Work from home is having a moment right now. Not just because more companies have pivoted to a work from home and work remote model, but because the world is changing and how we work has to change with it.
My wife Cayley and I founded Made Trade in 2018, and we’ve been working from home together for the past four years, long before we started this company together. Our ability to work and live together confounds some, while others (who have worked remote) get it right away. In light of the growing work from home movement we decided to compile the lessons we’ve learned over the past four years of working from home in hopes these tips might help you (and perhaps your team) make the transition to a more remote way of working.
Some helpful context before we begin.
We’re not workaholics, nor are we homebodies and long to be at home every waking moment of the day. We love walking in our neighborhood, going out, hiking the trails in our city, and snowshoeing during the winter months. We’re also not the type of couple that’s attached at the hip. That said, we do spend quite a lot of time together, and just like everyone else, we still have disagreements both professional and personal. We also didn’t just dream up this list of helpful tips out of thin air. Cayley has actually worked from home for the past six years (shortly before we got married) and then I followed her two years later when I started working from home as a digital producer.
We also work in the same office, in the same room, with two separate standing desks that are placed side by side. Our photo studio is also in our house and we often have colleagues, clients, and business partners stop by so we’re not always here by ourselves, but the majority of the time we are. Finally, it’s important to note we also work alongside our four cats Dagobah, Tatooine, Naboo, and Kashyyyk, who often join us in the office for hours on end and remind us when it’s time to break for (their) dinner.
These recommendations come from things we wish we knew when we started working from home, but we know everyone and every situation is different, so keep in mind these are things that have worked for us over the past several years, and we hope they’ll work for you too.
Plan out your day.
Get into a routine.
Without a routine, it’s easy to get the work-from-home blues or feel like you’re paralyzed by choice of what to do, what to work on or what to prioritize first. A routine is not just about the work you need to do, but your approach to the whole day. Routines add structure and stability so you’re not just starting from scratch every day.
Set an alarm for the same time every workday.
Without an alarm to get you out of bed, it’s easy to sleep in a little longer now that you don’t have that commute to work. We encourage you to set an alarm for the same time every day and stick to it. Remember, this is all about creating a routine we can start adhering to. Routines add predictability and consistency that our brains need to form positive habits and navigate the world.
Take a shower and don’t wear the clothes you slept in.
Easier said than done, we know. Many of us have kids or pets that can distract or disrupt your morning routine. Be mindful to make time for yourself to shower and put on fresh, comfortable clothes. There’s nothing like starting the day cleaned up and ready to take on anything that’s thrown at you. Our team member Hillary has preached this for years: invest in an “athleisure capsule wardrobe” because when you work from home you have the freedom to feel comfy all day while still looking great on video chats. Luckily, we’ve got lots of great sustainable options for women and men on Made Trade.
Start the day with a list.
Start the day with a realistic list of all the things you need to do. Then, make a list of all the things you want to accomplish, as well as a reach goal that can easily be done another day. At the end of the day peek at the list and see how you did. Chances are you were overambitious and you’ve already got a few items ready to tackle for tomorrow’s list. And remember, be good to yourself — you’re only human and staring at a screen can only be done for so many hours of the day. After a week of making lists you start to see patterns and recognize what’s realistic to accomplish in a day and what isn’t.
Create a schedule and block times out on your calendar.
We have a saying at Made Trade — if it’s not on the calendar then it isn’t real. This means that if someone needs something from someone, a call needs to happen or an event is coming up and if it isn’t on the calendar then it isn’t happening. Period. Sure things come up out of the blue, but 99% of our calls, meetings, and blocks of heads downtime are on the books so folks know what we’re working on and when we’ll be available for a question. It also helps you plan your days and weeks and avoids surprises like a missed call you forgot to add to the calendar or a deadline for a project.
Creating a winning workspace.
If you can, make the investment in a good office setup.
When we started working from home we had two laptops and a couch. Then we got a desk and then a second desk and so on. Today I’m writing this article from a standing desk that was created over years, not months. I have monitor arms, a chair that can accommodate a standard desk height and a standing mat that I can stand on for hours. It takes time to figure out what the right gear is that you need to do your best work. Give yourself time to figure out what you need and then go from there. Many employers provide a stipend for work from home furniture and supplies, so reach out to your employer before you make any purchases on your own. Companies want employees comfortable and with setups that allow their people to do their best work. You can check out our curation of sustainably crafted office furniture on Made Trade to get some ideas.
Stand, sit, lean, and repeat.
Even if you haven’t made the investment into a standing desk or created your ideal work setup, you can still mix up the ways you do your work. Most remote work is done on a computer and if you have a laptop your possibilities for modifications are endless. Try sitting for an hour and then move to standing for an hour at a counter or space that allows you to stand. Mixing up how you work is a great way to keep it fresh and your back, hips, or neck from locking up in a seated hunched over position. Doing what feels comfortable for you is the best way to work.
Consider investing in a whiteboard.
We spent $100 last year on a 4×6 mountable whiteboard for the office that’s also magnetic. It has helped us work out complex problems together and sometimes is just a great way for one of us to build out a to-do list for the day. A nice to have if you have the space, but for the right person, a whiteboard is a game-changer.
Keep your office or workspace tidy and neat.
We keep our office clean and tidy, for the most part at least. We make it a priority to remove mugs and glasses and dirty dishes every day. We tidy the space up when we call it a day, so it’s ready for us when we show up the next morning. Keeping your space clean promotes good physical and mental health and provides order and clarity. Make sure to check out our handcrafted storage products on Made Trade, as well as our huge collection of ethically-made decor.
Mix up where you work. Or don’t. Decide how you work best.
