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Working from home: challenges and solutions!

Dog looking over a laptop keyboard

It’s just not that glamorous. There I said it. I mean, I’ve always been a little jealous of those lucky folks who boast of staying in their pajamas and bunny slippers all day – no shower, no makeup – and seem to singularly conquer the working world. Don’t get me wrong, I am sure there are plenty of overachievers out there who get up before dawn, lead a virtual Barre class, sterilize their entire house, plant a garden, bake organic gluten-free muffins (using fruit from said garden), paint a mural, and plan out their kids’ daily academic and social schedules while prepping gourmet dinners for the week; ALL while closing the big sale or solving their company’s biggest problems. Me? I’m still working to get out of the bunny slippers stage.

Today marks a full month that I have been blessed to have the ability to work from home. It truly has been a gift and I appreciate it more than I can say. But this new world comes with its own set of challenges and it has taken some time to figure out what works and doesn’t. I would speculate this is the case for many of us thrust into this solitary situation. Although my experiences and successes will differ from others’, I’m going to share some of the strategies that have helped and hindered me.

Creating a dedicated home office space

My husband works from home on occasion and recently carved out a workspace well suited for his work routine. But I needed my own space. Luckily I had a desk that was previously used by my now college-aged kids but now sits vacant in a separate area. I cleared that desk to make it my own, embellished it with Jeanne D’Arc Credit Union pencils, pens, highlighters, and assorted swag, wrote an inspirational message on my chalkboard, and was quite pleased with the result. After 2 days of sitting on the pretty chair that accompanied that desk for 6+ years, I was sure I would never be able to stand straight again. I’m all about saving money, but a worthwhile investment was an office chair with lumbar support, wheels, and adjustable height. I find most office furniture to be ugly and masculine not to mention expensive. After a search, I found one that was cheap enough and “not too ugly”. It’s debatable whether you need a desk or if a makeshift substitute will do. If possible, I would suggest a desk to keep your area specific to work- it doesn’t need to be heirloom quality furniture. Desks come in all sizes and price ranges, so if you decide it’s important to have one, shop for one that fits your budget and available space. I shopped for my chair at a local office supply store and was able to order/pay online and pick it up the same day. This was probably my best decision so far. Create a designated space with a workable desk and a good chair; buy them locally to get them asap.

Determine a routine that works for you

Everyone has different schedules and what works for me might not work for you. It’s beneficial to experiment with various routines while adjusting to a new lifestyle. First, determine what hours are most vital for your job; do you have meetings scheduled throughout the day, or need to be available via email, text, etc.? Plan your workday around those needs. I happen to be an early riser so I prefer to get up and get right to work. However after some trial and error, I found that I am truly a creature of habit and much more motivated to work if I keep a routine similar to my days in the office: get up, walk the dog, shower, dress in “real clothes”, have coffee and go to work. Oh, and I take one more cup of coffee to my desk. It’s the little things that keep it normal. If you are not a morning person, determine if you can get the job done by adjusting your hours to start later in the day. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you clear your plans with your supervisor and everyone on your work team! Find your normal and enforce it daily for structure.

Check-in often, make lists and stay connected

It’s important to stay in touch with your supervisors and co-workers for assignments and updates but also for your sanity. Priorities are probably going to shift as new items come up that need attention. Keep a list of your base assignments but add new items as they arise and review often to re-prioritize. Also, keep track of job details that you have accomplished so you are well prepared when you have that eventual one-on-one with your boss. Interacting with others in your company is also important. At my company, employees have been kept well-informed of important updates and changes but also have been invited to participate in fun activities such as contests and video sharing opportunities. Taking part in social activities with your work family can have a positive impact on your attitude! Be flexible with assignments and keep track of work but stay connected & communicate.

Carve out time to desk-share

Two of my college-aged children are still in remote classes. I’m pretty impressed that we are able to have two workspaces in one house, but there’s no way we have room for 3 or 4. This means we are sometimes sharing desks. We each have our own laptops, but you may be sharing those as well. Having a routine with flexibility saves the day. During their scheduled classes, I can plan a break or if that’s not possible, I can use a temporary area at my kitchen table. If you are sharing a computer, reserve tasks that you can work on without it, or use your phone as a backup. Keep a substitute space clutter-free and be willing to cooperate.

Take breaks for physical and mental health

As previously mentioned I needed a good chair to sit in because much of my job is currently done while seated. Even the best chair isn’t enough to compensate for movement. I make time to get up and stretch or move about every hour or two- it really helps my back. It can be a quick walk to the washer to throw a load of laundry in, or it can be a short jaunt around the block with Tucker (my current furry co-worker). Some days I meet up with my husband for coffee or lunch just to break up the routine and have some adult conversation. It’s important to stay sharp when you are isolated, and scheduling breaks really helps both physically and psychologically.

Other little suggestions that help me

Have patience with yourself and others. Do your best; it’s all you can do. Hydrate hydrate hydrate! Eat healthy foods. Breathe deeply. Laugh. Be thankful you have this option; many people do not. And remember that this is temporary. Please feel free to share your own tips in the comments!

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