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It is always coffee-o'clock: Tips for working at home

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For those of us who are not working on the frontlines in the COVID-19 pandemic -- everyone who isn't leaving their homes and families each day to work in health care, food and retail, and other essential services -- our contribution is to help "flatten the curve." We need to stay home. For many that means moving to a work-at-home office. 

rabble.ca editors, tech and administration staff have worked remotely since our beginning in 2001 -- a fully virtual organization for nearly 20 years. We've tried it all, from ICQ (remember that?) to Yammer, to Slack. We've shared our workplaces with our roommates, our pets, our partners and our children. Now that many more people have transitioned to working at home as we fight this pandemic, we thought we'd share some of our top work-from-home tips. We're always looking for new ideas, so please share your tips and strategies in the comments. 

Maya, Activist Toolkit co-ordinator

  • At the very least, have a shirt handy for those unexpected video calls. Also, check before you stand up. And keep a hairbrush within arms reach.

  • Make sure you have a good mic and audio. (Make a habit of testing before meetings too.)

  • Collaborative tools are your friends, but don't use too many shared platforms and try to keep organized. I like the Google suite of shared docs and Slack. Many swear by Basecamp, but I need to figure it out.

  • I keep a weekly schedule and try to do at least one creative thing that is not work related -- learning to play guitar (I can't read music and I am awful), yoga and language (currently massacring the Arabic language).

  • If you are working from home with kids around ... good luck :) In all seriousness, I try to use nap times well. The problem is that when they nap, I realize I feel so sleepy too.

Tania, operations co-ordinator 

  • Set up a workstation that is separate from where you are when you relax, to keep that boundary clear (if possible).

  • Have some music on in the background (I recommend the independent radio station SomaFM, to discover new artists -- reader(listener)-funded just like rabble.ca).

  • Schedule regular stretch breaks and coffee breaks -- try to get some fresh air if you can.

  • Check-in with friends, see how they're doing with working from home.

Kim, publisher 

  • Top tip: have a workspace -- even if just a corner of a table -- that is separate from your living space. Do not work in your bedroom.

  • Get dressed! Don't work in your pyjamas -- again it is about separating your work time from your home time. (Also helpful for unexpected Zoom chats.)

  • Move! I have a watch that reminds me to get up every hour -- just to stand and stretch. It has made a world of difference since I started using those simple reminders. 

  • Set boundaries: if you share your home with others, they, as much as you, need to know the boundaries of when you are working vs. not working (when you use the same computer for both work and personal time, it isn't always obvious). 

  • Slack. At rabble, we've used various kinds of virtual office spaces over the years. We try to keep Slack open during working hours -- which helps with boundaries (work vs. not). Also seeing the green dots of co-workers can help break the isolation.

Derek, technology co-ordinator

  • Collaborative editing tools are the best. Google Docs is great for lots of things, but EtherPad is also a handy tool for quick and dirty notetaking among a group of people (see here for public examples).

  • This blog has some great ideas for free/libre software tools available for voice, video and other communications tools.

  • The other more social thing I find helpful is to try and block out time for focused work, where I stop paying attention to all the comms tools for awhile and work through my tasklist.

Victoria, podcast producer

  • I'm a podcast producer, so quiet times for recording are essential. If you're an at-home podcaster, it's a good idea to create a small sound booth to record your podcasts in (Fridge boxes work really well, and you can decorate it just like you did when you were a kid).  

  • Planning is really important when you work at home and have a lot of different projects and a lot of different stories on the go. I have a self-planning session with myself every Monday morning so I can prioritize and roughly schedule things for the week. Meetings, appointments and interviews go on the list first. And I always try to make sure I make time to develop new ideas and new projects. That way, new ideas keep flowing. 

  • Try to plan your work around other people in the house … I'm an early riser so it's easy to have quiet time between the hours of 6 and 8 a.m.  If you're a night person, your schedule might be the reverse. 

  • When the weather gets nicer, you can go find a picnic table in a public park to work in as long as it's not crowded and you can still observe social distancing. (I live a 30-second walk from Lake Simcoe, so this is something I will be doing more often once our snow disappears)

  • If you are working on multiple projects, try to block off regular times to work on them. Don’t "context shift" unless you can't help it (emergencies do come up, but your colleagues' lack of planning is not your emergency (note -- this is never a problem at rabble -- respecting other people's schedules is a value everybody understands). And do your darndest to communicate what those hours are to your co-workers so they don't interrupt your "other client" time. It can be a tricky balance. 

  • Work-life balance -- that's a tricky one. I have a bad habit of going for days without going outside. That means I'm not getting enough exercise. And I do play music but haven't taken a piano break in a long time so must get back to that. So that's something to work on. 

  • I try to get dressed in real work clothes every day (that, for me, means jeans and a nice shirt).  I rarely wear pajamas during the work day. If you do wear pajamas, have two sets of pyjamas -- sleep pajamas and work pajamas. Just kidding. Don't work in your pyjamas.

Share your tips and strategies below in the comments. 

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