16 Mar How to work effectively and manage isolation when working from home
Some people take social distancing in stride, but for many, it causes anxiety and often extreme loneliness. To be quite honest, I’m very familiar with the pros and cons of working this way – I’ve got over two decades of experience!
Since the late 1990’s, I’ve spent much of my work week in my home-based office, connecting with colleagues and clients virtually – locally, nation-wide, and internationally. This is my ‘normal,’ and it’s also the norm for almost two million Canadians. With this said, millions of Canadians, have been suddenly thrust into this new way of working, with little or no experience – and perhaps with a less-than-optimal set-up for work.
Very familiar with the highs, lows, and challenges that come from working this way, I thought I’d share some of my tips. They’ll provide you with guidance and solutions to help you be productive and to stay connected, while helping to optimize your mental health at a time where Canadians are feeling unsettled and anxious. Over the last 25 years, I’ve successfully run my business from my home office, as well as while vacationing or spending extended periods of time in Italy, France, Britain, Croatia, the United States and the Caribbean – all because technology makes it possible (more on that later).
CREATE YOUR WORKSPACE:
It was 1998 when I started my business, and initially, I plunked my computer on an unwieldy microwave stand cast off to a corner of our basement recreation room, and pulled up a chair. I didn’t want to work in my bedroom and our then main floor was cluttered with baby bassinets, a playpen and all the items that come with a newborn. I needed a space to call my own and in which to be able wear my work hat. Lessons quickly learned? If you’re going to work at home either short or long term, get yourself a proper desk, a comfortable chair, a laptop stand and separate keyboard – and make sure you have a good wifi connection and other basics you’ll need like good lightning, a printer, basic office supplies, and if you’re going to be conducting meetings during which people can see you, a suitable backdrop (i.e. not your un-made bed). I like plenty of natural light, a view of the world beyond my office, good music playing, lots of plants, and a yoga mat next to me for frequent stretch breaks. My golden retriever works with me and offers great company!
AVOID WORKING IN YOUR PAJAMAS:
While it may be novel to work at home in your jammies with your hair unkempt, a day or two of this will be more than enough. You’ll feel better and be more productive, if you treat working from home much the way you would a day in the office or wherever you normally work. Lessons learned: Wake up at the same time, shower and dress the way you would for work, create a coffee/tea/snack station near your work space (to avoid side trips into the kitchen and other distractions along the way… like kids, pets and laundry), and manage your day, to the extent possible, in much the same way you always would. Obviously if you’ve got kids home from school and in need of supervision, you’re going to have to do things differently – perhaps working more when they’re busy with other activities or in bed for the night. Working successfully at home requires many if not most of the same things as being successful wherever you work.
STAY CONNECTED PROFESSIONALLY:
When you can no longer hear the buzz of colleagues chatting, don’t have people to enjoy breaks and lunch with, and in-person meetings grind to a halt, it’s easy to feel lonely, isolated and even anxious or blue. It’s all fun and games until reality hits. But your reality, like mine, can be a good reality, and technology makes staying connected easier than ever. Most meetings can be conducted by phone, Skype or another app or platform – so take full advantage and continue to hold virtual meetings with colleagues and clients. These days it’s easy to share files back and forth and to work on projects simultaneously. Since you’re not the only one working from home, it’s also a good time to reach out and connect with people you know — and don’t know, who do the same. Why not take some time to connect with a few people of interest on LinkedIn, or to write and share a post about some of the challenges you’re facing and invite others to weigh in? If others in your household are working from home too, you might consider creating a communal workspace where you can interact, take coffee breaks together, and have more of the office vibe you might be accustomed to.
MAINTAIN PERSONAL CONNECTIONS TOO:
Most of us become quite close with some of our colleagues and nobody talks business all the time. If working from home is new for you and your colleagues, aim to maintain the same rapport you would at the office. Check in on each other personally, share a few laughs, and talk about the challenges you’re experiencing working in this new way. You’ll be more productive and happier if you maintain relationships, feel connected and maintain team spirit. You can even agree to enjoy a coffee break or to have lunch together virtually. If your kids are off school and at home, enjoy breaks with them, lunches together, and be sure to take time out from work to admire their art work, crafts, and to interact. Being thrust into a new way of doing things, working or playing, will be an adjustment for everyone.
MAINTAIN YOUR NORMAL SCHEDULE AS BEST YOU CAN:
For many of us, the current social isolation guidelines mean no visits to the gym for the time being. This doesn’t mean you can’t exercise or have to stay indoors. In fact, maintaining your normal schedule to the extent possible is important, and brings stability to our lives, particularly at challenging times. If you can’t go to the gym, try walking or running outdoors instead. If you can’t visit with family or friends, stay connected using technology (like Skype, of Facetime, or phone). It’s best to maintain much the same schedule you and/or you and your family always maintain. Wake up and go to bed at the same times; prep and eat meals at the same time; maintain an exercise routine; etc. These solutions, in addition to my work-from-home tips, should help you adjust to working in isolation, whether short or long term.