your morning routine as close to your go-into-the-office routine as you typically would, minus the ‘getting ready to commute.’
Make your morning coffee and have it ready.
If you’re addicted to coffee like I am, having a coffee means that the day has begun.
If I’m not in my first meeting or writing my first email with a coffee in hand, chances are that my brain isn’t fully turned on.
Find a way to make coffee at home, whether by Chemex, pourover or essentially anything but a K-cup (so wasteful). For more ideas on coffee brewing, and how to do it perfectly, maybe you’ll want to see how we took a coffee brewing class with an expert teacher here in NYC.
Put on clothes that are not pajamas.
Being in pajamas will likely make you feel unprofessional. To have your most professional and office-ready voice turned on, put on some real pants and even a blouse, if that is what you’re used to. Anything more messy or reminiscent of what you slept in will make you feel slow, sleepy and less-prepared for doing work.
Create a designated space in your home for working.
This is one of the hardest parts, especially if you live in a small apartment. If you have an extra room, a guest room or a large dining table or counter, you’re in luck.
If you’re gearing up to work from home on a long term basis (and if you own your own business) you may be able to write off a portion of your home office!
For the rest of us in small apartments, wherever we are, we recommend getting a small writing table. If you think desks are boring, look at this truly awesome retro writing table Affiliate link and this white wood study writing desk Affiliate link that we have in our living room in the corner.
If you’re trying to set up more than a laptop for work, you may need something more sturdy than a writing table. Writing tables are great because they don’t take a lot of space. If you add an external monitor, keyboard and mouse to the equation, your setup might start to shake a bit as you’re working.
You’ll want to have a surface that’s fit for typing at, and one that comfortably fits an ergonomic desk chair. If you start trying to work for 8 hours or more at your coffee table or worse, from your bed, you’ll see why this is a) not great for your body and b) not conducive to being productive.
Check out our article on how to be productive while working from home!
Make sure your home is well-connected, or work from the part with the best internet.
At my parents’ house, despite being a house with two in-home offices, the WiFi works better in one room (for my laptop) than in others. I’ve noticed this because it’s pretty clear, so if I have a call that’s taking place over WiFi or I’m doing a big download/upload, I’ll go to my favorite strong WiFi spot.
If you live in a house where WiFi reaches some rooms better than it does for others, consider this when you set up your home office. As a fix, look into WiFi extenders or this system from Amazon Affiliate link.
One more thing about WiFi: If you’re working from home with other family members, roommates or kids, request that they do not hog your WiFi bandwidth during work hours. “Hogging” happens by watching movies or using high bandwiths for gaming. Ask them to play later!
Decide which types of work-from-home products you may need.
No one said working from home would be automatically comfortable. For this reason, we’ve collected a few fun ‘remote work’ gadgets over the years, and they make our work-from-home experience all the more successful, when we’re indeed working from home.
Dan has what he calls the ‘remote work starter pack,’ which we’ll detail as follows.
If you’re lost for ideas on how to make your home office feel more like a ‘real office,’ or at least something better than the desk in the corner you were storing plants on (wait a second…), then check these out:
- The best work-from-home keyboard: The wireless and rechargeable Apple Magic Keyboard Affiliate link
- Bluetooth rechargeable mechanical keyboard Anne Pro 2 Affiliate link
- Speed-adaptive Scroll Wheel Mouse: the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse Affiliate link
- The work-from-home adjustable and portable Roost Laptop Stand Affiliate link
- Over-the-ear wireless bluetooth Sony noise-cancelling headphones Affiliate link
Evaluate your workspace after your first day working from home.
After your first day, acknowledge how it went:
- Did your WiFi pull through for that hour-long conference call?
- Do you have a hand cramp from using a laptop mouse? Would buying a different mouse fix that?
- Do you need to invest in a second monitor to mimic the setup you have in the office?
Do a little shopping for products that will enhance working from home.
Consider which types of things you can easily purchase online in order to re-create a comfortable office environment in your home. Everyone will have different budget, space and design considerations. For us, because we don’t have that much space, here are some additional items that help us work more productively.
- Dan uses an iPad as a second monitor. When it’s not being used for a second screen, it’s well, an iPad. We’ll use the iPad to watch videos and other iPad-y stuff.
- We couldn’t work without being hydrated. We couldn’t be hydrated without our SodaStream Affiliate link. It’s a must for us.
- Our house plants help bring our make-shift office come to life. If you struggle to keep house plants alive, consider some fake house plants Affiliate link.
This is something you can keep assessing as you work from home for more time. There’s no right answer to this, as everyone’s needs and preferences are unique.
Minimize distractions while working from home.
Let’s talk about distractions. There are lots of them when you work from home. For me, the biggest distractions are cooking, cleaning and snacking.
If it makes sense to you, clean before you officially start your day, and after it ends. Try not to use cleaning as an excuse to procrastinate.
For cooking, tell yourself that you can cook lunch during your lunch break (which you will set aside for yourself).
Snacks should be prepared quickly, as to not hole you into your kitchen for a half hour.
Pro Tip: Turn off the TV. You won’t realize until later how much time you save by those moments when you crane your head to watch the end of a show or catch a captivating commercial. Skip the news, and catch up later.
Figure out how you’ll take your ‘lunch break.’
Now we can talk about taking lunch breaks when you work from home.
If you typically ‘break’ for lunch around noon, then try to do that at home (pending meeting schedules!). If you don’t typically break at all (NYC style), then guess what – maybe you finally have time to step out for a walk, or cook a new recipe right over in your kitchen.
