Fixing your biggest work from home problems in 2021
Chris Rush (USA) provides solutions for three of the most common issues related to working from home
Now that we’re well into 2021 and working from home is more mainstream than ever before, we need to talk about self-care. This topic has been too easily overlooked (especially for teachers but for all professionals) because it’s tragically easy to assume that working from home (WFH) makes self-care easier.
Unfortunately, nothing could be further from the truth.
Let’s assume that the adjustment period is over, and you’re used to the new normal of now working from home — you’ve got your working corner set up, and your family finally understands that this isn’t vacation.
There are long-term perils of working from home, and if you’re a 1-year WFH veteran, it’s likely that you’re over the initial growing pains and now starting to come to terms with the long-term effects. Let’s talk about them and how to deal with them.
Problem one: the blurring boundaries between working time and home time.
This can happen slowly and innocently. You start off by enjoying the breaks you can take during the workday, whether it’s to spend time with family, exercise, or just take a nap. You make up for the lost workday time by having your laptop on during evening TV time. Gradually, the boundaries between when you’re working and not working begin to fade. Eventually you feel like you constantly have a screen in front of you — computer, tablet, phone, and even during the time that you’re supposed to be relaxing you’re thinking about the work you “should” be doing instead. This didn’t happen before because work was in a specific geographic location that was distinct from your home, but now your work life has invaded all your personal spaces. Anxiety over tasks undone replaces the pleasure you used to feel at home.
The fix: make your “work” as location-specific as possible.
Stop mixing locations. Make your office, or your desk, the only place you work from. If you have a laptop and you’re used to working from the kitchen table or couch, try confining it to one specific place, and that place will be “where work happens.” When you go there, your mind can switch into work mode. When you’re in this place, don’t engage in distraction — this location is your sacred workspace — you can check social media from any other location in your home, but save this one for work. This strategy works especially well if you have multiple devices. A “work computer” can be used only at the desk for work purposes. Don’t work from your couch on your tablet — reserve that for fun, and keep it away from your work area. You can make this boundary stronger by wearing “work clothes” in your work area — anything that makes you feel like it’s time to get down to business — and changing into something more comfortable when you’re finished for the day. Do your best to keep to a timetable — decide what time you’ll stop working that day, and when that time comes, leave everything else until tomorrow.
Problem two: your work area is not optimized.
It’s likely that when you first started working from home, home office supplies were scarce. Things like external monitors and webcams were out of stock for months, so we had to make do with what was available. It’s quite possible that you got used to sub-optimal conditions for work, and then forgot about trying to improve them.
The fix: upgrade your workspace.
Hunching over a laptop on a desk is a bad way to spend 8 hours a day. If you don’t have a desktop computer, get an external monitor, mouse, and keyboard, and elevate the display so that you’re not looking down at it (your neck will thank you). You could even skip the monitor and just get the mouse and keyboard and prop the laptop on a stack of books. The point is not to get nice things, but to reduce or eliminate repetitive strain injuries. It has also been said that sitting down for 8 hours a day is as negative for your long-term health as smoking. Try to find a way to alternate sitting and standing. The ideal solution might be a convertible desk, but you can also make your own creative solution. At the very least, make sure you take regular computer breaks to stand up and walk around, especially if your old job had you on your feet.
Problem three: human distractions
Even if we do everything in our power to optimize the work from home environment, one thing we can never control is the actions of others. Roommates, partners, or children share our living spaces, and getting work done doesn’t matter if it comes at the expense of harming our most important interpersonal relationships.
The fix: communication plus environmental barriers
The first thing we should do is be honest about the circumstances, and not expect others to read our minds. For cubicle workers, putting on a pair of headphones might be a perfectly acceptable way to communicate nonverbally to colleagues “don’t bother me right now,” but that message might be less effective and more hurtful to a romantic partner. Don’t be afraid to talk about your needs, and make it clear that the more efficiently you can work, the more unfettered time you’ll have to spend with the other members of your household. Once you’ve had the necessary conversations and negotiated the proper interpersonal boundaries, you’ll be able to implement physical boundaries — closing the office door if you have an office, donning the aforementioned headphones, or hanging the background sheet behind you which family will know to interpret as “shh, Mommy’s on a conference call.”
No matter what the rest of 2021 holds, working from home looks like it’s here to stay. If you’ve struggled to make it efficient, I hope these strategies can help bring you a positive outcome. If you’ve got other tips that you’ve used successfully, please share them!
If you are curious about where Chris works, you can visit the website www.off2class.com (Ed).