We’re all in this together, right? Except that we’re together alone – that’s the irony of the social distancing times we are in. And when it comes to the work-at-home challenge, it can tough to establish a comfortable new normal. Depending on our household composition, we can feel way too alone or way too close for comfort. Add to that the many health concerns we have for ourselves, our family, and our friends. Covid19 has woven its way into our everyday lives in a big way – including the way we work.
If you’re employed by an insurance agency, your usual workplace is probably an office setting. Now you’re working from home and if you’re alone it’s too quiet. If you are with spouse and family, it’s too noisy. Often, two or more people are sharing the limited space that can be carved out for work. Add to that the space and time required for other needs, such as squeezing in homeschooling on the side. Who wouldn’t be feeling stressed? There are many new work-at-home scenarios we’re trying to make “normal.” Let’s discuss a few ways that you can increase your comfort and decrease your stress.
Setting up the work-at-home space
Do your best to designate a consistent spot to call your “desk.” I’m working on my dining room table. The light is reasonably good for video calls and my work. The chair you sit in is also very important. Be sure it provides adequate support and you aren’t hunched over. If need be, put your computer screen on a box to adjust it to the correct height.
Set some ground rules with your family members about your workspace. Establish quiet times and break times when you can interact. Of course, this can vary depending on the ages of the people you share space with – toddlers and pets are not good with space and time zone limits but do your best. Keeping boundaries requires both your own self-discipline and considerable family cooperation.
Stand up hourly to take a moment to stretch. If possible, walk around while you’re on the phone. Take an occasional break to step out in the fresh air, it can work wonders.
As part of the boundary-setting, it can be helpful to establish an end-of-day ritual. Take a few deep breaths to shake off any work stress and leave it at your makeshift desk. When the workday is over, close your computer and rejoin your family.
Establishing a work-at-home community
Frustration can overtake your workday when dealing with technology challenges, the absence of team collaboration, and stressed-out customers. Reach out for support when you need it. If your supervisor hasn’t established weekly meetings, ask for that support. Be sure you understand the work priorities and what’s expected of you. Priorities, goals and expectations may all have changed from the ones you had previously.
Find ways to interact with colleagues. We’ve implemented a rule that we use video as much as possible when we connect, and it’s boosted our feelings of connectivity and minimized the feelings that we are alone. Keeping connected with co-workers can be very grounding, especially for support when dealing with problems or stressed-out customers. Informally checking in with team members just as you would if you were in the office can help make the new routine seem more familiar.
Managing work-at-home stress
All of us are being tested and stressed by the coronavirus and social distancing. There’s nothing normal about this situation. Our reactions can run the gamut from a mild case of the blues to something much more serious. Don’t ignore your feelings, doing so can lead to bigger problems. Here are some suggestions that might help:
- Get the basics right. Establish a daily routine, eat well, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Take nothing personally. Everyone is stressed and that means they’re saying and doing things they wouldn’t normally do. It’s not you.
- Make a list of at least five positive things that happened each day. Even very small things count.
- Get creative to replace the social interactions you miss. Book clubs, podcast clubs, and happy hours can all be done with remote video services like Zoom.
- Turn off the news. We all want to stay informed, but 24-7 exposure to bad news can increase your stress. Limit your exposure.
- Warm up your home environment. Add fresh flowers, scented candles or the comforting smell of home-baked chocolate chip cookies
- Escape into humor. Re-watch your favorite comedy films, get recommendations from friends, and then share a good laugh discussing them over Zoom
- Celebrate the heroes among us. Take heart in the extraordinary courage and compassion of the helpers among us and find ways to thank them
- Be part of the solution. Help people in need within your own community. Donate to a food bank. Drop off groceries for an elderly neighbor. Or your church might be able to identify people in need. Kindness is a stress reliever!
- Be resilient and adaptable. Even when this is over, things are unlikely to be the same as they were, but out of crisis comes opportunity for improvements.
- Draw on your strength. Think of other crises that we as a nation have weathered or that you personally survived. Draw on the strength and healing strategies that worked for you in the past.
- Stay in the moment and avoid projecting negativity.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Nothing about this is easy. Don’t expect perfection from yourself – or from those around you.
- Know when too much is too much. If you’re feeling overwhelmed and depressed and you can’t seem to find your way out, reach out for professional help.
Remember, in addition to your agency colleagues, you have a work-at-home support team at Renaissance Alliance, including a tech help line and professional experts who can help you solve problems. We may be apart for now, but we’ll all get through this together!