2 do's and 2 don'ts of working from home long term, according to experts

Interior designer Corey Damen Jenkins and comedian and writer Sara Benincasa.
Courtesy Corey Damen Jenkins and Sara Benincasa

If you started working from home during quarantine, you may have set up a work space designed to last a few weeks or a month at most. But as expectations for many companies and their employees have shifted, it's become clear that for many people, remote work is likely to continue indefinitely, if not permanently.

If you're working from home for the long haul, investing in your work space and reassessing your expectations can help improve your focus and productivity, experts say.

Everything from the way you budget your time to the height of your computer screen can affect your general well-being, and striking the right balance between work and life is particularly important right now. 

"When your home is your office, the temptation is to work all the time," says comedian and writer Sara Benincasa, who spoke to Grow on May 19.

Benincasa, who has been working at home for a decade, and interior designer Corey Damen Jenkins, who spoke to Grow on May 21, share some of the key best practices for working remotely in the long term.

Don't: Press the spending 'panic button' 

Instead of making impulse buys and buying items for your home office that you don't really need, Jenkins suggests taking a wait and see approach. 

"I always tell people when we're going through a recession or an economic downturn to beware of the panic button when it comes to spending," says Jenkins. "The idea is to maybe not go big when it comes to spending, but to go smart." 

Before you make a purchase, "break out the tape measure," says Jenkins. "A desk that is 48 inches may look small on the internet but may be too big for your space."

When you do identify something you really need and that works with your space, look for items that can serve a dual purpose. For example, if you don't have room for a desk, consider investing in a compact drink table. "That way, when we get back to normal times, that small little martini table is something you can use again," he says. 

Home office furniture worth splurging on

Video by Courtney Stith

Do: Get office furniture that provides ergonomic support 

Prolonged sitting and bad ergonomics can lead to unintentional aches and pains. Investing in quality office furniture can help reduce your risk of injury, and can save you money in doctor's visits down the line.  

Benincasa says that it took her years to realize the importance of the proper setup: "I wrote five books that were published before I realized I was doing not great things to my body," she says, adding that she really "did a number on [her] neck and shoulders" by hunching over.

If you think you're going to be working from home even "50% of the time," a good desk is a "fantastic investment," says Benincasa. She spent twice as much as she thought she would on her desk, but it makes her happy every time she looks at it. 

Look for a desk that's the right size and height, adds Jenkins. Once you have the right setup, bringing your computer screen up to eye level with a laptop stand or even a stack of books can help you maintain proper posture. 

When your home is your office, the temptation is to work all the time.
Sara Benincasa
comedian and writer

Do: Talk to your friends and colleagues 

If you're on Slack or in Zoom meetings all day, you may not be inclined to pick up the phone when you're off the clock. But online communication can't replace face-to-face interactions with your colleagues that often provide much-needed mental breaks. 

"You don't have the same social cues when you're working from home," says Benincasa. "You don't have your buddy asking you if you're going on a Starbucks run." 

If you're still social distancing, scheduling a non-work related check-in via phone or video chat with one colleague or friend per day can help you avoid burnout and alleviate loneliness. Maintaining those connections is well worth the effort: "You can have a happy hour drink together; you can have tea together. If you both have toddlers screaming in the background, cool, that's OK. Definitely make time for socializing, even if it's long-distance," says Benincasa.

5 tips for working from home

Video by Jason Armesto 

Don't: Put pressure on yourself to be perfect 

No matter how many of your friends rave about their productivity or share photos of their perfect loaves of homemade sourdough bread, recognize that working from home amid a global pandemic doesn't obligate you to start baking, knitting, or working longer hours.

There's nothing wrong with relaxing during your extra time at home. Decompressing may even make you more productive when you are plugging away. 

"I see a lot of people posting stuff online like, 'Now that you're at home you can write the Great American Novel," says Benincasa. "No. No, absolutely not. ... Go easy on yourself." 

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