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How to Prepare to Work from Home on Short Notice

Man checks his phone while working from home.
Jelena Zelen/Shutterstock

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the unexpected: work-from-home arrangements in industries that aren’t traditionally done from home. Even employers that were historically against the idea have been forced to come around. And, unlike most work-from-home transitions, these are happening on super-short notice.

Are you prepared to do your job from home? As an on-site worker, you might think working from home is as easy as ditching your commute and logging into Slack on your phone. But in truth, many jobs require a little more planning and creativity if you’re going to do them remotely.

If you’re not prepared, the transition to working from home could cause missed deadlines, a backlog of work, and client complaints. Don’t get caught off guard—here’s how to be ready to work from home at a moment’s notice.

Make Sure You Have Access

If businesses in your city haven’t started transitioning to work-from-home yet, now is the time to prepare. Coronavirus spreads rapidly, and workplaces will respond rapidly, too.

You can start prepping while you’re still at the office. Talk to your IT department and your boss to find out if there are any limitations to connecting to your work resources from home. For example, can you log in and change your passwords from home, or do the platforms require you to be on-site?

If there will be issues with using your work accounts from home, start working with your IT department now to set up remote connection options. Working from home will do you no good if you can’t log in or access any of the resources you need.

Once everyone is working from home, your company’s poor IT department is going to be absolutely slammed with calls, emails, and requests, so it’s better to get things squared away ahead of time.

Choose Your Workspace

While you’re at home, you can prepare by deciding which part of your home you’ll use for work.

If you’re not a remote worker, you might still believe in the myth that working from home requires a home office. In reality, remote workers often make do without a separate room for work. A section of the dining room table, a corner of the living room, or even a desk inside a bedroom can all function as a home office.

The most important thing is to think about the daily activity in your household, and choose a space where you can work without disruption from that activity. For example, if the kitchen is a high-traffic area, you might want to place your home office far from it.

Keep in mind that if you’re working from home due to coronavirus concerns, your kids will likely be home from school, too. The dining room table or a corner of the living room might work as an office if you don’t mind distractions, or if you’ll be blending work and childcare. But if you need quiet and space to focus, consider putting a desk or small table in your bedroom, or anywhere with a door that you can close.

Set Up Your Space

Man working from home at his kitchen table.

Next, start setting up your space so it’s actually ready for work when you are.

Clearing away clutter might help you focus better. However, a few personal touches can make your home workspace more pleasant, so don’t hesitate to display a few photographs or trinkets that you like.

Check that you’ll have easy access to outlets where you can plug in any necessary electronics. Do an inventory of the supplies you have, and what you might need, keeping in mind the things you actually use at work. If you don’t tend to take notes in a notebook during work, for example, there’s no need to start now. But if taking notes by hand is a routine part of your workday, make sure you have a notebook handy.

Prepare for Video Calls

If you’ll be on video, check to see that the space behind your desk looks nice, or that you have a nice-looking backdrop somewhere to sit in front of while you’re on camera.

This isn’t essential, but it makes you look more professional—which might make your boss more likely to extend your work-from-home arrangement after the pandemic is over. (If you use Zoom, you can also use their built-in virtual background tool to hide a mess.)

Go Shopping

As you’re setting up, you’ll probably notice a few items you’re lacking. No comfortable desk chair to sit at? Need a powerstrip? Want speakers so you can play soothing music while you work? Make a list, and buy whatever you need to make the workday go smoothly.

Office supply stores aren’t likely to see shortages the way grocery stores do in a crisis. Still, it’s a good idea to buy what you need online instead, in the spirit of social distancing.

Don’t forget to stock up on food, coffee, and other necessities. Keep in mind that every meal you usually eat (or latte you usually buy) during the workday will now come from your home, so you might start going through groceries faster. That said, this is a great time to invest in healthy, exciting lunch options if you’ve been in the habit of buying boring, unhealthy takeout at work.

Track Your Expenses

If you use any big-ticket items for work, like specialized electronics, you should speak to your boss about borrowing them for use at home. They might prefer to loan these items than to reimburse you for new ones. But for smaller essential work supplies, it’s wise to ask about getting reimbursed for the costs. Then, you can track your expenses as you shop.

You might need to buy a few bigger things, such as a printer, to realistically work from home. Discuss these potential purchases at work ahead of time to make sure you’ll get paid back for them, and find out how to submit your information for reimbursement.

This current shift toward working from home might very well become a long-term one, if companies discover that their employees do well with remote work. Now is the time to impress your boss with your work-from-home abilities, so you can keep the option on the table in the future. With these tips, you’ll have a home office setup that sets you up for success no matter what, giving you a good case for continuing the arrangement once the office is open again.

Elyse Hauser Elyse Hauser
Elyse Hauser is a freelance and creative writer from the Pacific Northwest, and an MFA student at the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Workshop. She specializes in lifestyle writing and creative nonfiction. Read Full Bio »
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