Working from home is a new and challenging experience. It is stressful adjusting to unaccustomed noise levels and interruptions within the family setting. There is a sense of detachment from your colleagues as team collaboration in the format of face-to-face meetings is replaced by communication via laptop or phone. Over the years sudden and significant changes to your work dynamics always tested your resilience levels. However, all of this has to be managed in the current background of the emotional and social fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. We are now living and working in an environment where all family members are feeling stress and anxiety as they cope with an uncertainty about life never experienced before. Here are some tips to help with that adjustment but you must be patient. Adjustment always takes time.
Try and connect with at least some of your colleagues (or your entire team, depending on the workforce size) over phone calls or video meetings. This will help to provide some continuity and scheduling to your work day, as well provide some respite from feeling isolated. This may be particularly relevant to those that live alone or with less familiar/friendly housemates.
Whether you settle for the garage, garden shed or a specific bedroom – a dedicated workspace needs to be established. You cannot be changing this all the time as this will unsettle you and frustrate other family members or housemates. It is best to agree the allocation of this space with them in advance. You need to explain to children why you need it. You may have to compromise when it comes to comfort but it’s the first step in this new situation that needs proper attention.
When at home it’s very easy for the boundaries between your work and family/home life to become blurred. If you live in a family home, tumble drying, vacuum cleaning, hide and seek games or loud music can interfere with work and lead to tensions. Family members need to know when your workday starts and finishes and what kind of noise levels are tolerable. You should wake up, get up, get dressed and turn up for work. You must be consistent about these boundaries or you will confuse others and the situation becomes more complex than it needs to be. Stay in the workspace until finished and keep all your work there!
The most important boundary to protect is that between work and home. This is always the case but needs more robust protection now. Work mobile phones, laptops or iPads need to be left in the workspace when your work day ends. You need to signal clearly to family that you are now ‘home’! One deliberate way of doing this is to close the door tightly on the workplace and start a game with younger children, sit down and chat with your teenagers or ask your partner or spouse if there is anything you can help them with. A family walk at the end of your workday would be a good habit to start and would help create a boundary between work and family responsibilities.
Working from home and managing childcare
Many couples find themselves at home working and trying to mind their children at the same time. The crèche is closed. No relief is available from the grandparent or babysitter due to the social distancing regime. Full-time child minding and trying to do your work brings stress to a whole new level.
I think we need to be realistic and accept that the situation is imperfect and stress is unavoidable. We have to be practical in our approach and try different things. We should design a timetable that allows for the needs of each party i.e. when they will be working and when their focus will be exclusively on the children. This has to be agreed properly,tested and evaluated at intervals. It may be that you will have to discuss the very real limitations on output in your circumstances. You can only do your best. The situation is far from ideal and thousands of other couples find themselves in the same situation.
It’s important that the timetable allows for couples to relax together as well as divide work and parenting duties. Weekends should still remain weekends. It’s inevitable that there will be frustration felt at times. We all will experience good and bad days and need to look out for each other. Protect your relationship. It’s more important than your job. No one has exclusive rights to stress. And remind yourself that all crises pass.
(C) Shane Martin (written for the National Dairy Council well-being initiative in conjunction with the Farmer’s Journal