This was a bad year in all kinds of ways, but perhaps no institution suffered quite as shocking a blow as the physical office space. Tips for managing your commute or navigating office politics were understandably replaced by tips for optimising how to work from your couch.
In the beginning of March, no one could have foreseen the ascendency of Zoom, or just how many video chats would take place between then and the beginning of the biggest vaccination program in history. Nine months later, and tons of major companies have ensured that working from home will be the norm going forward, even if we’ve slowly grown disillusioned with rolling out of bed and logging on while still in our underwear.
As the new year creeps up, you’re going to want to prepare yourself to continue working in close proximity to where you sleep. Let’s refresh some of the best working from home advice we gathered this year.
You should still use vacation time
First things first, and that’s vacation. Just because the lines between work and your personal life have been blurred, it doesn’t mean that holidays don’t exist. Even if you can’t wander around Europe or spread out on a beach, you still need to mentally decompress — maybe even more these days, given the dire state of things.
As Kenadi Silcox explained at Money.com earlier this year, you’ve still got a few options at your disposal:
Think of a regular vacation you’d take. When you splay out on the beach or read by the pool, the intention is to relax. A day off at home might not feel the same, but if you’ve spent the last few weeks working overtime, putting aside some time to just veg out in front of the TV isn’t a bad idea.
If you’ve ever wanted an excuse to spend the day on your couch, or take that staycation you’ve always been flirting with, this is most certainly it.
Stop a Zoom-bomb
Having your Zoom call hacked, or “bombed,” as the term has come to be known, occurs when a malicious actor disrupts the shared video feed with something that you frankly don’t want to see — and that’s a polite way of putting it.
If there’s a way to decrease the chance of some delinquent keyboard warrior throwing your conference call into chaos, you should figure out how to do it. As we reported earlier this year, a new security update accounted for Zoombombings, and there’s a series of steps you can take to implement the new tools.
Boost morale with Slack group-hangs
In the Before Times, working life could get monotonous, even with the daily office mingling you’d occasionally get. Working from home, however, can breed whole new levels of boredom if you’re alone and staring at a screen eight hours a day. It’s likely that you and your coworkers will sometimes need to boost your shared morale, even if you’re not in the same space.
Luckily, Slack can help, and not just in the way it normally does. Our Senior Tech Editor David Murphy explained how to program a bot to remind you and your coworkers to take regular water cooler breaks. And even if it feels like you can’t escape Slack’s constant dings vying for your attention, you’ll probably appreciate this one.
Look professional on video chats
You have to look presentable before you hop on that work video call. It’s the pandemic equivalent of entering a real-life meeting room, and your bosses probably want to at least believe that you occasionally put on real pants during the week, or not wonder whether or not you do.
Since I always wear pants and comb my hair, this isn’t really for me, but it might be useful for you: As Managing Editor Joel Cunningham wrote earlier this year:
Hand Mirror is a Mac app that lives in your toolbar and allows you to perform a quick one-step check on the view from your webcam. Click the little mirror icon to instantly open a widow that offers a peek at whatever your webcam can see right now, allowing you a chance to smooth down your cowlick or move your underwear off of the bed behind you.
Download it to see what your co-workers see when they see you on Zoom. It’ll help you hide all the embarrassing stuff in your house you may have forgotten about.
Create a designated workspace at home
Work in the same place every day. It’ll help you separate work from the rest of your life, which is incredibly hard when you’re working where you live. One method that might sound a little kooky but can definitely instill some discipline? Use masking tape to separate where you work from where you do everything else. As productivity expert Nicole Bate explained earlier this year, this will help on multiple fronts:
Masking tape an area on the floor. Stay in it for 90 minute chunks of time, then take a break: get outside, rain or shine. Then back to the office.
You might raise an eyebrow or two when your spouse or roommate sees you taping the floor, but setting the boundary can definitely help you stay away from work when working hours are over.
Create a looping video of yourself for Zoom meetings
Playing hooky is way harder with your web cam switched on. Luckily, with a little bit of trickery you can create a looping video of yourself to make it seem like you’re present for that all-hands meeting when in fact you’re somewhere else.
It’s a long-ish process, but it’ll be all worth it for that snooze-fest of a meeting that serves more as a distraction than anything pertinent to your actual job. Lord knows we all have these meetings, so why not insert some Ferris Bueller-level hijinks into your work-from-home repertoire?
Find your most productive time of day
Everyone works differently depending upon the time of day. I find myself most creative and ambitious in the morning after a strong cup of coffee. My wife, on the other hand, is most industrious well after night fall.
Your circadian rhythm — the body’s internal cycle between sleep and full wakefulness — affects your productivity and overall ability to work in very real ways. That’s why you should try to figure out what time of work best suits you for plugging away at work — and luckily, there are some precise ways to figure that out.
Find the perfect Zoom background
In 2020, everyone’s presence in the office has been reduced to a grainy square on a computer monitor. You’re unable to assert your personality, or crack any of those trademark office quips you’ve become so renowned for. In lieu, of all these remnants from the Before Time, you might want to compensate with a great Zoom background.
These can be funny, but they can also be classy and tasteful. If you want to get it absolutely right, there’s a few pointers you should probably be aware of. It’ll add a little visual flair to your next monotonous meeting.