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Things we’ve learned working from home

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The staff of The Verge looks back on the last two years of pandemic adjustments

Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge | Photography by Vjeran Pavic

When we started working from home in March 2020, many of us who had not worked at home before may have begun with certain assumptions about what it would be like and what we would need. It’s now over two years later, and while we’re now able to spend time in the office, most of us are spending the majority of our working time at home.

We asked The Verge staff members about what they’d learned about working at home. In response, people talked about the need to get away from the desk and to get away from work, the challenges of working in the same space with family, and various strategies for staying sane while staying in the house.

Here’s what they told us.

How I learned to stop worrying and love WFH

OK, I’ll admit it — I’m stubborn. I spent two years of the pandemic waiting for things to return to just the way they were, sitting at my dining table-turned-workstation editing videos all day. It was an ergonomic nightmare that I figured would all be over soon when we went back to the office.

We have a spare room, but that’s where my wife works. I figured, at some point, we’d split the space, but last month, she got a job that is 100 percent remote. So I decided to give in and finally turn the dining corner into an edit suite. And now, I love it. I bought a new desk, arranged things just as I wanted them to be, and unsurprisingly, my attitude has changed. It helps that I can go into the actual office from time to time, but having a place at home that I actually like to work in makes all the difference in the world. — Matt Morales, video producer

I have to take a walk every day

If I don’t take a walk every day, I just start to feel weird. I usually take it in the middle of the day. It forces me to move around after being at my desk for like four hours, take my eyes off the computer screen, and sometimes literally stop and smell the roses that happen to be on my usual route. When I come back, I always feel more energized. Even if it’s hard to pull myself away from the computer, I never regret the walk. — Jay Peters, news writer

The life-changing magic of shutting down my computer

Working from home absolutely shattered my sense of work-life balance. All there was, was screens! I’d work a full day, then… close Slack and keep doing stuff on my laptop. This does not count as “leaving work,” I don’t think.

But then I discovered a little trick: instead of just closing my laptop and proclaiming the workday over, I started actually shutting my computer down at the end of the day. That one small action turned into a daily ritual and having to turn the thing back on put the tiniest bit of friction in the way every time I tried to log back in at 10PM and aimlessly wander the internet instead of reading a book or going to bed.

Now, the day ends when my computer’s off. My phone’s incessant notifications and general proximity mean I’m never all the way offline, but it’s a start. — David Pierce, editor-at-large

You need to have a routine

The only thing I really miss about office life is how it naturally created structure in my daily life. You have to wake up at a certain time, eat at a certain time, schedule when you’re going to work out, when you’re going to walk the dog — all so you can get your butt at your desk by 9AM.

But working from home meant I was rolling out of bed 10 minutes before I had to log on, scrambling to get ready between assignments, and squeezing in workouts at the oddest hours. I found myself still in my PJs at 1PM and eating breakfast at 4PM. At one point, I realized I was working from 8AM to 7PM most days with nearly no breaks simply because I could sit at my desk and find my whole world inside my laptop. I did this for two whole years, even though no one asked it of me. When I finally looked up, I saw that while I did well at work, my personal life and physical well-being had pretty much disintegrated. Some of us shouldn’t have complete freedom of when we do things.

None of this was intentional. I just happen to be the sort of person who completely neglects my own needs without an externally enforced routine. (Last week, I spent 15 straight hours researching the history of King Jeongjo of Joseon and his ill-fated father, Crown Prince Sado, because I could. I did not eat or go to the bathroom once during that period.) But after losing 15 pounds and an intervention from family, I started setting specific time blocks during weekdays. My first “block” of work goes from 8:30 to 10:30AM. Lunch is eaten at 1:30PM. I have to log off by 6:30PM every day, even if I’m not done with a certain task. I have little alarms that go off throughout the day on my Apple Watch, so whatever rabbit holes I do fall down, at least they’re not too deep. Of course, I still struggle to stick to my own routines, and I often don’t succeed. But purposefully building some kind of structure into daily life ensures that at least a few times a day, I spend some time taking care of myself. — Victoria Song, reviewer

I still have no idea what I’m doing

I’ve made a more efficient, comfortable, and accommodating workspace for myself at home than I’ve ever had at The Verge’s office. I have easier access to food, coffee, and a restroom, too. I should be firing on all cylinders every single day. And yet, even with everything within my control, the transition to working from home (almost completely — I still go into our NYC office every other week or so) still very much feels like a transition in progress.

