As creative professionals, gig workers, freelancers, and small business owners, many of us are familiar with the challenges and benefits of working remotely from home. In fact, according to Gallup’s article from March 2020, 43% of U.S. employees already worked remotely some or all of the time and studies show remote workers can even be more productive and profitable than in-house employees. Yet there’s a learning curve to remote work, and those of us who’ve recently made the transition are discovering which practices translate from office to home—and which need to be reimagined altogether. One of the biggest considerations being how to create routines and boundaries when there is no longer a commute to physically separate home and work.
Here, veteran and novice work-from-homers share best practices and new approaches to respond to the interwoven demands of the professional and personal while working from home.
“It’s okay if you don’t feel productive. We are all recalibrating to a new normal,” offered experienced work-from-homer Becky Simpson, who is an art director for Tubby Todd and runs her own illustration practice. As one of two previously remote people on her team, Becky said the first week of her entire team working from home was an adjustment and she had to be more “on” than usual, but she is grateful to have work and didn’t mind being more available as everyone recalibrated.
For NYC-based Alice Katter, a social community strategist with her own consultancy, the recent shift to working from home has also required her to be more “on.” Increased demands for real-time virtual interactions with her team of freelancers means calls and video chats are now on the calendar for what might have previously been solved via email. Although Katter is used to working remotely, she notes that those on her team who are not acclimated to it often feel more connected with higher levels of interaction as they transition.
Art director and lettering artist, Danielle Evans, who has been working from home for eight years, also noticed increased expectations for availability. “We’re physically removed, but now digitally and virtually on top of each other.” Over the weekend, Danielle received an email with a request and then had a follow-up email in her inbox on Monday morning to ask if she’d received the previous message. Danielle emphasized that if we want to be productive and healthy work-from-homers, it’s going to take a greater amount of work to set boundaries because the assumption is that we’re connected to our devices 24/7.
As Head of Design at I&CO in Gowanus, Brooklyn, Lucia Orlandi works with a team of 20 people and has been pleasantly surprised by the positive outcomes she’s experienced working from home. Collectively, her team is doing their best to reduce the need for additional meetings. Individually, she has an increased sense of autonomy to organize her day and has felt more focused during work hours. She credits this to having better boundaries around her workday.
Easing into routines and setting boundaries that help separate professional and personal was a recurring theme with each work-from-homer I spoke with, whether seasoned or newly minted. Here are our five takeaways for easing into routines and reimagining boundaries.
1. Separate home and work with a ritual.
Creating a simple ritual to help transition into work, even without a physical commute, can be a helpful practice. Becky Simpson noted that clear transitions are especially important if you don’t have a home office or separate space to work from. Becky’s morning ritual includes not checking her phone for the first hour she’s awake, and instead taking time for meditation or exercise. In the evening, she doesn’t check her phone after 9pm. Danielle Evans and Alice Katter also employ morning rituals rather than jumping straight into work. Evans noted that although she’s worked from home for eight years, she is purposefully starting slower to “get her head right” before diving into work, which might include exercise, making breakfast, or a call with a friend. Alice has found that staying as close as possible to her “normal” morning routine of shower, breakfast, and exercise helps her mentally underscore personal time before work.
2. Proactively set your agenda.
Having a list to choose from can reduce paralysis about where to start. For art director Simpson, a start-of-the-week brain dump on Monday helps her clarify priorities for the week. At the end of each workday, she follows up on her list to make a schedule for the following day. Although she gives herself permission to pivot from her agenda or delay an item if needed, having a structure to follow when she begins work in the morning helps her knock out the most important items first. Additionally, Katter adds that she assigns different client projects to specific days to increase her ability to focus and set clients’ expectations for when she’s available.
3. Block off time to disconnect.
Blocking off time on the calendar, even if it’s 15 minutes, to do something unrelated to work can help establish a sense of autonomy over the workday. Consultancy founder Lucia Orlandi didn’t realize how much time she previously spent at her desk. When working at the office, she’d quickly grab food and eat in front of her computer. Now working from home, she blocks off time to cook herself lunch and take a midday break.
4. Accept that boundaries will blur.
“I try to remind myself it’s a balance,” said Evans. She noted that while working from home, productivity can look like cleaning your workspace or preparing meals. Boundaries are important, but they will also sometimes blur. With that in mind, Evans suggests having two or three work-related tasks you can cross off to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Prioritizing a few tasks that matter each day can relieve pressure and help you create momentum for the next day.
5. Take care of yourself outside of work.
Self-care routines are a vital foundation for work and overall health, whether that means re-establishing an abandoned practice or starting a new one. Each of the work-from-homers I spoke with shared multiple practices they’ve found helpful.
Alice Katter has recently started meditating using the Headspace app, something she’s wanted to do for “ages.” Limiting news and social media was another theme that arose as Orlandi and Simpson both mentioned they’ve reduced the number of times they check in each day because there’s a threshold where it’s not helpful to have more information. Evans encouraged making time in the day for creative interests outside of work, whatever they might be. “Nourish those right now,” she said. For her, it’s baking and cooking, which reminds her of her ability to make beautiful things as well as nourish herself.
With the transition to remote work, the ability to create rituals and boundaries to separate personal and professional becomes more necessary as they are no longer built into a commute or physical office. As each of us develops a practice that addresses our individual needs, it can be helpful to focus on the small changes we can make in our day-to-day that will have a big impact: morning rituals, prioritizing our agendas, disconnecting for brief moments throughout the day, accepting that the boundaries won’t be black-and-white, and, most importantly, finding ways to nourish ourselves outside of work so that we can show up fully when we’re on the clock.