How To Make It Look Like You're Working From Home When You're Not

I’ve been working from home for a number of years now, and there are few things more satisfying than being able to do your laundry and get work done instead of having to waste your precious evening hours on chores. It’s the one silver lining of the coronavirus—the hope that maybe, just maybe, some companies will relax their anti-WFH policies a bit and allow employees to take advantage of the extra productivity (and world’s easiest commute).

Of course, you can also take advantage of working from home to, well, not do a lot of work. It’s not the most ethical thing to do, but I’m not here to judge. Maybe you’ve been putting in a ton of time at work and you want to carve out a little time for yourself. Perhaps you’re just lazy, or it’s a nice day outside and you want to take advantage of it. Whatever the reason, it’s easy to conceal your loafing.

Keep yourself from going idle

Depending on what apps you’re using to communicate with your coworkers—Slack, let’s say—it’s possible that they might register you as idle in some way when you’re away from your desk (for whatever reason). If you’re planning a small trip to the grocery store, or an afternoon movie, and you don’t want whatever apps you’re using to rat you out, you’ll want to find a way to make it appear as if you’re at your desk.

Screenshot: David Murphy

Caffeinated is a great tool that you can use to keep your monitor on when you’re away from your desk, which might be all you need to do—provided you also keep whatever app you’re using in focus. If you need to supplement that with a little mouse movement, something like Auto Mouse Mover or Move Mouse could work. You could also hunt around to see if the apps you use have specific third-party utilities that can help you appear present, like the wonderfully named Slackoff or Slack Presence.

You could also be a total badass and put your mouse on top of your wristwatch.

Let your computer “start your day” while you sleep

Here’s a fun one. You should be able to have your computer automatically power on at a certain time each day—at least, most computers should have this setting buried somewhere in their BIOS. If so, set it up for the start of your workday, or even a few minutes before it, and have whatever applications your team uses to communicate start up when your operating system launches. On Windows, use Task Scheduler to set this up or drop app shortcuts in your Startup folder; on macOS, you can have the app “Open at login.” (You’ll also want to set your system to log in automatically.)

Screenshot: David Murphy

Combine that with an app like Caffeine or one of the aforementioned mouse jigglers, and you’ll be able to catch a little extra shut-eye while everyone else sees you as active, online, and “working.”

Consider how you respond on different platforms

I absolutely love this advice from Intelligencer’s Brian Feldman, where he describes the importance of thinking about how you actually type. Yes, you probably have a different way of talking when you’re sitting at your desktop or laptop, at work, then you do when you’re on your phone, “working” from afar. You need to marry these two worlds so nobody can tell where you are when, all of a sudden, you become a punctuation champion during random points of the day.

As Feldman writes:

“For instance — hypothetically, not saying I’ve done this, and obviously I never would, because I am a good employee who is always working and focused — let’s say it’s easier to make a Trader Joe’s run in the middle of the day when the store is less crowded. So you, this hypothetical person, dip out for maybe 45 minutes to grab some snacks and stuff. But you want to seem like you’re still participating on Slack, so you check in on the mobile app and keep participating like you’re in a group text. Again, I’ve personally never done this and I resent the insinuation.

The problem is, your phone keeps capitalising words. Everyone else receiving your messages immediately knows that you’ve stepped away from your computer. This is why it’s important to get in the habit of not fixing typos on your phone and, in some cases, actively making mistakes.”

This is brilliant, and something even I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I was sending Slack replies on my phone. While it also requires a somewhat eagle-eyed coworker (or boss) to notice your conversational change, why risk it? Talk like a teenager everywhere, and nobody will be the wiser.

Remove your ugly, work-from-home mess from video calls

You’re called into a video conference, but you don’t want your coworkers to see the leftovers of that rager party you threw last night. Or maybe you’re messy AF, or are setting up a party that you plan to be attending while casually checking in with “work” on your laptop.

Screenshot: Zoom

Regardless of the reason, it never hurts to ditch the background whenever you’re on a video call. If your webcam can’t do this automatically (most don’t), you have plenty of software solutions. Chromacam is a great option, as is XSplit VCam—both cost cash for their full versions, unfortunately. Zoom has a Virtual Background feature that you can enable within its settings, assuming your team uses that app to chat. You might even be able to use Streamlabs OBS to strip the background from your webcam feed and send that to another application, like Skype. I haven’t experimented with this, but it’s worth investigating.

Set up device notifications for your team’s critical apps

It almost goes without saying, but the best way to work from home—and work from not-at-your-desk—is to make sure you’ve installed the mobile apps for any services your team uses. And once you’ve done that, make sure you’re getting notifications on your smartphone or tablet in addition to (or replacing) any you’d otherwise get on your desktop or laptop.

Right now, I’m mainly thinking of Slack’s handy notifications setting that pings your device whenever you’re inactive for a moment (or a few minutes). You can also receive emails when you get mentions or direct messages, in case you’d rather be bothered that way.

Screenshot: David Murphy

However you set them up, make sure that you have some kind of way to check in and answer questions when you’re loafing off; if a coworker has to wait an hour for a reply when you’re “at your desk,” they’re going to suspect something—unless you’ve set a clever “in a meeting” or “at lunch” away message on whatever communications platform you use.


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