Traps to Avoid While Working from Home
I hope you’ve all fared as well as possible this week. I know you’re going through major and very sudden changes in your work and personal lives – I’m right there with you. The days have been challenging and I’ve found it hard not to fixate on the myriad outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic. My businesses offer in-person group training and involve a good deal of travel so it’ll be a while till things return to normal in my work life. The financial and psychological wellbeing of my amazing team members has weighed heavily on my mind and, like many people around the world, I’ve felt frustrated, helpless and worried about the future.
These feelings of helplessness have prompted me to really assess and focus on things that are in my control at this point in time. What will the future bring? I have no idea, nor does anyone else. Will my businesses survive? Will we be able to get back on our feet once things have settled down? I sure hope so but again, there’s no way of knowing. How long will all of this go on? If our prime minister and leading health experts don’t know the answer to that question, it’s unlikely that any amount of over-thinking on my part will result in an answer. I’ve been working on catching myself before I get sucked too deeply into the “what if…?” vortex, and trying to redirect my brain to concrete things I can control. Being productive in my work role is one of those things.
You know the saying “Don’t bring your work home with you”? It’s kind of a funny expression given our current situation, where many people who were used to being able to leave work at work now have no choice but to work from home. The point of that wise adage is that boundary-setting is vital to keep your family and personal relationships healthy and maintain a sense of balance. If you’ve set up shop at home perhaps you’ve found that you’re only 50% focused on your work tasks and also only 50% mentally present when spending time with your family or engaging in your downtime. Set yourself a schedule and hold yourself accountable to it. Create a workspace and treat it no differently than your actual office. It should be a quiet and relatively private space if possible, free from distractions including other family members. It’s unlikely that you’ll be at your most productive sitting on the couch in PJs while your kids stream Frozen 2 on Disney Plus. If you’re following the COVID-19 situation by watching daily press briefings or reading the news, carve out time to do that in your schedule but resume working at a set time. Don’t let yourself fall down the rabbit hole! Supporting healthy boundaries between work and family will allow you to be fully present for both.
Prior to the days of COVID-19, technology was often seen as a barrier to social connectedness. We complained that people had one eyeball on their phone at all times and therefore couldn’t be completely present in conversations; we were texting and emailing when a face-to-face conversation would have served the purpose better; we over-used social media to a point where “liking” someone’s photo took the place of meaningful in-person dialogue. Well, for all its faults technology will likely become a pillar in saving our social health in the weeks and months to come. If you’re working from home it’s easy to get into a rut, or confine yourself to your own little bubble where you’re fulfilling your responsibilities but have lost your connection to your work peeps and/or to your organization’s mission. Make a point to stay as connected as you can. Platforms like Zoom and FaceTime are wonderful tools for this. Take the necessary steps to maintain relationships with both your co-workers and the company itself. Remember that these strange times won’t last forever, and this will make the adjustment back to business as usual a whole lot easier for you in addition to being helpful in the here and now.
There are lots of reasons to feel extra stressed right now but changes related to our work schedules might carry some perks, too. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them for the sake of your mental health. Now is not the time to say no to strategies that are effective for helping you blow off steam. Since I’ll likely be working from home for a few months I’ve put a lot of thought and experimentation into finding a routine that allows me to be as productive as possible while also giving me some balance, as I know one of my tendencies when I’m stressed is to work around the clock. I’m an early riser and I like getting my work day started by the time the sun comes up. I prefer to work a longer day to make space for a break of about two hours in the afternoon. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts that I do a lot of walking and hiking with my pup, Ruby. We now do that each afternoon – about halfway through my workday – and it’s been a great help to my mental health. While we’re out, I don’t check my phone for news updates or respond to work calls or emails. I’ve been making it a point to take note of and feel grateful for any and all positives brought about by my altered work routine. When things get back to normal in the world I’ll be trading in my fuzzy slippers for heels most days. I’ll be spending a lot of time on the road and I’ll miss sleeping in my own bed. My typical day will be filled with meetings and other work commitments that can’t easily be moved and I won’t have the flexibility I have at this moment in time. There’s nothing I can do to change the current situation so I’m going to be darn sure to recognize and savour these things now.
Most of us depend on work to provide us with structure and routine, a way to connect with others and to the world around us, an opportunity to learn new things and exercise our unique skills and as a source of satisfaction and meaning. These are all things that feed our mental wellbeing. Make it a priority to find a way that working remotely can continue to do all of these things.
In the vein of learning new things, I’m excited to share with you that Arpeggio Health Services has brought its original seminar The Mentally Healthy Workplace online! Registration has just opened up at www.arpeggiohealthservices.com and I’ll be delivering the first virtual session personally – from my home office to yours! – in two parts, on April 7 & 8, 10:00-11:30 a.m. both days. Our present circumstances have of course made it necessary to postpone in-person delivery of this session but I’m confident the material will be just as valuable as an interactive webinar. I hope to e-meet many of you in this session!
Thanks for reading, and stay well!
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.