Managing the work-from-home dilemma
A tiny little virus has now brought the world to its knees. Countries around the world are in lock down, with social distancing being the new mantra. People are either working from home, asked to use up their leave and stay home or are struggling to make ends meet in this odd situation.
The dreaded work from home however, may not be as easy to execute as it seems. All individuals in this boat, should of course, first and foremost be grateful for having this opportunity, because it also means a paycheck at the end of the month. That being said though, there is something about this notion of ‘work from home’ that seems deceptively easy to engage in, but difficult to maintain.
Why then is work from home so difficult?
For starters, many individuals are not just working from home, but also working for the home with many added duties of cooking, cleaning and caretaking. While the IT sector is perhaps used to working from home once in a while, it is more of a novel experience for many individuals in the sectors of education, health, finance and human resources among others. Also, the move from working from home once in a while, to home being the new workplace as a long-term plan, are two very different things. Believe it or not, there are a whole host of benefits to workplaces insisting on being physically present at work.
The most common ones that come to mind include the benefits of social interactions, the possibility of clearer communication, faster resolution of issues, ease in working with a team and building team morale. Most importantly though, it ensures a nice clean division between work and home, making it much easier to keep your work and home life separate. Work can stay at work, and home at home. The concept of work from home however disrupts this clear separation of space. Something that has long been associated with feelings of relaxation and calm suddenly bears connotations of work, stress and perhaps a whole host of other stress-provoking adjectives. The work day may never seem to end, as expectations may be that you are ‘always available’ and sleeping difficulties may be a common experience. To make matters worse, one may also experience a great deal of frustration at being unable to work as effectively as you could when you were physically in the workplace.
The solution? Let’s start by actively trying to be kind to yourself. There is a lot happening in the world today and it is going to take everyone a while to adjust to this new regime. Some anxiety is to be expected. Allow yourself to feel that. Perhaps it is important also that we lower expectations of ourselves – maybe, it is alright to perform at just 60 - 70% of what you would otherwise. Because you are of course not just wearing a single hat now. You are no longer just an employee for 8 hours of the day. Instead, you are simultaneously juggling back and forth between multiple hats of an employee, a parent, a teacher, a sibling, a caretaker, a cleaner, a cook etc.
Nonetheless, there are some things that you can do to help ease the work from home process.
- Try and have a clear division of work space and home space: This could be as simple as assigning yourself a fixed position in the house to work from. It doesn’t need to be a big space. A desk and chair set aside only for work would suffice. Doing this will maximise the chances of work-related associations being restricted to that part of the environment. Be sure however to use that space only for work and to not use it when you are winding down at the end of the day.
- Avoid working in the bedroom: One of the most important rules of sleep hygiene is that the bedroom as far as possible should only be used for the purposes of sleeping and sex. Frequently working in the bedroom (especially on the bed), can make it difficult for people to fall asleep at night. Of course, it may not always be possible, because this may be the only place in the house where you can sit uninterrupted. But, as far as possible, this is something to try and avoid.
- Try and build yourself a routine: The temptation with work from home is to procrastinate. You keep telling yourself that you have the entire day to do it, so it doesn’t matter if you take a phone call here and there, sit with a cup of coffee for an hour or so etc. What is the alternative? Staying on task for smaller durations at a time, but with utmost focus. An easy technique to use is the Pomodoro (it nothing to do with tomatoes, except that this was the shape of the timer used by the individual who invented this technique).
- Set yourself a task and then set a timer for 25 minutes: Ensure that you give this particular task your full attention for 25 minutes – no answering phone calls, no checking your social media accounts or email, no browsing for your next wish list on Amazon. Twenty-five minutes of pure focus! And follow up your focus with a brief break – coffee, a short stroll around the house, a short game with your child, whatever works for you. Francesco Cirilio, who invented the Pomodoro technique, suggests taking a slightly longer break every 4 Pomodoros. Before you know it, you’ll be getting a lot more out of the time you have.
- Build relaxation or break times into your routine: Rather than holding yourself to the standards of completing an 8-hour work day at a stretch, work breaks into your routine. This could be little breaks as part of the Pomodoro technique, or longer breaks to complete other household responsibilities. By building breaks into your routine, you’ll save yourself the guilt of feeling like you haven’t worked as much in the day as well. It will also help you balance the multiple roles you hold.
- Use checklists: There is nothing more rewarding than crossing something off a list. Have a list of things to do and tick off each one as you achieve it. Break down a complex task into a list of simple tasks – crossing each sub-task off your list will help give you a more realistic idea of what you have accomplished in the day.
- Have clear boundaries: It is probably alright if you answer that email the next day rather than at 9 pm at night. Work from home does not translate to ‘always being available’. There are many responsibilities you have to tackle and that requires compartmentalising time. Set yourself a sign off time, shut down your computer and do not engage in any other work related activities till you resume work the next day. It might seem hard the first few times, but you will be surprised at how rewarding it is once you have set yourself a routine.
And lastly, it is probably a good idea to keep reminding yourself that this is simply a stop gap measure. This too shall pass, and you will get back to working at your place of work. For now though, focus on making the most of this opportunity. Perhaps this will build your organisational skills which will serve you later on as well. And of course, be sure to remember, that you are in the very privileged position, of having your cake and eating it too.
Note. The opinions in this article are solely the views of the author