When you think of working from home, you might conjure up images of sitting on a comfy couch in your favorite PJs, laptop on your lap, and a hot coffee by your side. Or perhaps you imagine taking calls through your headset while sauntering slowly around the house watering the plants and doing the tidying up that working at the office never left time for.
A week ago, while shopping, I overheard two ladies chatting about work. From the short bit I gathered, both were essential office workers, though I am not sure in what industry. Together they were expressing their somewhat unflattering opinions about those working from home.
“Must be nice,” one said to the other. “No commute. No staff meetings. Maybe I’d actually have time to get that back yard tidied up.” They laughed.
As I grabbed my bread and moved on to the next isle, I was laughing to myself but not because I agreed.
“Must be nice.” I shook my head as I recalled the lady’s eye-roll.
I was a bit irritated at the judgement, but I could also understand why she held that perspective. For most people, the idea of working at home can seem infinitely more desirable than being at work. Supported by the misconception, that being home means more free time and less stress, the idealized version of working from home offers no glimpse into the reality of how stressful and disruptive working where you live can be.
The COVID-19 pandemic has offered a unique look at the impact of working from home with millions making the move, many involuntarily, with little notice. Now, with a years’ worth of experience behind them, many are seeing that idealized vision of ‘getting paid for pajama days’ feels cruelly akin to the bait and switch tactics of a used car salesman.
Countless articles and news reports have addressed the unanticipated downside of working from home. These include struggles with transition, difficulty getting into a “work mode” mindset, or the irritations of multiple interruptions from pets, visitors, and/or children wanting a break from online learning. As these realities set in, working home started to look and feel a lot more like living at work!
In preparing this article for you, I recounted and spoke with multiple clients, colleagues, and friends to explore the strategies that helped them make working from home a little easier. Here are a few of the most noteworthy that can support productivity and help avoid burnout:
Tips for Working at Home:
1. Create an “pre-work routine”.
When you worked outside of your home, you likely had daily pre-work routines. Perhaps you got up, showered, ate, grabbed a coffee, drove to work, and maybe you even took 10 minutes to connect with colleagues before settling in. This routine helped your brain prepare to switch into work mode. Creating a similar routine at home can help you transition better into your workday.
What routines or actions can you build into your daily routine that can “cue” your brain to know it’s work time. Some client favorites include:
- Walking/driving around the block then “arriving” at work.
- Turning off the cellphone and home electronics.
- Dressing in your full work attire (instead of those PJS).
- Calling a colleague to have a quick “water cooler talk” before settling in to begin your day.
2. Define your workspace.
Not everyone will have the ability to create a separate workspace in their home, but you might be able to have a space clearly identified for working. However, after a year of progress, millions have come up with some clever workspace transformations. The idea is to create physical changes in your environment that only occur when you are in working. A few examples include:
- Duplicating your regular workspace. If possible, bring items from your regular workspace into your home. These could be posters, pictures, binders, printouts etc.
- Removing personal items such as children’s toys, clothing, or personal affects.
- Changing furniture orientation. A colleague of mine with limited space in her one-bedroom apartment found it helpful to rotate her kitchen table while she was working and then turn it back during the end of the day.
3. Get Out.
Consider taking your breaks “outside of the office”. This might mean walking to the Tim Horton’s down the street or driving to grab lunch. Whenever you have scheduled breaks, take them. Do not to fall prey to throwing on a load of laundry, dusting, or any other chore you would not otherwise do during your workday. If it is a short break, perhaps you might just settle for coffee on your front porch or balcony.
4. Make a plan.
Working from home is not a “play it by ear” kind of adventure. For this endeavor to go smoothly, it is best to have a plan. Work from home plans consider factors such as co-working (if you have a spouse or partner who might be working from home too). For parents it will address who provides for the needs of the children and when.
Make a list of issues to be considered and then create a plan by writing down how you will manage each consideration. Having a plan does not mean everything will go as expected but it can provide a guiding framework for you and your family.
5. Stop work at the end of the day.
Be rigid about your working blocks. Take your breaks and stop working at the end of your workday. No checking email. No follow up phone calls after supper is cooked. No zoom calls after the kids have gone to bed. It has never been more important for you to have boundaries that provide a buffer between your personal and professional life. If your workday starts at 8:30am – no emails before 8:31. If you wrap up at 5pm – no zoom calls at 5:15pm.
If you have the ability to flex your schedule and you feel irregular hours might be a benefit to you and your family then, by all means, choose what works best for you. But once you have a schedule down, do your best to protect it. Not having firm boundaries around your workday keeps your brain from knowing when to be in “work mode” versus “home mode” and leads to confusion, stress, and burnout.
6.Communicate your needs.
It is important, as things continually change, to share your needs with your employer. Help them understand some of the limitations of your situation and explore options that work for you both. Do not get distracted by the accommodations made for colleagues, each employee may need something different. It can, however, be helpful to ask others about strategies they have found helpful and to share your own helpful adjustments. Ideal answers or responses may not come quickly but when enough people are adamant about self-advocating, employers are more likely to implement the needed supports.
7. Re-Calibrate your 100%
When would you expect to be more productive, a week after returning from a 2-week holiday or after working 3 days of overtime in a row with 3 hours broken of sleep each night? My guess is on your post-vacay performance.
If you know your 100% fluctuates based on a variety of factors, then it only makes sense to consider that the factors you face working from home will influence you as well. The work you do might not have changed but working from home increases the psychological cost of those same tasks. You are more likely to feel tired, irritable, overwhelmed, or unfocused simply because of the added pressures of a work-from-home transition.
Consider what your 100% needs to look like in your current situation. Are you likely to produce the same output as you did 6 months ago? Is that expectation reasonable? What would change if you re-calibrated your best to be in line with the day-to-day realities of a work-from-home life?
Merging your personal and professional lives is a risky business and not respecting the risks can have lasting negative impact in both realms. In the current climate, it is important to re-consider what we need to operate our lives in a healthy and sustainable way. Finding effective solutions may take time, effort, (and even a few meltdowns), but in the end it will make working from home a little less like living at work.
This is your week to make working-from-home just a little bit better! Join us in the BSCP Facebook Group and let us know what strategies have helped you work better at home!
Want to know the truth about therapy? Click Here! Also, check out our blog section to learn more about Anxiety, Depression, Parenting, Self- care, & more!
From my home to yours,
Bonnie J. Skinner, MEd, CCC, RP
B. Skinner Coaching & Psychotherapy