Seven years ago, I left a highly collaborative team office environment and started working from home alone. What a change! Since then, I’ve learned a few things about how to take care of yourself when you live and work in the same place. Here are my tips.
You may have noticed that working from home can be lonely. In my experience, this is normal. It takes some time to adjust to the solitude of a home office. I was surprised that working from home initially felt very isolating (it doesn’t now). I was amazed at how long it took me to adjust to get used to the change (a few months), especially since I had been looking forward to all the benefits of working from home. For me, this was just one of those things that gets better with time.
Because you are at home and no one is peering over your cube walls, or knocking on your office door, it’s easier to get totally immersed in what you are doing. Have you had the experience of sitting down at your desk at 8 AM, and what seems like an hour later realizing it is 2 PM? You might be doing some of your best thinking, but also skipping meals and not moving around much. Every morning I set a series of alarms on my phone. The alerts remind me to dial into meetings and also remind me it is time to eat or time to take a walk.
To my knowledge, there’s no scientific study to prove this theory, but I believe that what you wear has an impact on how you think and act. Think about your professional clothes as a costume, and you are an actor. When you put on your costume, you are now your professional self. I wear a blazer for every online presentation. I wear a blouse and jewelry for every call, including but not limited to video calls. If you are having a hard time thinking about work, replace the hoodie with the clothes you wear to the office (but, feel free to keep on your slippers, no need for uncomfortable shoes at home).
Working at home can be tough because there’s work to do all around you. When you could be relaxing on the couch, the desk is just a step away. When you should be working on business projects, laundry and dirty dishes may be calling. I find it hard to stay on task at work when the house is a mess. Some people say close your office door, but even with it closed I still know there’s a mess out there to clean up. I have become much more regimented about keeping the house picked up so I can keep focused on work during work hours.
Unfortunately, seven years of school sick days did not provide me with the silver bullet answer for how to work and take care of kids at the same time. When busy, I’ve gotten up at 4 or 5 AM to work, then I worked on and off interrupted all day, and went back to work after bedtime. We have a rule in my house that when I’m on a work call, only fire or blood gives you permission to enter my office, and still, I’ve had a little guy standing beside me waving at a group of colleagues on Zoom. (As an aside after one of those episodes he asked, “if you’ve never met her in real life how do you know if she has legs?” I asked. She did.) Fortunately, we are all in the same boat now, and seeing an occasional kid, cat, or other family member pop into the video is our new normal. If you want proof of that, check out this funny article from Fast Company (warning: not kid-appropriate).
All this change can be crazy-making but, know that many of your colleagues are also learning to dodge Nerf darts, teach the dog that work-time is not playtime, and wipe runny noses all while working.