Remember work life, pre-Covid? Wow, what a different world that was. We took for granted that the air was safe, didn’t worry much about viruses, and could only fantasize about having the ability to work at home.
A major lesson Covid-19 has taught us about the workplace is how flexible it can be. It took a pandemic to show us that many jobs can be adapted to accommodate working at home. This revelation has changed work life for tens of thousands of people, some for better and some for worse.
Why Some Thrive and Some Nose-Dive When Working from Home
Many factors impact whether a person will thrive or nosedive as a result of working at home. Individual circumstances are the most important factor, but there are some traits and characteristics that can play into the outcome.
- Introversion/extraversion scale:
Introversion and extraversion are two opposite ways people function and recharge their internal energy resources. Extraverts gain energy from spending time with others, working in a team and being social. Introverts gain energy from having time alone and being able to process independently. Because introverts do best with having alone-time, working at home may be less challenging than for extraverts who thrive on the energy of teamwork.
- Level of distraction:
People who are juggling child-rearing responsibilities, the demands of pets or limited space from others living in the home are more prone to distraction in a work-at-home situation. High levels of distraction can be a discouraging aspect of a home-office.
- Online-meeting fatigue:
As more people have been working from home, this new term has emerged in our workplace vernacular; it’s true, online-meetings are exhausting. Much of the face-to-face cues we are accustomed to are lost in a virtual-meeting settings, and this requires us to be hypervigilant about how we speak, where we look and even how we look (trying to find a camera angle that doesn’t show every nose hair and facial pore; do we look at the camera or the screen itself? Are we muted?)
- Ability to keep a routine (including start and stop times):
Working at home can also pose a challenge for those who struggle with keeping a routine outside of the office. The flexibility that the work-at-home option has allowed is helpful for some and dreadful for others.
People who can stay connected to a daily routine, even when no one is looking (supervisors), are more apt to feel as if they are accomplishing work tasks than people who tend to procrastinate and keep a more loose schedule while working at home.
When we start to feel disconnected from purpose and productivity in our work it is easy to fall into a pattern of feeling dissatisfied. People who tend toward over-working may have a hard time setting internal limits on the workday. They may also be overdoing it and not stopping the workday at the designated time.
How to Manage Work-at-Home Burnout
Finding balance between work and personal life can be even more challenging with a work-at-home model. Prior to Covid-19, there were natural transitions built into the day, including the daily commute and arrival home, as well as built-in breaks that the workplace offered. Even with a work-at-home plan, you can create a plan for enhanced work-life balance.
- Set a start and end-time for your workday and stick to it.
- Schedule built-in breaks (even ask Alexa to set a reminder to take a break several times during the day).
- Resist the temptation to work through lunch. Your energy levels will stay consistent if you eat at normal times and take a mid-day break to reduce fatigue.
- Take a mid-day walk. Even a short walk will boost endorphins and increase your focus and energy levels when you get back to work.
- Request a video-free meeting option. It may be that your employer hasn’t thought about online meeting fatigue; suggest an option for non-video participation.
- Invest in a noise-cancelling headset. It can be useful for meeting participation as well as filtering out distractions in your home.
- Set up a ‘do not disturb’ agreement. Depending on the age of your children or other family members and their specific needs, you may be able to set up an arrangement in which the family is not allowed to disturb you for a certain timeframe during the workday, unless it is an emergency. Specify what constitutes an emergency beforehand so that everyone agrees ahead of time.
- If you are juggling work responsibilities while at home with elementary-aged children, put together a go-to box to help keep them busy while you are working. There are many free resources online for scavenger hunts, child-friendly craft activities and simple no-cook snack ideas that kids will enjoy doing independently.
- Unplug from the technology. As tempting as it may be to turn off the computer and turn on the tv and zone out after the workday, don’t let yourself get stuck in the rut of mindless electronic binging. What else do you enjoy? Even in the age of Covid we can rekindle joy in socially distant, masked visits with friends or a hike on a local trail. Watch tv like you would eat dessert; a little here and there.
Whether working at home is the best thing ever or driving you bonkers, make sure you have a healthy balance between work and play. Be patient with yourself, this is new for everyone and there will be natural ups and downs as a result.