How to stay sane when you’re working from home in semipermanent semiquarantine

In spring, when much of the world went into lockdown, many of us thought that after a month or two of sitting at home, life would return to normal. A month or two passed, then a third and a fourth, but still normality is nowhere on the horizon.

Sure, many businesses have now reopened, but we are still cautious about crowded rooms; many offices and other premises are still closed; and few are willing to take a plane or even train. Some are working from home, and some are unfortunately out of work.

Of course, we still hope the dark clouds will soon pass. An effective vaccine, collective immunity, advances in treatment, surely, something will change for the better. After all, humankind has dealt with serious problems before.

The uncertain time frame is denting optimism, though. “A month or two” could extend to years — and that will require a change in mindset, not just a comfier chair. People may need to adapt and shape their lives around the new reality.

To be safer, the new normal may require a reduction in open-plan offices, in public transportation services, and in crowded events and get-togethers, coupled with spending more time at home, in the car, or out in the fresh air (weather permitting). It’s important to arrange frequently used spaces to ensure maximum comfort and productivity.

Before, you might have looked past any defects in your home — after all, real life happens at the office, the bar, the gym, and wherever else you spend your free time. Except now when both work and social life have moved to our homes, the situation is different.

Can household members work together peaceably in the living room? If not, is the Wi-Fi in the kitchen reliable? Is your computer rock-solid, or is it continuously updating and freezing? How’s your webcam game? Do your kids, not out of sight in school, spend hours watching YouTube at full volume? With everything that’s going on, is it even possible to focus on your job, or are you worried about losing it because of the above — and more?

Maybe it would be comforting to know that you are not alone in your worries and problems. We are all in the same virtual boat, and we all need to do something about it.

Buying a huge new house with a suite of offices and a home gym would solve some of those problems. But there are less radical, more plausible measures that can brighten up your outlook and spirit without draining every resource you have (and then some).

Ready? Let’s go.

Time and space

Perhaps the number one headache for home workers is the blurring of work and personal time and space. If you haven’t yet set the demarcation lines with all household members, now’s the time.

For example, in our company, we have a hard stop time, after which we work only if something is an emergency. (Emergencies don’t happen more than once a month; if something happens more often than that, it’s a regular occurrence, so if it’s causing people to work too late, then we need to adjust it — during normal work hours!) Family members switch off who gets the good desktop in the living room on which days. In my house, we do not allow work talk in the kitchen after 9:00 p.m. You get the idea.

If it’s simply not possible for all occupants to work in harmony in one home, on especially busy days you might think about renting some office space in a nearby hotel. Many are doing so already.

Peace and quiet

When your home is your office, minimizing information noise is critical. That means turning off unnecessary push notifications in browsers and muting or disabling notifications from e-mail, messengers, and all other apps and services that battle for your attention.

While you’re at it, configure social networks to leak as little information as possible. To help you out there, we offer a specialized privacy website.

We also recommend using headphones for videoconferencing and video activities for the sanity of other household members.

Internet

In 2020, having high-quality Internet in the home can be literally a matter of life and death. As such, you need a reliable provider, a backup option in case of communication failure, and good Wi-Fi coverage throughout the home.

We can’t help here with the choice of provider — options vary by location. But you can check out our guide to great home Wi-Fi — from analyzing neighbors’ signals to building a trendy mesh network. And to kill two birds with one router, set up your guest Wi-Fi at the same time. Despite the name, a guest network is less for guests than for the home’s mushrooming number of smart devices. For security reasons, it’s best to move your digital zoo to a separate network.

Hardware and software

Some capital investments may be necessary. A semipermanent home office needs a comfortable desk chair, a good-size desk, and a high-quality display. Treating backache, eye strain, and carpal tunnel syndrome will be more expensive in the long run.

To safeguard your nerves, fix annoying computer lags. If your hardware is in reasonable shape, then it’ll benefit from an upgrade one day, but you can put that off and start instead by tweaking the software. Generally, all performance benefits from improving gaming performance, so we recommend starting there.

To maximize available resources, dig some electronic junk out of the closet and see if you can adapt it to the circumstances. For example, an old smartphone makes a decent webcam and an iPad might suffice as an e-reader, photo frame, or, if it’s not too ancient, an additional display.

Security

We could hardly skip this topic, right? Our guide on how to make your digital life watertight, written by a world-class infosec expert, is worth every second of reading time. And while you’re at it, comb through your online accounts and delete unused ones (here’s why). Also, sort out your passwords — everyone’s always losing or forgetting theirs.

We plan to keep replenishing our collection of posts on how to find your digital comfort zone. Articles on the topic will appear under that tag, so check back often to learn more about how a digital makeover can make life better and simpler even after the current coronavirus is behind us.

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