Put another way: my work life still feels imbalanced due to the pandemic. It’s all too easy for my apartment to become infested with review gadgets and to not spot those growing problems until they’re impossible not to notice. And like some others who contributed to this post, it’s so much more difficult to pry myself away from work since my computer, phone, and other gadgets are within reach. Not to mention, I’ve realized that it’s tougher for me to deal with distressing world news when I’m alone, which is something that the last two years have offered an endless supply of.

I’m pretty late in the pandemic to realize that buying the right ergonomic and tech products to ensure productive work only does so much. It can’t solve all of my problems or make me feel completely refreshed all the time. But now, instead of trying to replicate the office at home, I’m trying things that are new to me in general, like going to the gym in the morning. — Cameron Faulkner, reviewer

Will working from home change how my kids see me?

Once upon a time, the routine was simple. My kids would go to school, and I would go to work, and at the end of the day, we’d all reconvene back at home. Now, while schools have reopened and my kids’ lives have essentially gone back to normal, mine has decidedly not.

The Vox Media office has gone through a few cycles of re-openings and closings as various COVID waves rise and crest. Meanwhile, my family has moved from Brooklyn to the New Jersey suburbs, and while my office is still only an hour train ride away, I have only been back a handful of times. I’m left wondering: how will the new status quo change how my kids see me? I’ve gone from being the guy who goes to the office to a guy who’s always home. How will my omnipresence affect their attitude toward dear old dad?

I can already confirm that working from home has helped demystify my job for my kids. They used to have no idea — or interest — in what I did for work. Now they watch with bemused stares as I sit cross-legged on the bed, clacking away on my laptop, and I can’t help but read their expressions as “That’s it?” Don’t get me wrong; I really like my job. But it seems clear that the reordering of our professional lives as a result of a global pandemic will have many unintended consequences for our familial relations.

Take today as an example: as I’m writing this, my daughter is having a temper tantrum about going to the playground. As she stomps and shouts and disassembles, I sit here, still cross-legged on the bed, and wonder whether it’s too late in the day to jump on a train and head into work. — Andrew J. Hawkins, transportation editor

Working from home doesn’t mean you need to work out from home

Home workouts were a lifeline for my flatmates and me during lockdown when we turned to Reddit’s surprisingly exhaustive bodyweight fitness subreddit to help us exercise in the confines of our own home without the need for costly equipment.

But as the months of exclusively working from home have turned into years, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to grab onto the little excuses you get to leave the house. So instead of endless press-up and squat variations, this year, I’ve switched to running every other day as my primary form of exercise.

Sure, I know it’s a far less efficient way of burning calories, and it can’t match the sheer satisfaction of finally managing one more rep after weeks of effort. But when the alternative is accidentally spending three or more days without leaving the house, I’ve learned to cherish the opportunity to engage, however briefly, with the outside world. — Jon Porter, reporter

Know the rules and when to break them

I was working from home for years before the pandemic, so I’m very familiar with some of the most common pieces of advice that are floating around the internet. And yet no matter how many people I’ve heard tell me to make sure to separate work and leisure spaces, have a reasonable schedule, or create an ergonomically sound setup, I always find myself working from my couch, slumping over the edge to type using a laptop that’s laying on the floor like a gremlin.

