Editor’s Note: Today’s post is by Gabe Harp. Gabe leads the Digital Products & Software Services team at the MIT Press, where he is neck-deep in digital books, journals, open access, and exploring new ways of working. Before joining the MIT Press he spent many years with Cell Press / Elsevier. He will be joining the Society for Scholarly Publishing Board of Directors as of the 2020-2021 term.
Having worked from home in multiple locations, ranging from the wilds of western Massachusetts to the coast of Maine, and in a variety of roles for different organizations, I recently decided to distill my key recommendations. These tips are focused on working from home during this pandemic and are based on my own experience; not every point will suit every person. Guidance abounds these days, including recent Scholarly Kitchen pieces, but my hope here is that readers of this short post will each glean at least one nugget to help them through this pandemic.
Be Patient with Yourself
These are not normal times. Be realistic about the time you have and what you can achieve. Ask only what is reasonable of yourself, and share that with others – friends, family, co-workers. If you can no longer make that 9am recurring meeting, let your colleagues know. If you need to more aggressively carve out meeting-free (and interruption-free) time to spend on focused tasks, give yourself permission to do so.
Be Patient with Others
Offer the same consideration to others. Understand that everybody experiences and responds to a crisis differently. Be especially mindful of the needs of others. Let those you interact with know that you are there to support them.
Spin up a Signaling System
Devise a system that will let your household members know that you are not to be disturbed. This can range from a dedicated light – think of the red light in a recording studio – to something as simple as a “busy” sign. I use a curtain: when it is closed, I need to focus; when it is open, interruptions are welcome. Be creative and figure out what works best for you. And regardless of your signal, accept the fact that you will sometimes be disturbed anyway.
Be realistic about the time you have and what you can achieve.
Concoct a Commute
Creating distance between your workday and your personal life can be immensely helpful. The mind needs time to adjust, decompress, and switch gears. This might not be possible for everyone, but try to build in a buffer where you can: a walk around the block, five minutes of meditation, an episode of your favorite television rerun. For more on this topic, see Charlie Rapple’s recent piece.
Dress for Work
To put yourself in the right frame of mind, dress as you normally would for working in the office. That will vary from person to person and company to company. For me, it might be my lucky blazer; for the next person, it might be a hoodie. It is about what suits you best.
Stand When You Can
Here I will add just one ergonomic tip here: strive for a mixture between sitting and standing. After many years at home, I finally invested in a workstation with an adjustable height. My approach is to sit for focused work and to stand for meetings. And if you find the need to incorporate movement, give it a shot. I had my first “walking” meeting last week. And I have discovered that I do some of my best thinking on a bicycle; now, I will head out for a ride if time permits and I know that I have a challenging problem to think through.
Shorten Your Meetings
This is my favorite and most earnest piece of advice: try trimming 15 minutes from all meetings, whether recurring ones or those you are scheduling anew. You will often find that those “extra” 15 minutes weren’t needed, and your colleagues will greatly appreciate the time savings. In addition, solicit feedback about how a given meeting structure is working and whether adjustments can be made to increase its efficacy. Lastly, even when you are not the host, don’t be shy about suggesting that a meeting could be shortened.
Craft Your Own Rituals
Perhaps most importantly, you need to find what works best for you. These are difficult and unprecedented times for everyone, and they might well continue for 18 months or more. Recognize that we need to continually adjust, experiment, explore, and find what will help us all stay healthy and well.
As I write these thoughts, I am reminded of how lucky and privileged I am to have stable employment, a supportive organization, reliable internet, good health, healthcare, and more. I fully recognize that much of the world’s population does not have these privileges, and that many people will lack the opportunity to even put into practice the points of advice that I have shared above.