Set aside scheduled snack times.
One of my issues I’m trying to fix when I work at home is snacking all the time and working that into my remote work schedule.
One way I’m fixing this is by having only so many snack-able foods. I’m very into health, so for me, these are items like grapes, carrots, baby tomatoes or maybe a bowl of oatmeal with a banana that takes five minutes to make.
The key is not to snack all the time, as you can see how it cuts into your productivity and focus.
Choose a break-time activity.
If it’s cold out, or too hot out, or if there’s rain or snow or too much fog, do an activity at home instead of going out for your lunch break.
I like to lay out a yoga mat and do some stretching. Other people (Dan) like to break with a (educational or informational) video on YouTube. Everyone has their own things they like to do when they take breaks, but as you know, it’s proven that breaks help with focus over an entire day.
Pick a fitness activity from our guide to fitness for when you work from home. You may be surprised at how many active break-time activities are at your disposal!
Put your phone far away, seriously.
If my phone is next to me, I touch it a lot. I check my messages, WhatsApps, Instagram DMs, e-mails, Slack messages, you name it. It can get out of hand.
Plug your phone into a charger in your bedroom, or bury it in the couch, so that you can do what you’re being paid to do. This helps with (see? I just picked my phone because it was sitting right here) staying on top of your tasks.
Keep in touch with colleagues regularly.
Talk to colleagues over Skype for Business, Slack or Microsoft Teams – however your organization communicates within its employee base.
Checking in to say, “Hi, how was your weekend?” or “How was your dog’s birthday party?” are perfectly friendly things to say to colleagues over company messenger platforms, in order to be as friendly as you would at the water cooler.
Be present with your colleagues, while working from home.
Let working from home give you another way to be present. The best way to do this is to stay in touch with coworkers and your team, as mentioned above, but to also be assertive.
In being present, virtually, make it clear to your manager or your direct reports when you’ve “entered the office” for the day, and when you plan to leave, or be offline.
Clearly express if you’ll be out of office for a day, or if you have to step away to run an errand (a very natural part of having a work-from-home life).
Lastly, don’t be shy about getting on the phone. This is the best way to be real and human, and to remember that everyone else in your organization or within your team is real and human as well.
Remember that your actions and results count more than before.
One of the most unfortunate things about offices is that people tend to think if you come in early and stay late, that you’re working hard.
This is true some of the time, or maybe half the time. If you goof off or procrastinate during a lot of the work day, that may be exactly why you need to stay late. What people see, naturally, turns into what they think, and if everyone sees Joe come in at 8:45 am and stay past 8:45 pm, it must mean Joe is working a ton and being awesome.
When you work from home, no one sees you roll into the office, and no one sees you jet off, either. Consider this as a type of liberation. It’s time for your colleagues to recognize you for what you accomplish, not how impressively short your lunch break is.
When the day is done, hop on social media to feel connected.
If you were home alone all day working from home, you may want to get caught up on ‘what everyone’s doing.’ Take the time after the day is done to catch up on all your media.
If your friends are nearby, then great! Make plans with friends, or go to a cafe, bookshop or workout class, to have some REAL human interaction! If you aren’t already a member of a gym, join one! Dan goes to CrossFit and enjoys the community aspect of group classes.
Treat yourself to a daily reward for finishing the business day.
Are you good at self control? Could your daily reward possibly be a spoonful of ice cream or sorbet you keep in the freezer for telling yourself you’ve completed another day of work at home?
Maybe you’re so good at self control that when 5 or 6 pm rolls around, you can finally go on @halfhalftravel’s Instagram 😉 or watch that YouTube video about cooking you’ve been dying to see.
Leave work ‘at work,’ and enjoy your evening as you typically would.
This is one of the biggest challenges of working from home, and it’s one of the challenges that remote workers face all the time.
How do you leave ‘work’ at work, if work is now at home?
This is why the home office room or corner of a room comes in handy. When you’re no longer required to be online or taking a meeting, let that room or writing desk chill out, knowing that you’ll be there tomorrow.
Use your couch or bedroom as places that are therefore off-limits for work, in order to create a healthy separation that you can enjoy.
Look forward to doing it again the next day!
This is your work from home life and it’s going to be okay. Breathe, keep these tips in mind and also give yourself time to relax and unwind by going to events in your area, seeing friends and taking part in your favorite hobbies or leisure activities.
For us, this means taking time to go to the gym, go for runs, meet a friend for a networking event or organize a fun outing.
Do you miss your office yet?
You might miss the snacks or the freezing A/C or the unlimited coffee, but isn’t working from home kind of okay?
Remember that there’s so much more to life (like traveling the world!) than work, so even if your home becomes your office, set aside another area for entertainment, fitness, relaxing and family, pets or roommates.
Also, be happy that you’re probably being so eco-friendly by slashing the bus ride or car ride to work! You’re saving hours off your life every day you’re working from home.
Remote work tips for remote workers
- Our best tips for remote work while traveling
- If you’re able to move around and work remotely from various locations, see how you can network with these remote worker networking ideas
- Can you work from a coworking space rather than your home office? See why this is a helpful thing to look into.
- Planning to do some remote work while traveling? Check out our crucial packing list for traveling remote workers.
- If traveling around the world is an option for you and your job, check out our favorite travel program for remote workers as an alternative to working from home.
- Lastly, these are the best cities for remote workers if you have it in you to try living in a new city and working from home.