The pandemic has had a profound effect on the workplace. Employers shifted to working from home, and now as pandemic restrictions have lifted, working from home in some fashion is here to stay.
Clients have noted many benefits to working from home, and some are thriving in it. However, many are finding that while there are benefits to working from home, they are also encountering the long term other aspects of working from home which are having negative effects. These are things like:
Lack of movement where previously there was a lot, even for sedentary people. The most sedentary of us still needed to get up and out the door, travel to an office, and then travel back. For those who love movement, the effects were even more pronounced as they not only stopped going to an office, but also stopped being outside and going out to a gym among other things.
Isolation removed human connection and the monotony of our surroundings weighed heavily on our psyche and our souls.
Productivity suffered as well as our personal lives as we found it impossible to disconnect ever from work since we worked in the same place we lived. Likewise, we found it difficult to focus when personal life still moved in and around us as we tried to work but would often distract us.
In my clients, these themes come up a lot now as we enter into the ”new normal” of work. Many companies remain in remote work mode, and some have enacted hybrid work policies. A few have asked people to come back to the office, but employees remain resistant to going back full time, often conflicted between the benefits of working from home and the negatives they are also experiencing.
Still, some interesting solutions have come up in our coaching sessions. I share many of them here to show that there are possibilities in achieving balance in a work from home. General important themes to keep in mind are adaptability, reframing the situation, creativity to explore, and to examine barriers to moving forward.
Symbolic Act of Going to Work
Before the pandemic, we would get ready for work and get out the door to our cars, bikes, walking, or public transport to our offices. The act of leaving our place of residence provided a physical, and thus mental, separation between work and home. When we were done with work, we could leave the ”place of work” and also the work itself, go home and really ”be” home.
Working, playing, sleeping, eating all in the same place eliminated the ability to effectively separate physically all that, and so followed our mental and emotional entanglement as well.
Some of my clients are now symbolically going to work. Even though they are still working from home, they get up and prepare for work as if to go to an office. They will then open the front door, go outside for a walk around the block (By the way, fresh air and sunshine are great ways to wake yourself up and energize you in the morning!), mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for now being in ”work mode”, then come back home and walk in the front door, now ”at the office.”
They then repeat this at the end of day, going back out the front door, walking around the block (And here, a bit of activity to stretch the limbs and get circulation going again after an extended period of sitting is a great thing!), mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for now “leaving work and going home”, and then going back in the front door helps them leave the work mindset behind and arrive with home work mindset up and running.
With these mindset changes coupled with physical acts of opening the front door, and then exiting and entering, and adding some restorative outdoor activity, has helped clients achieve separation.
Out of Sight, Change of Mind
When started working from home, it was abrupt and we often just set up shop wherever we could. Some were fortunate enough to have home offices, rooms dedicated for work where you could shut the door and get some privacy. Most people did not have the luxury of living someplace with extra rooms, and had to setup shop in whichever room had space. This was often the living room, dining room, kitchen, or commonly, the bedroom.
Now the workstation and everything around it was constantly visible, a visible reminder that more could be done, another email, tweet, or direct message that could be answered. As the pandemic wore on, and with nothing else to do, people grew accustomed to checking and doing work well after normal work hours. Work and personal life became inseparable as the workstation was in constant view and easily accessible.
Some clients have successfully dealt with this by removing from sight the workstation or work area. Those with home offices would simply close the door, with strong intention to not open it up again until the next morning.
Others asked their companies to give them work cellphones, and then put all their work apps on that phone and remove them from their personal phones. After a work day, they would turn off the phone, and put it away into a drawer, effectively turning their offices off for the day. Mirroring this would be separation of work computers from home computers, and the evening shut down of work computers when a day is over.
One client found a big box where she would take all her work computers, phone, notebooks, etc. and put it all away into the box until the next day.
All of these ideas served to take the office out of sight and therefore enabled a change in mindset that work was over and that they could enjoy their personal lives without interference.
Support from Those Also in the Household
Many people live with others in their homes. These can be family members: a spouse, children, pets. Others have roommates, or significant others. Seeking agreement with others in the household will greatly enable you to focus on work during working hours and minimize the interruptions across a given day. This was especially tough for those with children still in grade school, and especially with those in elementary school where Zoom based classes were the norm. Hopefully, we will not see such measures in the future again. Still, even with other adults in the house during work hours, it can be disruptive when others see you there working but don’t realize that coming in for conversation, or making simple requests, or asking for a favor can take a person out of work mode very easily, as well as increasing stress. Certainly even noise in an adjacent room can be disruptive if trying to hold a meeting over Zoom.
It is therefore worthwhile to have a discussion (often difficult depending on the circumstances) with other household members to set ground rules and boundaries so that personal life doesn’t intrude into the work time.
Effective and Intentional Boundary Setting
Speaking of boundaries, other personal boundaries are often a big issue as to why they cannot separate from work. While this may have been present prior to pandemic shutdown, this exacerbated the situation when all elements of work were now inescapable at home.
Examples of this aspect, which conflict with a person’s desire or energetic limits, range from not wanting to disappoint others for fear of rejection (and thus the desire to continue working well past hours), fear of punishment if work is not done, the thought that advancement is tied to quantity of effort such that more effort will yield promotions, and many others.
This topic is larger than can be discussed within a single post, but it is worth mentioning that even the best of efforts can be further derailed when someone cannot set a boundary to stop work when it exceeds their desire to do so. Thus, successful boundary setting will enhance any other efforts to balance work and life when work is happening chiefly at home.
Creativity, Adaptability, Reframing
All of the ideas above exhibit creativity, adaptability, and reframing as characteristics of solutions for balancing working from home. Instead of feeling and remaining stuck in our current positions, we need to find new ways of looking at the world to enable us to thrive while the office is in our places of living. While the previously mentioned ideas worked well for those clients, what works for one person may not work for another. Thus, it is worth our time and effort to explore as much as possible and find those techniques that work for us alone.