Five WFH lessons to bring back to the office 5 things WFH taught me about staying productive in the office
Are you starting to work in an office again? Sabrina, a senior manager in our communications department, shares five lessons working from home taught her that have helped make returning to the office more productive.
Working from home, or WFH, has become part of everyday life for so many people. But as we move into the third year of the pandemic, more workers are slowly starting to return to the office.
After working from the comfort of home for what feels like forever, I worried about the culture shock of being a hybrid worker. WFH forced us to change the way we thought about work—from flexible and independent work schedules to finding pockets of sanity in our pets/partners/plants, to looking for ways to stay connected even when working separately from our colleagues.
As we start to return to the office, I want to share five lessons I’ve learned from WFH that I will be taking with me into this “new normal” way of working.
1. Don’t make work your first priority
WFH without a doubt meant more flexibility with our time. Hours that used to be spent getting ready for work and commuting were replaced by, well, free time. When working from home, I always made it a point to not make work the first thing I did in the morning.
It could be something as simple as using that newfound time in the morning to water my plants, or fitting in a quick cardio workout. Whatever it was, it helped ensure I wasn’t rolling out of bed and straight into a meeting. I found this improved my mood in the morning—I wasn’t waking up anxious about a meeting, or stressed out after a morning call.
At ExpressVPN, we have what we call “core working hours”—a sizable chunk of six hours that overlap across many of our offices’ time zones. My core hours start at 11 a.m., giving me plenty of time and flexibility to hold space in the morning to focus and prioritize. This pocket of time in the morning also means I can spend the first two official hours of my day unblocking problems for my team so they can start the day as productively as possible.
2. Boundaries are a beautiful thing
My husband and I are fortunate enough to have separate working areas at home so this meant that at the end of every workday, I was able to shut my “office” door and symbolically leave work behind. This small but significant act really helped me shift gears mentally.
I also put away my personal laptop during work hours and avoided downloading any “social” or fun apps on my work laptop. I even went so far as to block certain websites from my browser so I wouldn’t be tempted to do a sneaky online shop during work hours.
Now that we’re back in the office, I am finding it easier and easier to resist the urge to respond to an email after dinner or have my laptop with me on the couch when I’m off-hours. Thankfully, I am not the only one in the company who lives by this rule. Sure, the occasional out-of-hours task or meeting is bound to pop up, but we’ve built a culture at ExpressVPN where those core hours are taken seriously!
3. Don’t eat where you work
We’re all guilty of overbooking our calendars and realizing we only have 15 minutes for lunch, so we find ourselves wolfing down a bowl of instant ramen while we respond to emails in between meetings.
Now, as much as possible, I make sure to step away from my desk whenever I’m in the office, head over to our (well-stocked!) pantry, and have my lunch without the distraction of Slack messages or emails. This not only gives me a breather from work but also means I am finding time to socialize with my co-workers—something I desperately missed while WFH—either in the pantry or around our office.
4. Hydration is key
For some reason, I always found it easier to pop into my kitchen for a fresh glass of water while I was home, but seem to have dropped that habit when I am in the office. So here’s a great tip I stole from my manager Lauren: “Have a good 2-3L jug on your desk and finish it daily to make sure you're drinking lots of water.”
Our colleague Tim echoes this, adding: “The jug is a game-changer, people. You will drink what is available. One glass? That’s all you’ll drink for hours. A jug? Hydration City, here we come!”
That said, when was your last drink of water?
5. Keep moving
Ah, the sneaky sedentary lifestyle. I did not realize how much more active I was when I was spending more time in the office until I stopped going in. I mean, it made sense—instead of walking around the block or down the street for lunch when I was in the office, all I needed to do was walk into my kitchen, grab a bite, and that was it.
So I countered my lack of activity with conscious movement. I set my watch for hourly reminders to make sure I get up and stretch, or just walk around the room for a couple of minutes. Another colleague Matt takes it even further when he is WFH. He says, “Stop for 15 minutes for fast walking outside, or do some sit-ups and push-ups or jumping jacks. And do that at least twice during the day!”
Sorry, Matt, I don’t think I’m up for jumping jacks twice a day—at home or otherwise—but being in the office means I’ve got an excellent excuse to get my steps in by walking over to a coworker’s desk to check in instead of sending a Slack message. Plus, it helps that ExpressVPN encourages a range of healthy activities, from morning Zoom yoga sessions to Singapore’s National Steps Challenge, so there’s always a good incentive to stay active.
For many of us, the transition back into the office—either as a full-time or hybrid worker—will surely take some getting used to. I can’t say one is better than the other, but there are definitely lessons from both sides that I’ll keep with me as we progress through the rest of this year.