A Guide on How to Make the Most of Working From Home During the Coronavirus Outbreak

COVID-19 is making remote work a new norm

a drawing of a person lifting a house and revealing a computer underneath
You can work from home without losing your entire mind, according to these experts. Getty Images
Headshot of Mary Emily O

Key insights:

As the coronavirus spreads, canceled events and a stock market crash aren’t the only things impacting businesses. Untold numbers of workers around the world are adjusting to staying home and offices are scrambling to find ways to quickly adapt to remote operations.

Twitter told all 5,000 of its employees to work from home. Apple CEO Tim Cook sent out a memo encouraging office workers not to go in, and the company put in efforts to limit “human density” at stores. The city of Seattle canceled meetings and told its 12,000-plus employees to follow the city’s new Alternative Work Arrangements COVID-19 Guidelines.

The major advertising holding companies have issued travel restrictions and remote work policies. At least two—Denstu and Omnicom—closed some offices after employees either contracted the coronavirus or showed initial symptoms. Those kinds of safety measures are trickling down to countless agencies, as ad pros find themselves piecing together home offices and recalibrating routines.

If you aren’t used to working from home, it can seem like a vacation at first. The opportunity to skip the stressful commute and lay on the couch with a laptop on your chest is glorious indeed. Remote work can be isolating and full of distractions, too. To help make working from home more effective and enjoyable, Adweek put together a handy guide for newbies with the help of a few experts (including the author, who works from home every day).

Stick to the schedule

According to remote work consultant Melissa Smith, a major obstacle when working at home is procrastination.

“In the comfort of your own home, you suddenly have the urge and energy to do things that distract you from work: spring cleaning your closets, cleaning out the refrigerator, washing the windows, organizing your photos, etcetera,” said Smith.

It can be tempting to blend office time with chores when laundry is right there, especially if your day isn’t sandwiched by meetings and deadlines. If you’re working relatively on your own without anyone monitoring your hours, the trick to avoid procrastination is to be your own boss. Set your own working hours, deadlines, and breaks and stick to them like glue.

If you have trouble focusing and start to feel yourself drift off into daydreams, Smith suggests taking a quick 15-minute walk outside to get your energy flowing so you can get back to work, and then setting a timer for 10-15 minute intervals with breaks in between.

Designate a home office

Remote work consultant Lisette Sutherland has received so many requests for help since the coronavirus spread, she added a new page on her website purely about working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak. Sutherland’s number one tip? Set up your home workspace in “an area where you can be productive and [that] is separate from your private life.”

In response to a prompt on Twitter asking remote workers for their own tips of the trade, marketing manager Jo Siebeck shared a way to keep work from taking over the whole house: “I try to put all my work things away into one neat pile in a corner when I’m not working.”

For parents who find themselves struggling to stay on track with kids in the house, senior director of PR at FlexJobs Kathy Gardner offered some advice.

“Explain to them that when you’re ‘at work’ at home, they shouldn’t interrupt you,” said Gardner. “You might even print out green light and red light photos to make a sign to hang on your computer, so they know when you need to be left alone. Even small kids can understand that red means stop.”

Pet owners will encounter unique problems. Podcaster Katie Parker tweeted that her employer-mandated working from home two weeks ago, and so far, the biggest perk is more time with her dog. However, said Parker, “her new favorite game is ‘I want outside! No, I want inside!’ which is getting old fast.”

@MaryEmilyOHara maryemily.ohara@adweek.com Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.