Working from home can be both a blessing and a curse. For those new to working from home the first weeks or even months seem like it is the best thing since sliced bread. No more commuting and getting stuck in traffic, no more rushing to get a decent breakfast before heading out the door; no more making sure you look ‘just right’ to create that all important personal presentation to your fellow work team. This sounds like a dream and it does feel like one, well at first.
If you compare this to being newly married, you are in the honeymoon phase. Everything feels so wonderful, nothing bothers you or if it does you just brush it off as no big deal. However, once that honeymoon phase starts to lose its luster and the rose-colored glasses start sliding off reality sets in. That reality can be like being hit with a brick or the subtle letdown that no matter how you package it, work is work. The challenge of integrating your personal and professional life was likely a myriad of compromises before you brought it all home. Now you must face other issues that you need to decide how to handle. What are your priorities in each and how do they mesh or collide in the grand scheme of things?
As a parent who has worked from home for the last 20+ years I can tell you that each day can bring about challenges. It is how we face them and decide what takes ultimate precedence in our lives that can determine how successful we are in all areas of our life. I know I have made a lot of mistakes, put work before family more often than I care to admit. In sharing my experiences, I am hopeful you can learn from my mistakes and make a few less along your path.
In our current situation around the world many have been thrust into the “work from home” rather than go into an office environment. It is not a choice but a requirement. That helps because when you ‘went into the office’ to work, you had set hours; try to keep those hours now. If your workday started at 8 and ended at 5 with an hour for lunch. Set a timer and keep those hours as if you walked through the doors of your workplace and sat down at your workstation/desk.
There are challenges to this concept. If you have children of any age seeing you ‘at home’ now becomes [in their minds] you are accessible and available ALL of the time. Depending on the ages of your children, you can sit them down and tell them you have a 10 min breaks at such and such a time and your lunch hour is at noon. If they are old enough, they will either rejoice or look at it as a chance to challenge every rule you ever set down. Yes, challenge, you did read that right. Having raised two boys, they looked at my time on conference calls as challenges to see who could get me to yell first or worse get into things, they should have had more supervision doing. Several unexpected trips to urgent care along with stitches occurred during such times. If I could turn back time and do it all again, I would have given them strict options vs letting them choose whatever kept them quiet so I could work during those times.
If your children are younger you must be more creative to continue to be productive at your chosen profession. A good rule of thumb is your child, whatever age they are, you have that number of minutes before they lose interest and need a change of pace, distraction, or action. So if you are trying to go over spreadsheet numbers and you have a 4 year old playing near your desk, you get all of 4 minutes, if you are lucky, to focus before your darling loses interest or demands attention. If you have a spouse who has been relegated to also work from home or take time off due to restrictions in the workplace you can ask for help. That may or may not be the kind of help you need or want.
Did I tell you I have been down this road? Yes, the help received from my husband was not the kind I expected. It was of the “go ask your mother” variety and usually at the most inopportune times. Looking back I believe I did make my needs known for trying to be successful in my ‘work from home’ endeavors, but somehow there was a definite disconnect from the stating what I needed to what was heard by my spouse. Now, I would suggest writing out expectations and needs to accomplish the work you need to get done. That way if you read it out loud and then post it someplace where you both agree it can be easily accessed it will act as a reminder to what you asked for in the first place. On the flip side of this is what your spouse needs while he/she is also working from home. Just as you need certain things to focus on the job at hand, they too have certain things they need to work up the standards their boss has come to expect when they are in the workplace. Be fully prepared and expect to compromise so both of you can be your best selves and be as productive as you have in the past. Who knows, you may spur each other on to not just do better but be better and happier in the long haul.
Now as to the logistics of maintaining your office space at home. For some, there is a designated space that you can close off by shutting a door. This is ideal but not always available. If you are limited on private areas such as not having a spare bedroom or den that allows for privacy you have to become creative. In my case I have a sunroom that is my office area. I have all the normal things in that room, a desk, file cabinets, printer, computer, phone but I lack one big item; the ability to close it off from the rest of the house. This means that day to day living creeps into my office on a regular basis.
When my children were young, we had schedules in our home for the summer months when they were out of school and even during the school year when I needed to work after they were home. The understanding was if they kept the noise and interruptions down or outside this would allow for special rewards. Those special rewards were usually an extended bedtime on weekends or camp out with bonfire with friends. I am sure if you take a bit of time you can come up with some creative ways to accomplish what you need to. The key is your desire to actually be the most productive in your space in spite of interruptions that will come. Many times, we can be focused on work then ‘family issues’ creep in and we get distracted from the work at hand. Keeping one’s focus on your daily list of ‘to do’s’ can help.
That daily “to do” list is not just for students and bosses. It is a way to keep your focus on work when you have extra distractions. You may find yourself straying into the thoughts of what can you make for dinner before it’s even lunchtime so that reminder that you are or should be mentally “at work” can sometimes be jogged back by that TO DO list. Understanding you have set goals to accomplish for work each day will help maintain that mindset. I know that someone falling, crying, overly loud teenagers or demanding spouses are all distractions we face at home. As I sit editing this, I was besieged with interruptions and distractions. The dog got out of the yard; son needed help trying to use the sewing machine plus the phone ringing off the hook. Now I should be taking my own advice and look at my TO DO list, post it in a visible place; maybe more than one place and remind my lovely family and extended family that I need to stay on task as well.
I know you can take the tidbits and use them to either laugh, criticize, or just commiserate with the challenges we all face working from home. There are benefits for the work from home group that anyone in the ‘business world’ cannot fully appreciate unless they really know what they miss out on day to day. Our families grow and change on a daily basis and when we spend 9-10+ hours away from them Monday through Friday for years on end, I wonder if one day we will regret doing that. Conversely, will we cherish the opportunity to work from home with all of it’s challenges and decide it is what we really want to continue doing because we got thrust into this ‘life/work style’ because of a virus? Finding our personal balance for home, work, family can be a challenge. For the ones that have learned to master and find their balance the rewards, both big and small, are worth every challenge along the path.