If you are reading this, you are probably taking a short break from your work from home experience to reset your brain. The reason I know that you are working from home is because a good percentage of the population is at the moment. And if you are reading something online, you are probably not one of the front line workers that are continuing to keep our infrastructure intact and our people healthy during this time of crisis.
Shout out to the healthcare workers, grocery store and pharmacy workers, food service workers, public transportation workers, utility company workers, warehouse and supply chain workers, postal workers, construction workers, firefighters, police officers, and all other workers that are considered essential every single day. They are seriously putting their own lives at risk to make sure our infrastructure doesn’t collapse during this outbreak. They are invaluable and perhaps, after this is all over, we can start seeing them as such and pay them accordingly. I mean – what would Marx do (WWMD)?
As remote workers, you might be struggling to find work-life balance when your work and life are colliding. Staying at home, but still being productive can be extremely challenging at first and because we are all being thrown into this situation suddenly, due to a looming health crisis, it can be even more anxiety inducing.
Before I get into some of the ways that you can adjust to this new way of working, let me tell you a little bit about how I came to be versed in this particular topic. In August of 2018, I moved to Alabama. My partner had been offered a professor gig at a local University (HBCU FTW!) and we had to quickly move from Buffalo to Huntsville. The job that I was doing at the time required me to come into the office each day, but I was also setup for work from home if need be.
In Buffalo, you often have to deal with snowstorms in the winter that can trap you in your residence for days at a time. Another shoutout to the people of Buffalo, who are well versed on shut in status since they often have to live this way for several days in a row during the harsh winters. This is a unique background to have as I had already had experience feeling trapped and dealing with cabin fever, but only for a short time. Snow melts.
So – because I was already setup with a laptop, in case of blizzard, I had all the tools I needed to work remotely from another State. I started my work from home experience part time and then came back to full time status in March of 2019. At the time, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to have an employer that would allow me to work remotely, but now I see that in a time like this, it is priceless. Well – maybe not priceless – the price is my salary, but I am nonetheless grateful.
I was in a unique position in August of 2018 because I had never worked from home for an extended amount of time. Only sporadically during aforementioned storms. Setting up a home office was a challenge, but after about 3 months I started to feel like I had it under control. So, for those of you that are just starting out in this new world of remote work, I am going to provide some key bits that I learned along the way that I hope will help you as well. These are logistical type things, as I don’t know what your actual job is, but I think the surroundings and the setup are important in helping you to be successful in whatever field you are working in, remotely.
Get up at the same time you normally would
This is a mistake that a lot of work from home folks make. Even though you don’t have to commute, you should still maintain your normal routine. Treat working from home the same as you would working at the office. There are a few people that can work in their pajamas and still be productive, but I have found that, for me, that is not the case. I need the steadiness of continuing as if things are normal. And, since you will end up back in your office eventually, you don’t want to change any of your current habits that your future self will have to deal with.
Start the day with something enjoyable
One of the great things about working from home is that you actually don’t have to worry about the morning commute anymore, so you will have a little extra time in the morning and afternoon. Use this time to do something creative and meditative. I wake up and immediately write my morning pages, before taking a shower, having my coffee, and then logging on. At the end of the day, I spend an hour writing as well, usually online for my personal blogs, or listening to one of my favourite podcasts to wind down from work before moving on to the dinner routine. Having little daily rituals that you incorporate into your work from home life will help replace the wind down time that you naturally receive from the long car ride home.
Create a dedicated space for work
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many work from home folks start off at the kitchen table or on the couch. I can tell you from experience that it will not work. Using the kitchen table means that you have to move all your work items after work each day. And, if you have kids, roommates, partners, or other humans in your space with you, the table is too central. The other folks in your space won’t see you as ‘working’ and it will be hard to convince them that you need quiet or to be left alone. The couch, honestly, starts off comfortable, but after a few hours it becomes difficult to maintain focus.
Find a space in your home that you can setup with a desk or table and deck it out like you would your workstation at work. If you were unable to bring your desk set home, use an old coffee mug for pens and other items that you will need to use in your daily work. Move a lamp from another location to your work area to give you additional lighting (I like to use desk and floor lamps, rather than overhead lighting as it keeps me from getting headaches throughout the day). Use a side table, such as a tv tray or other small table you might have with low use, to put extra notebooks, office supplies, and items you need to get to quickly at arms length, allowing you to keep your desk space clear.
Setup near a window, but not necessarily facing outside
This was one of the issues I had early on in my work from home experience. As I was also adjusting to a new normal of living in the South, where I had no friends or acquaintances yet, looking out the window seemed like it would be nice because the view from my office looks at the pool. I quickly learned that looking at the pool and seeing people enjoying themselves in the warm months was both distracting and made me a little sad. So I moved my desk to face the wall with the window at my side. This way, I can look out whenever I feel like it, but I’m not consistently staring at people walking around at the pool or the paths surrounding it.
Decorate your wall to bring joy to your workday
This may take a bit of time, but it is seriously important. Especially if you are going to be staring at a wall while working. I have a few different inspirational clippings from magazines, my vision board for 2020, and a cork board/dry erase magnetic board directly in my line of sight so that when I glance up I have things that help me feel better about working alone all day. I have found that these items also help me to focus when I am on a call with others as they are familiar and bring me comfort when I feel a boredom attack coming on.
Learn alternative ways to deal with boredom
Many of us use boredom as an excuse to eat. And when you are home with full access to your kitchen cupboards, this can spell disaster. Eating may feel good in the moment, but it won’t solve the underlying feelings of having to work in a new environment, under stressful circumstances. Taking the time to do some deep breathing exercises, stretches, meditation, or yoga can help immensely with curbing the want to raid the fridge. It will also help you to feel calm in this time of panic that so many of us (if not all of us) are feeling right now. Acknowledging the bad feelings and meditating them down to a lower level of anxiety will help you to proceed with your day. Deep breathing is a great way to lower your blood pressure as well and we all need that skill right now.
Kick off your shoes
Since I started working from home, the one new thing that I have fully embraced is the ability to not have to wear shoes. Sure, I still get up and shower, put on makeup, dress for success (in my case clean jeans and a t-shirt are my uniform) and do my hair, but for my feet, I let them rest. No more high heels or any constraints at all. Sometimes I will wear slippers, on chilly days (which are few and far between down here), but otherwise, I let my feet be free. This sounds like a funny thing to add, but after a few weeks with no shoes on all day, it will be something you truly miss when you have to get back to the usual office footwear. Take the time to relax while you can!
Please remember that it is okay to create a new work from home routine. Don’t feel bad about wanting to have some consistency while you are in this space. Some people may feel guilt about setting up rituals for something that is temporary, as if they are preparing for the long haul, but whether this situation lasts for weeks or months, it is best to do what is good for you in the interim so you can maintain a healthy work-life balance and support feelings of calm through these very trying times. We all deserve to be happy, healthy, and productive. Uncertainty can shift us away from what is important, but having a consistent routine can help to relieve some of the stress we are all feeling right now. Take care of yourself each day so that you can be an effective member of society, even if that society has to remain remote for a bit.
We will get through this together, even as we are apart. Technology has really made our world more connected and we should be grateful for that connectivity going forward, rather than taking it for granted as we have been for so long. Innovation will come out of this time and having a space to create in will make those discoveries even more prevalent.
I hope that this helped you gain a little bit of knowledge on the ways to make your work from home experience more pleasant. It is not ideal to be thrown into this state without a ramp period, but you will adjust. Just give it a bit of time and take deep breaths along the way and things will be okay. One foot in front of the other, one day at a time.