The pandemic life has many of us working from home for the first time in our lives and the transition has been, well, interesting. In a matter of months, the US has transformed into a working-from-home economy, with an astounding 45% of the labor force now working full-time from their personal space.
Initially, it may have seemed like a treat to work in sweatpants from the couch, but that novelty has likely worn off and you may find yourself struggling to cope. Sure, working from home can offer tremendous flexibility, but it can also create feelings of isolation, cause a blurring of boundaries between work and home life, and ultimately can lead to WFH burnout.
Since March, both your personal and professional life have likely changed drastically in a relatively short period of time. That’s why we’re here to remind you that increased anxiety, stress, and a general numbing feeling are all normal experiences during such an unprecedented and uncertain time. It’s ok to not be ok right now. There was even a word for this feeling all the way back in the 5th century: acedia, or a feeling of listlessness combined with exhaustion and yearning.
The truth is that we don’t know how long this pandemic life will last, so adapting healthy coping behaviors and boundaries will only benefit us in the long run. While we can’t guarantee there won’t be bumps along the way, our experts are here with tips to help make WFH life less stressful.
Establish boundaries between your work and personal life.
As quarantine took over, many of us were forced to set up makeshift home offices. Add entertaining and educating children, navigating a partner or roommate that is also ALWAYS home, and the stress of living through a pandemic, and you may have found yourself feeling completely maxed out. Yep, us too.
As the lines between work and home life have blurred in new ways, establishing healthy boundaries has never been more essential. There are steps you can take to set physical, emotional, and professional boundaries with everyone in your life.
- Create office hours and stick to them. While a typical 9-to-5 schedule may not be realistic or even ideal for you right now, do your best to establish working hours and clearly communicate the schedule with those around you. It’s up to you to stick to these, requiring you to “leave” work at the designated time each day. That said, you can help others stick to these routines by blocking “after hours” time and potentially turning on an auto-response to emails after a certain hour. Or, you can schedule your own emails to be sent out the next morning to decrease the risk of a landslide of responses in the evening.
- Take ownership over your office space. If physical space is an issue, establishing an office within your home doesn’t require a separate room. You can get creative with partitions or alternate office shifts with your housemate. A white noise machine or app can help to cut down on outside noise and make the space feel more private. Also, do what you need to do to make the space as inviting as possible to you. Try oil diffusers, candles, stationary, and a comfortable chair. Let those around you know that this is your work space and don’t be afraid to hang a “Please Do Not Disturb” sign on the door or chair during your designated working hours.
- Communicate your needs and expectations to your colleagues. We all quickly realized that working from home requires everyone to over-communicate at every turn. Work to manage ongoing expectations with your supervisor and team. Remember to advocate for yourself and your needs from your company. Do you have a comfortable chair, along with all of the technology required to help you do your job? Ask for what you need to make your WFH situation the best it can possibly be.
Create new routines to begin and end the workday.
While sitting around in your sweats all day is definitely the most comfortable option, it can sometimes be too comfortable, leading us to feel and act in a less productive fashion.
Establishing a morning routine can help you to feel like you’ve moved from the hanging around the house version of yourself to the professional version of you. Consider incorporating whatever makes you feel your best, whether that’s exercising, showering, getting ready, or reading for pleasure with a cup of coffee.
Your morning commute may be a few steps between the kitchen table and your home “desk,” but that doesn’t mean you can’t start your day by getting out of the house and getting some fresh air. Remember that your morning routine has the power to set your mindset for the entire day. Mornings are also a great time to establish mental health routines. Try a meditation, write down what you’re grateful for on your Hope Board, or write down how you’re feeling and your intention for the day in a journal.
Establishing an end of the workday ritual is just as important. How do you best decompress? Whether you take a walk, do some thought reframing exercises, or make a phone call to a friend, find ways to clear your head and transition from your work life back into your personal life. In fact, doing a physical behavior to separate from work from not-work can really help your brain recognize the adjustment, whether that’s closing your computer, turning off the monitor, taking a shower, working out, dancing to your latest playlist, or even going for a short drive. Those kinds of actions can help to replicate that “going home from work” commute.
Work smarter, not harder.
As you transitioned into working from home life, you may have noticed your need to prove your productivity. This may have led you to take on more tasks or work longer hours. Consider having a conversation with your manager about what your priorities should be and how you will best achieve the results that you’re both hoping for so that you’re able to protect your time off the clock.
Research shows that the average employee is only productive for three hours per day. Try to prioritize the most important tasks or projects, and chip away at these during the time that you’re the most focused and energized. There are several great apps, like RescueTime and Toggl, to help you track your productivity and better manage your time.
It may also be worth noting when you feel most productive. If you have control over your schedule, try to save that “peak productivity” time for projects that really demand your attention, and schedule brainstorm meetings and check-ins outside of that focus window.
Prioritize your self-care.
Your ability to show up for your job is directly linked to your mental well-being. We get that sometimes you’re just scrambling to get through the day, but this is a gentle reminder to advocate for yourself.
Try to take scheduled breaks—including at least 30 minutes for lunch—throughout your day. Set an alarm to remind you to get up from your desk, stretch, or talk a walk. Moving your body is good for productivity and allows you to return to your work feeling more refreshed.
While working from home can come with a great deal of stressors, there are also perks that you can consider taking advantage of. Is there a project, like baking or painting, that you can incorporate into your day? You’ve certainly earned the right to find moments of joy during this time. If this sounds far-fetched, take a second to reimagine what your day could be like. Are there company-wide meetings where you can have your video off and just listen? That’s a great time to paint, draw, knit, or even work out (while muted, of course.)
Connect with others as much as possible.
If you’re a person that enjoys face-to-face interactions with colleagues throughout your day, you’re likely grieving the loss of this type of connection. You may consider scheduling morning video calls with your team to catch up, connect, and set priorities for the day. You can also take advantage of business messaging apps like Slack to stay in touch throughout your time “at” work.
Being thrown into a work-from-home situation so suddenly is a huge shift, so be gentle on yourself through this transition. You may notice yourself feeling more isolated, stressed, or distracted than usual. Do your best to normalize these experiences and know that you certainly are not alone.
This is an excellent time to advocate for yourself, your needs, and your professional and personal well-being. As we continue to be out of office indefinitely, reach out and connect with others as much as possible, as we’re all navigating these new challenges together. We’re here for you every step of the way.