Ever since the dreaded COVID hit, more people than ever have been working from home. Some adapted to this change easily, even embracing it as a far better way of working. Others struggled, finding the new way of working to be a significant challenge.
The reasons for this vary. Regardless of your own experience, working from home presents with both benefits and drawbacks. No travel time means being able to devote more hours to work, the home, family, friends, or other projects. There are cost savings that come with no travel also. Not needing to purchase coffees or lunches has also saved people a few dollars. Being able to dress in comfort, get more sleep, spend your lunch hour with the loved ones in your home, including your pets. Sounds like a pretty good deal.
Not entirely. You may be saving money on travel, food and coffee. But you will be spending more on electricity, heating, internet. Then there is the shift in social interaction. We would be lying if we said we would otherwise engage with our colleagues if not for work. Sure, we all have friends at work. But the majority of our co-workers only converse with us because we are in physical proximity in the workplace. Working from home means we are only speaking with colleagues if we need to for a specific purpose. The random lunchroom and water cooler chatter has been lost.
You could argue that this increases productivity. And studies are showing us that in some cases, working from home does indeed result in people achieving more in their workday. Those that have stable home lives, who are able to set up an appropriate workspace in their house, and an absence of home-based distractions, are thriving in this new way of working.
But not everyone has a happy home life. Some unfortunately are burdened with factors that are not conducive to an enjoyable work from home experience. It may not even necessarily be as extreme as a family violence situation, although that is undoubtedly a devastating and extreme example. People with children have demonstrated significant loss of productivity when working from home. The combination of needing to home school their kids and still maintain their employment has proven a difficult task. It has almost become socially acceptable to parent your child while trying to work. Previously, the two tasks were mutually exclusive as work necessitated absence from the home. The problem here, is that the parent trying to do both is not only stretching themselves, but they are also not giving either work or their child their full attention. Spreading yourself too thin leads to stress, which is something we can all use far less of.
The key issue that is causing people to suffer when trying to work from home is an alarmingly simple one. We are not working from home. We are living at work. Think about it. Prior to COVID, people who were able to work from home were the envy of others. You would hear that and wish it was you. But how would you react to the notion of someone living at work? Hopefully with horror, as this is not the way life is supposed to be lived.
But the two states have become blurred. We continue to place the same expectations on ourselves in terms of our work and home lives. Trouble is, now we are working from home, we feel the pressures of both worlds at all times. We cannot put the responsibilities of our home aside when working if we are working in our home. And we cannot put the responsibilities of our work aside when home if we are living at work. So how do we fix this?
We fix this by finding a way to separate work and home, regardless of where we are working. One strategy is to “book end” your day. Do something before and after work each day to consciously separate work from home. Go for a walk, have a cup of tea, engage in mindfulness to prepare yourself for the mindset you wish to step into. Make the choice to shift from home to work and back and do a specific activity to help your mind and body adjust.
From there, you need to stick to your chosen mindset. If you are working, work. Give your work your full attention just as you would if you were in the office. Do not do household chores during your work time. Leave them for after work. Do not try and parent your toddler while working. Use childcare services, family, or take the day off work. No matter how tempting it may seem, do not allow your mind to exist in both work and home states at the same time. Separate them. Clearly and strictly.
As stated above, some people (like myself) have thrived working from home. We are more healthier, happier, and more productive. Not because of any favour or fortune, but because of possessing the ability to train our minds to create a clear divide between home and work, no matter where we are working. And you can do it too. Work from home. But don’t live at work.