We’re strong proponents of only working in our home office. Early on we found ourselves in the kitchen, hunched over our laptops in chairs that hurt our backs, and way too close to food. We like to keep work to one room in our house and not work from the kitchen counter, the couch or the bed. The identity of those spaces starts to lose their meaning when you start working from them. However, we know some folks don’t have a choice, they might be chasing down little ones and having to work next to the swing set in the backyard or at the dining table as they feed their kids before naptime. We find working from one place in the house is best suited for us — that way for the most part at least work doesn’t leave that room. Sure we’ll get a notification on our phones here and there but by and large, we have one room in our house dedicated to doing work. And for us that compartmentalizing work into one place works very well for us.
Meals, snacks, and food.
Do not eat meals where you work.
We cannot stress how important it is to take a break and make and eat food away from your office or workspace. Snacks, a cup of coffee or tea or a quick bite are fine at your workspace, but meals need to be elsewhere. Why? First, food is meant to be enjoyed and to nourish you, not to be scarfed down between meetings like a mad dash to a finish line. Second, without a physical distance between your work and meals, everything starts blending together. Meals become work and work becomes meals. It’s easier to lose track of your day and lose your place in your routine. Plus it’s just nice for a little space between working and eating and usually, you’ll eat less and less often if you’re not combining work with food.
Eat at regular times. Not all the time.
Honestly, this is the one we still struggle with the most. Most of the time snacks don’t enter our office except on special occasions where we are in a bind and have a lot to do. It happens, but not regularly and we intend to keep it that way. Snacking can lead to big snacks which lead to meals at your desk. And, as outlined above that’s just not healthy — everyone needs a break from work. Try and set a schedule for when breakfast, lunch, and dinner are each day. This allows you to time box tasks throughout the day knowing when you and your body need to replenish your fuel supply. You don’t have to be militant about eating at certain times, we just find it’s better to have a rough idea of when you’ll be eating so you can plan to have breaks away from your machine. And remember meals are always better together. If you’re working from home with a partner try and take breaks together and share a meal. Chances are if you’re stuck on a problem and discuss your predicament over lunch with your partner, roommate or friend they might give you a solution that otherwise you could have missed. Also, good food should be savored, not hastily eaten between meetings like we mentioned earlier.
Stumped? Hit pause.
Got a problem you’re trying to solve, an issue you can’t seem to find a resolution for or a writing assignment you just can’t seem to finish? The answer: take a break. When you stare at a screen longing for an answer you’re just making the problem worse. Instead, walk away and step back, take 10 minutes to read a book, call a friend, water the plants or play with your pet. Give yourself a few minutes to break free of the loop you got stuck in and soon a solution will appear. At the Made Trade office, we’re lucky to have four furry friends that are always happy for a few minutes of spontaneous snuggle time. We also have a few throwback games like Bop It and Bananagrams (remember those?) in the office to give ourselves a break when we’re hitting a wall. It’s incredible what a few minutes away can do to reset your brain and help you engineer a new solution.
Get out of the house and get some exercise.
Every single day, unless things are really busy or the weather is really terrible, we take an hour-long walk of about 3 miles. We make getting out of the house absolutely mandatory. Sometimes we start the day with a walk or exercise in the morning, and some days it’ll wait until the evening. Either way, we make sure to work some form of exercise every single day even if it’s just 20 minutes on the stationary bike. Exercise is essential to a healthy body and mind. We’re not doctors, but just 20 minutes of activity can make your brain feel like new and ready to tackle whatever challenge is thrown your way.
A few words on video calls.
Pants. Just wear them. Please. Video conference calls require tops and bottoms. No exceptions.
Create good lighting for video calls.
If you’re on video calls frequently you want to make sure your face is well lit. You don’t want to appear as a dark outline on camera with your face obscured. Make sure the lighting on your face is even and the person on the other side of the call can see who you are when you’re talking. Little things like lighting go a long way to creating a positive digital persona.
Don’t take your phone to the bathroom on a conference call
The best advice is to go before or go after a call, but not all the time does it work out that way. Treat a conference call how you would treat any in-person meeting — physically step out of the room for a quick trip to the restroom. Never, ever bring your phone into the bathroom and definitely never bring your laptop. Not only is it bad hygiene it also only takes one time for a slip up to be something none of your coworkers will ever forget. Instead, message someone in the meeting directly and let them know you need to step away for a moment. Do not leave Bluetooth headphones or Airpods in while you use the restroom — you’re just flirting with disaster.
How to work from home with someone else.
Deal with conflict and disagreements openly.
We’re a married couple who also works together — conflict is inevitable. However, disagreements happen a lot less nowadays not because of the number of years we’ve been working together, but because we’ve learned to clearly communicate what our needs are to create a healthy and harmonious workspace. For example, one of us is a loud talker and the other is a headsdown, music on, get-shit-done type that really hates to be pulled away from their work. It took a little while to figure out how to work side by side (literally) but after clearly communicating how we each work best we’ve come to respect each other’s needs and boundaries. Remember, everyone’s conflict resolution style is different and understand it might take a few times to get in a groove that works for both of you.
Be positive. Be there for each other.
We live in challenging times and now more than ever we need to support one another. A few years back our business was growing through some rough patches. Every morning felt like a slog and I remember us both feeling like we were just repeating the same challenging day over and over again. Then one day Cayley proposed that we wake up each morning and the first thing we say to each other is, “it’s going to be a great day.” At first, I rolled my eyes and couldn’t see the point. It wasn’t until a week later when Cayley was really struggling that I said to her, “hey, it’s going to be a great day,” that it hit me — positivity breeds positivity. Some days we forget to say it, but most every day we utter the same phrase sometime in the first hour or so of being vertical, “it’s going to be a great day.” And most of the time it is. When you manifest positivity and set the intention to be positive you’re more likely to live it.
Have a great tip for working from home? Leave a comment below!