Up until recently, for most of us, home and work weren’t the same place. However, as we all participate in social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19, many people’s houses and apartments now double as their offices. As of April 3, a minimum of 311 million people in U.S. states, counties and cities – in addition to Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia – were advised not to go out except for essential activities, according to The New York Times.
Merging your office with your living space can be a jarring transition, as you seek to mentally and physically juggle all of this altered reality’s consolidated responsibilities. That’s especially true for parents coping with widespread school and daycare closures.
If you’re having trouble adjusting to the new normal of your domestic and professional lives co-existing in one space, here are some tips to help you stay as productive and focused as possible while you work from home during this challenging time.
Generally Maintaining Your Sanity and Getting Things Done at Home
If you’re accustomed to your home being a place where you relax, spend time with your family, watch TV and so on, it can be difficult to switch gears and tackle your professional obligations from your living room, kitchen or bedroom.
The following recommendations will help you adjust and continue to knock out your to-do list, even if your office is now just a few feet from your bed or couch.
1. Get dressed in actual clothes before you start work. With no commute to worry about and with your colleagues no longer sharing your space, you might feel tempted to just spend all day in your pajamas. However, doing that can sabotage your productivity.
You don’t have to put on a suit and tie, but keeping a business casual dress code as if you’re still commuting to the office can put you in the right headspace for work, according to the HubSpot blog post “How to Work From Home: 20 Tips From People Who Do It Successfully.” Additionally, being properly clothed means you won’t have to worry about looking put-together during video calls and meetings.
2. Designate a specific area of your home as your office. Just as donning at least semi-proper clothes can make it easier to stay on task and not lapse into lounging, working in a place that you’ve deliberately set up as an office – rather than just lying in bed or on the couch with your laptop – can keep you from getting distracted, according to the BBC article “Coronavirus: How to work from home, the right way.”
Whether you simply set up your laptop on a table looking away from your bed or put together a whole home office with multiple monitors and an ergonomic desk chair, having a designated workspace will make it easier to maintain boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
3. Maintain a regular routine. This is an extremely stressful time for us all, and it’s completely understandable if you’re having trouble concentrating and continuing to eat and sleep on a normal schedule. However, continuing to keep a reliable daily routine – e.g., having coffee and breakfast in the morning before you open your laptop and start answering emails – will preserve the boundary between work and home life and keep you productive, according to HubSpot.
It’s particularly important to continue to take breaks, eat lunch and keep your normal work hours. When you work from home, it’s easy to lose track of time, overwork yourself and get burnt out if you aren’t careful.
Balancing Work and Childcare
If you have children who are now home with you full-time, getting your work done like usual can be extra difficult. Here are some recommendations from experts who have experience balancing parenthood with professional life.
1. Establish clear boundaries and communicate them to your children. Make sure your kids know that you need to focus during your office hours, as recommended in the Ledgeview Partners blog post “How to Work from Home Effectively When You Have Children.” Request that they avoid interrupting you unless it’s for important matters or emergencies.
Additionally, if your home office is in a room separate from communal/essential areas like the living room and the kitchen, you can close the door and put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign to remind everyone else in your household that you’re at work and trying to focus.
2. Divide up childcare duties, if possible. If you have a partner who helps take care of the kids and who’s quarantined at home with you, you can discuss watching the kids in shifts, as your work schedules allow, according to the CNBC article “Working at home during the coronavirus crisis with kids underfoot? Here are 9 ways to cope.” That way, you can each potentially get some uninterrupted time to concentrate on your professional obligations.
3. Find activities that will keep your kids busy while requiring little supervision. School-age children can spend your office hours completing any remote learning responsibilities they now have. For younger kids, try to find engrossing pastimes that they can complete without much, if any, guidance, the CNBC article suggests. Some ideas include puzzles, games (physical or virtual) and TV shows. You can even just hand them some crayons and printer paper and let them get creative while you work.
4. Don’t stress about screen time. Before the pandemic, it was generally frowned upon to keep your kids distracted by screens for hours. However, given the current state of the world, it’s ok to be more lenient about time spent watching TV and YouTube.
“Days home with small children should be approached like airplane flights with small children: Whatever it takes to get through it, do it, as long as they’re safe and not hurting anyone,” said Corrine Purtill, a Los Angeles-based journalist and parent of two – in The New York Times article “Figuring Out Work and Family in the Age of Coronavirus.”
Keep in mind, however, that streaming video could eat up bandwidth you need for video calls and other work-related tasks. If possible, you can avoid that issue by having your kids use your phone data/Wi-Fi hotspot for their videos while you work.
5. Cut yourself some slack if your kids distract you and/or crash a video call. Being a parent and being flawlessly professional at the same time and in the same space isn’t always possible. One famous example is Professor Robert Kelly, whose live BBC TV interview went viral a few years ago when his small children burst into his office and stole the show.
At the end of the day, we’re all only human, and your colleagues will likely understand that juggling childcare and conference calls is far from easy.
“It’s just really, really tough,” Kelly remarked in a more recent BBC interview, according to NPR.
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