To be clear, I don’t necessarily recommend that anyone else work this way — I’ll be the first to push my co-workers’ more traditional advice on people who are at the beginning of their work-from-home journey. However, I always do so with the caveat that no one way of working is going to fit everyone. If you’re struggling with working from home, you shouldn’t be afraid to break with tradition to try and find something that works for you.

By that same token, if you’ve been totally winging it and find yourself constantly stressed out and / or dealing with RSI, it may be worth trying out the more traditional methods of building yourself a proper workspace that’s separate from your personal space. Working from home is a journey that’s never really over, and it helps to be familiar with what works for other people and what works for you personally — even if those two things don’t always line up. — Mitchell Clark, news writer

I need to fill the air with sound, almost any sound

After working from home during the pandemic for a full year with my wife by my side, I became pretty well accustomed to the new normal. It helped having a co-pilot, even if they’re flying a different plane for a different company. Luckily, I was the one with all the Zoom calls and meetings, so we rarely had to flee from one another to co-exist while working in our shared office.

But once her job called her back to the office most days of the week and took away my work buddy, I suddenly realized how quiet our house is. So I turned to nearly nonstop music listening and background Twitch streams to fill the void. I’m glad we bought a mix of Sonos and Ikea Symfonisk speakers so I can hear the tunes from room to room when refilling my coffee or if I’m just feeling compelled to move around. Even if I’m not really paying close attention to the music or chatter on Twitch at times (I’ve streamed many consecutive hours of channels I follow — like Polygon, Waypoint, and Nextlander — without looking at them or really even listening), it just helps me maintain my sanity and usually my focus. It’s also helped me branch out a little further to more varieties of music beyond my go-to punk / hardcore stuff and into genres that are sometimes a little more conducive to deep work — when my mood is right.

The only downside to this is that it’s trained me to be too quick to fill nearly any void of silence after work hours, too. This sometimes means I’m pulling out my phone to watch a YouTube video when I can probably be doing something better and getting less distracted by my phone in my personal time. I need to find that balance, but at least in the meantime, there’s always good music to listen to and be fanatical about. — Antonio G. Di Benedetto, commerce writer

Missing time to read during my commute

When I was a kid, I used to read obsessively. Unfortunately, adulthood brought with it work and home obligations that made it difficult to find time to read. It got so that the only time I really had to read would be just before I went to sleep (and I was usually too exhausted to keep that up for long) and during my commute. My daily time on the subway or bus — usually about 45 minutes to an hour each way — let me spend time enjoying whatever novels, histories, or other reading material I had on hand.

Of course, the fact that I’m not commuting now means that I have more time to spend on work and home chores. But I do miss having those times twice a week where I could completely dedicate my time just to sitting (or standing) and reading. — Barbara Krasnoff, reviews editor

Working from home really means working from anywhere

I’ve been “working from home” full-time for nearly 20 years. But it didn’t take long for me to discover that WFH gave me the freedom to work from anywhere. At least anywhere where there was sufficiently fast connectivity and a chair — though even that requirement has become optional as phones get more capable, mobile data gets faster, and communication tools like Slack become ubiquitous.

The definition of anywhere has changed as well. Early on, it meant my local coffee shop, the one with the good Wi-Fi and lemon tarts. Now it means anywhere in roughly my same time zone, allowing me to clock in and out at the same time every day. In Europe, at least, I can get an “unlimited” data plan that covers much of the continent for just €35 per month — useful if my Airbnb’s Wi-Fi is shit. Otherwise, there’s Starlink RV, which has been great at filling in the gaps left by the mobile providers in my three weeks with it. I’m using it right now to work from a popular Dutch beach at a time when all the revelers have overwhelmed the local tower, making my mobile data plan unusable.

Armed with redundant data solutions, one of Apple’s new power-sipping laptops, and any number of solar panel / LFP battery kits and there’s really no limit to where I can work. And with more and more people given the opportunity, maybe you can now work from anywhere as well? — Thomas Ricker, deputy editor