We’ve all come to a slow realisation that Covid’s effects are here to stay, even if they’re just lingering. Knowingly or unknowingly, we’ve adjusted our lifestyles to cater to it. Going out less, buying masks in different prints, engaging in home-based hobbies, and… working from home.
With 2020’s focus on staying home, there was an increase in conversation about how there are incredible pros of working from home, especially for parents. You get to plan your own schedule, you cut down on commutes, and you have more time to spend with your family. And that’s all fine, of course. But now we’re in 2021, and somehow, you’re still working from home; you’re really settling into your reality of having a home-based work life. And like many of us, you’ve come to realise that it’s… messy.
Even before the pandemic set in and made working from home routine for millions of us, many workers had been bidding traditional office-based work goodbye. With technologies like Skype, Slack, and Zoom, I would only be exaggerating slightly when I say full-time office-based roles are no long necessary. In fact, if done right, many kinds of work done just as effectively, if not more, from a home-based workspace.
Be it due to covid or because you’re job is remote in itself, there is a sort of permanency that has set into our schedules when it comes from working from home. Gone is the thought that such an arrangement would be just a few months long; it has bled into the new year and has altered the way you work and plan. As with any permanent or semi-permanent arrangements comes the need to change habits and physical spaces to give yourself the best chance.
If you had been treating remote working as a temporary situation, then it could be overwhelming to think of changes to make to provide a more comfortable working experience for yourself. From ensuring that you don’t end up with shoulder and eye aches, to sharing work spaces with family members, to connecting with colleagues — these are all processes that can become easier with long-lasting changes.
Improving Your Home Environment for Work
1. Invest In Your Space
We’ve all gotten used to hunching over our laptops in the corners of our desks and our couches as we get through our emails or draft up documents. If you’ve done this for long enough, however, you’d have realised the tension and ache that has creeped up into your shoulders, neck, and eyes. Perhaps even your head. This not only has lasting effects on your physical well-being, but the tension can carry over to other parts of your life.
Being uncomfortable as you work can leave you snappy, irritated and unhappy. Your space at home then becomes associated with these sentiments, and it can worsen when there are multiple people who are working remotely from the same home. The aura of irritability and discomfort is difficult to miss.
Instead, invest into your workspace and how it aids your work flow. There is no one way to host a workspace, but it is good to pick one spot in the house and stick to it. This compartmentalises the house — and your mind — to be in the mood to work when you’re in the area. If you’re someone who prefers to lounge comfortably while working, get a floor chair that allows you to rest your back but keep your comfort. Rather than working from your bed, this floor chair could become your Work Chair. This way, keep both: your comfort and a specific area to work.
On the other hand, if you’re someone who prefers a traditional desk to work off from, ensure that you follow the right etiquette when working. Stay a healthy distance away from your monitor, take note of the lighting of your screen and your surroundings, sit upright as you type. Get a wrist rest if you need to. All of these are too easily ignored; “it’s just a few hours of work, what does it matter?”
These negligences build up, though, and cause you unnecessary strain that could be avoided. It might be seem like a waste of time or effort to amp up your work space, but it allows you to be as relaxed as possible while working. This not only makes work more enjoyable (or tolerable), but also leaves you feeling much better pre- and post-working hours.
2. Schedule, For You and Your Kids
There is nothing that can’t be done online. (My teenage brother has participated in basketball training done over Zoom. Technology really is incredible.) This also means that should it come to it, multiple family members could be home working around their own schedules. What is downtime for you could mean a period of heightened activity for your kids, and vice versa.
As such, it’s good to plan out a schedule for your kids and yourself. Does their lunch break fall during a time you will be in a meeting? If they’re old enough, encourage your children to prepare their meals with components you’ve prepared beforehand. For example, you could cook some burrito fillings before your kids heat them up and assemble one when it’s time for them to have lunch.
Alternatively, if you know that both you and your kids will be having online meetings, it would be good to allocate different parts of the house to each of you. Planning, allocating and getting help from your kids is a great way to connect with them. Not only does it give them a voice and some semblance of control over their lives, your responsibilities are also shared and delegated.
Work alongside your kids to come up with a way to co-share a space for both working and relaxing. This puts everyone on the same page. Seeing everyone’s responsibilities also increases the level of consideration that you have for each other.
3. Take Care of Yourself
Perhaps the most important thing to remember is taking care of yourself. Self-care is just as important even if you’re working from home. It can be easier to slip into detrimental habits when you’re spending increased amounts of time at home, but with little steps, you can still take care of yourself.
One main challenge we face is balancing taking care of ourselves while managing everything that calls for our attention. Before, there was a clear separation between our physical boundaries for work and play. This aided our mental separation between office and personal hours. Now, we are handling everything from the same location; this requires increased mental effort to disconnect work from home. Adjustments have to be made to work and home life to be able to recharge and restart the next day.
As a freelancer, I am all too familiar with the woes of remote working. There used to be weeks where I would only sleep for three to four hours a day. Hours into my day, I would still be sitting in my pyjamas with disheveled hair. You would think that working from home is ideal: you have access to a shower, clean clothes, a stocked fridge and pantry. It’s difficult to imagine why one wouldn’t be able to take care of themselves.
The reality is that we forget to take care of ourselves. In our hustle, it’s easily to over-schedule and over-commit ourselves to projects. “Yes, I can take on this project,” you would say as you slot in a project on Thursday evenings, easily looking over the fact that that’s one of the few evenings you have to yourself.
You need to prioritise yourself just as you would prioritise your work or a certain project. Treat remote working like a traditional job when it comes to timings. Start and end work at a stipulated time. If you’re scheduled to start to 9:30AM, start only then. Don’t start earlier because you have the time anyway. This messes up your commitment to yourself and the things you love. They start to come second to your work — when they should be just be as important.
Set boundaries: from time limits to outfits. Get dressed for work, even if it’s from home. It doesn’t have to be fancy. I simply switch from my pyjamas to comfortable sweatpants after a quick shower. Still, that readies me for work. After I hit the stipulated end time for my work, I switch out of my sweatpants to nightwear. These outfits might seem redundant, but they do help in reminding yourself that you should no longer check your emails. That, in fact, it is now time for you to wind down. This is especially important when we use the same devices for both work and relaxation.
Most importantly, remember to go easy on yourself. All parents struggle, even if they’re seasoned professionals who work from home. Don’t stress too much about providing the most optimal meals every day. Sometimes, chicken nuggets are great to eat too. Similarly, you might not be able to commit to work with full dedication every day. That’s alright. It’s good to be realistic. Perfection is not the goal — trying your best is. Maintain your top priorities to the best of your ability.