By Maggie Potter
For all of us who complained that 2019 was a difficult year, it seems that 2020 has exploded through the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, ready to up the stakes significantly. In the space of a couple of months, the novel coronavirus developed from affecting a small number of people in the Chinese city of Wuhan to a global pandemic that required a robust public health response. We are no longer simply monitoring ports and investigating contact of the infected; behaviors such as social distancing and sheltering in place are now becoming a new day-to-day reality for many of us.
With this new requirement to stay indoors, many nonessential businesses have elected or been forced to adjust their practices so that employees can continue to undertake their duties from home. While some of us initially found the idea of not having to head to the office every day attractive, many are realizing that the reality is not exactly enjoyable. It’s not all day-drinking while showing off our pets during Zoom meetings.
The good news is, there is a wealth of advice available to help new remote workers navigate their new reality. Freelancers are sharing their experiences online and providing insight into what approaches work, and what will destroy your productivity. We’ll take a look at a few key coping mechanisms to maintain your sanity at this trying time.
Maintain a Routine
One of the benefits of working at an office is that, for the most part, there is already a sense of structure in place. You clock in at the same time each day, meetings might be scheduled, your tasks are usually on a clear timetable, and a team of colleagues often helps to keep each other accountable for the achievement of essential goals. We often have supervision, there are even mechanisms in place to minimize the effect of potential health issues in the work environment. However, when that office space is removed, it can be easy to let that structure slip.
This structure is not just essential for our productivity, it’s also key to maintaining our sanity. Structure helps us to embrace organization, to allocate appropriate time to tasks that prevents them from dragging indefinitely and affecting the progress of other activities. Once a handful of tasks start to spirals out of control, it can be easy to become overwhelmed — and you won’t even have the ability to leave the office for some respite.
As much as possible, seek to mimic your daily office routine. Set the alarm and tend to your morning activities as you would any normal workday. Get dressed — it doesn’t need to be work clothes, but don’t stay in your pajamas! Start work at the same time, take breaks at the same frequency. Most importantly, leave work at a regular time every evening. When we lose control of our routine, structure soon follows. We tend to work later, too, which further encroaches upon our essential time away from the office.
Changing Your Environment
The spread of COVID-19 has many of us feeling, at the very least, somewhat isolated, and more than a little confined. If you’re not used to working from home, your new office’s proximity to your personal space can feel invasive and can make it difficult to create clear boundaries. The combination of this can make the environment in which we’re spending this crisis a source of stress in itself.
While we may not all have homes that have wings filled with spare rooms, it’s important to create a specific office space to work from. This could be an area of your kitchen, your garage, even a corner of your living room. Arrange furniture, your computer, and files in a neat, organized space. This not only provides you with the dedicated area in which to work productively, but — more importantly — it allows you the opportunity to walk away from it during breaks and at the end of the day.
It can, of course, be tempting to work from your comfy bed. However, by doing this too often you blur the lines between working and relaxing, turning your bedroom from a place of rest to one of stress. But you can go even further by changing up your sleeping space. Some examples from the linked source include de-cluttering the area, hanging blackout curtains, and designating it a tech-free zone. By putting in this extra effort you can create a valuable sanctuary to which you can escape during your time sheltering in place.
Children and Relationships
Unless you’re a worker in an essential industry, the likelihood is that every member of your family is at home. All the time. Yes, we all care deeply for our children and partners, but being locked in together, competing with varying demands from each other, will test the best of us. When you’re working from home, this can exacerbate your stress, and present an unwelcome distraction.
Set flexible boundaries. Make it clear to your family what your work hours are and when you’re available for non-work interruptions. Get together with your partner regularly to build a list of activities to engage your children, and agree on a schedule that balances out which of you will be available to them, and who has strict, immovable work commitments that must take priority. Keep the dialogue open, be open to discovering solutions together rather than arguing your case.
Equally, it’s important for your own well-being as much as family unity to create space to relax and socialize together. You may find that your individual work personas (yes, many of us have them) are incompatible, and operating in the same space alongside rambunctious children will create tension. Arrange date night activities, such as an indoor picnic, play some musical instruments together, or get competitive with some video games. These actions not only help you all to unwind, but it also helps you to shuffle off your work persona, and find your home self again.
Working from home is not easy for everybody, even those of us who have been doing so for years. Our current pandemic has forced us into necessary but uncomfortable sheltering in place, and we are finding our offices encroaching upon our home lives. By maintaining a strict routine, making adjustments to our living spaces, and keeping an open dialogue with our families we can get through this period without losing what remains of our sanity.