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Working remotely? Or not even remotely working?

“Productivity” tips from a home-working pro

Jeffrey Denny

Recently I talked with a top executive of a Fortune 50 financial company that transitioned nearly all of its 7,500+ workforce to working from home for the Covid-19 pandemic quarantining. While handling billions of dollars in business a day, the firm managed to shift relatively quickly to remote operations with nary a hiccup, which could have rippled through their sector and the economy.

I asked this exec how the remote working was going for the employees and company. He turned the tables and asked, “Well, how’s that been working for you?”

He knew I’ve been working at home for nearly ten years as an independent communications consultant. I was glad he asked. As many employers are exploring whether to make remote working the new normal, I have invaluable advice for those who have the luxury:

Create structure and routine.

Every morning at 6:30 am, I wake up, fall out of bed, and drag a comb across my head. Then I find my way downstairs and drink a cup, then looking up, I notice I am late.

Fortunately, I don’t have to find my coat and grab my hat, and make the bus in seconds flat. Not commuting saves time, money and stress.

But I advise keeping regular business hours when colleagues and teams might need us to get their jobs done. To borrow from John Donne, no employee is an island, entire of oneself, but part of the main.

Keep abreast of the outside world.

It’s easy to feel insular and cut off. You don’t have casual, spontaneous interactions with colleagues about the latest outrages. You have to stay informed and up to date. So as usual, I read the news today. Oh boy. The news was rather sad.

Create dedicated office space.

Virginia Woolf said “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Today, for any hope of having money before and after the Great Trump Recovery kicks in, both women and men need a room separate from the rest of the house, off limits to mates, spawn and also in-laws who might have escaped and wandered up from their in-law suites.

If necessary, protect your home office with a big beautiful wall like the president is building around the White House and on the Mexican border. Cage your kids if they try to come in. I’m kidding! They’ll ruin you on social media.

Make time for exercise.

Since you won’t be avoiding hitting the gym on your way to or from work, it’s great if you have home gym equipment. Especially if it’s not in the garage behind the lawn equipment, in the spare bedroom under tons of laundry, or posted on Craigslist forever because nobody wants your vintage Exercycle, not even if you pay them $20.

Even better if your spouse stopped openly hinting about your Covid-20 (the quarantine pounds) and bought you a $2,500 Peloton you won’t use because it’s not available for six months. By that time you can just go back to avoiding the gym. At least Peloton is holding your money for you.

Hint: When you take a home exercise break during business hours, make sure your boss knows you’re “working” out, not “playing” tennis, even if the Fitbit results are better with tennis. Exercise during business hours is not supposed to be fun and involve après gin and tonics and light, convivial chatter like with tennis.

Embrace the chance to eat healthier.

At home, I can stand in front of the open refrigerator or pantry for hours and not find anything delicious, i.e., bad for me.

Not going to an office, I also save at least 3,000 calories and $35 a day not buying breakfast bacon/egg wraps, morning, mid-morning and afternoon coffee drinks, and then for lunch, three-pound turkey wraps the size and density of newborns and chips that are healthier than Doritos Cool Ranch because they’re small-batch hand-fried by artisans who sold out to Pepsico.

In the creeping afternoons, fighting existential ennui that only an ice-pick lobotomy could relieve, I avoid even more calories and also diabetes by not foraging the office kitchen for snacks.

I’m also not tempted by giant cookies left over from meetings with outside consultants who dress better than your top executives because they charge $1,000 an hour to state the obvious in stentorian tones like Charleston Heston as Moses in “The Ten Commandments.”

Leave home if you can.

Grab your laptop and go to the library. Go to a WeWork space if their flexible innovative work space solutions still exist post-pandemic. Go to a public park where even insane people who live there respect, even demand, social distancing. Go to a public beach that’s not teeming with people who keep the aliens from even considering taking over Earth.

And if you really need to escape from home, try Longyearbyen, Svalbard, a remote Arctic island that belongs to Norway and is getting 1G wireless cellular technology someday.

I’m fortunate that while I love working from home, I have clients that want me in the office sometimes so I get to enjoy the hilarious fun you see on “The Office.” And on lucky days there are tasty consultant cookies.

Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.

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