Coping with Working from Home

By Robert Gumiela

In these unprecedented times, many employees for the first time in their careers are being shifted from their normal office environments to working from home. If this is you, it is not unusual to experience social anxiety as you navigate a workday from a new home base. 

I’ve been fortunate to work from a home twice in my career; my first home-office base lasted three years and my present job is also home-based. I’m currently going on nine years.

I made most of my work from home mistakes in the first two years, so hopefully by sharing some of my experiences as a home office veteran, I can help alleviate some of the anxiety that comes from “work from home syndrome.” Here are some of the things that I have learned along the way that may help you establish a routine. 

At the beginning of each workday, wake up at the same time as you would for your “normal” business day. Maintain your regular routine, whatever that may include, such as, shaving, showering, stretching, exercising, and having a home-made breakfast. Dress as you would for a “casual day” at the office: there is no need for formal business attire such as a suit and tie or dress. But being properly dressed and not in PJs or track pants maintains a psyche of professionalism. 

Since you no longer have to commute, use the extra time wisely. I subscribe to reputable news sources and read a newspaper. I still tend to read the comics first! Humour is the best medicine and will put you in a more positive mind set. 

Before you power up your computer, try going analog first. I use a traditional spiral bound notebook to write down the day’s priorities, including the date, the potential deadline of the project, and a list of things or collaborations that might need to be executed to complete this task. By writing down a task on paper, you have a higher success rate of focusing and completing your project. And it is easy to reference throughout the day.

As your e-mails arrive, only go to them once every half hour rather than reacting to a constant barrage of notifications. After 45 minutes, leave your home office and do something physical, even if it means just standing outside and taking in some fresh air. When you are setting up your home office make sure you have the tools to allow you to communicate in a virtual face-to-face conversation. I find Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp to be my key tools. Zoom, of course, is another one.

Your home office should be just that, an office! Not a dining room or the kitchen table. Your office space should be physically separated from other parts (read distractions) of your home, even if it means using a folding screen to create a separated space that becomes your office space. Environment is critical. Do not work in a basement room with no windows. This just adds to a feeling of isolation. I find having a window critical for well-being. 

Invest in a Himalayan Salt Lamp, use lighting sources that output at a maximum 3,000K, have an air purifier running, and add some plants that can clean the air, too. The biggest difference between your office and your new home-based work space is ergonomic, lighting, air quality and such, so try to replicate them the best you can. 

Run dual screens off your PC. Have a sound source that plays “background” music (classical music has been clinically proven to be beneficial) and perhaps have a TV tuned to a news channel, but at a very low volume. Don’t underestimate the need to hear human voices as you work, it will help you cope with the isolation.

There is an elephant(s) in the room – dealing with your children, especially as they, too, are in a new routine away from school. This takes a lot of planning but can be done. Imagine your normal workday, the commute, the regular hours of work, the “staying late to finish” hours. If you add these hours up, you’re likely in the range of 12 hours devoted to a commuting work environment. You should soon realize that working from home is far more productive and those 12 hours will magically shrink to six or four hours of real work. Managing children now is a matter of scheduling and creating meaningful activities for the kids. Can you alternate with your partner or a close (safe) relative? Can you have your children engage with you, in an everyday “bring your kid to work” day? The younger they are, the more difficult it will be. But think through your daily schedule in 30-minute blocks and how you will split those blocks into work and childcare.

Distractions come in many forms. At the office, distractions are aplenty as well, including conversations with co-workers, breaks, group lunches, meetings (of which most are useless but more on that in another post). The home office also has tempting distractions as you are not governed by being in a group environment. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, YouTube, video games are inviting distractions that can cause more harm than good. Thirty years ago, I became distracted by the video games Armor Alley and Sim City. Gaming was a nascent distraction that quickly became an addictive one. My productivity dropped, I became more isolated from family interactions, and I experienced mood swings if I didn’t have my gaming fix. If you’ve ever been on a physician prescribed diet, the fix to distractions is simple: go analog – write down in a day timer what you did every 15 minutes. At the end of week, review and it’s likely the information will startle you.

Working from home isn’t for everyone. I find only a third of people I know have successfully made the transition. Discipline is paramount, however anxiety arising from the lack of conventional social contact and context is probably the most significant factor. I cannot stress enough that if you are experiencing stress or anxiety it is not a scarlet letter that you wear; look at online resources that are readily available and in this time of pandemic, DO NOT INTERACT SOCIALLY IN CONFINED PHYSICAL SPACES. Three weeks ago, the grandchildren of my cousin returned to Toronto from a trip to Ohio. The family held a get together to welcome everyone back home, ignoring the quarantine/self-isolation warnings. Yesterday, my cousin, Ken Wilkes, the grandfather, died as a result of exposure to COVID-19 at the age of 76. He was still actively operating his health and safety business. Unfortunately, best intentions must always be tempered by the new realities that we all face. Reach out if you are having issues with coping but do it in a manner that doesn’t put others at risk. My perennial plants in my food garden are growing again. You will grow again, perhaps in an alternative manner, but it will happen.

Robert Gumiela is Vice President, Marketing at Power Group Retail Solutions.