By Jennifer Spengler, a health and wellness writer for Sharp Health News and a marketing specialist for Sharp HealthCare.
I have the most annoying co-worker. Nearly every morning, he comes in, jumps on my desk and swiftly knocks all my pens to the floor. Then he looks me right in the eye as if daring me to do something about it.
I'd report it to HR, but I have little faith they'll take any action. And that's not because they're not good at their job - they're great at what they do - but because my officemate, Mumford, is a cat, and like millions of people around the world, I am working from home due to COVID-19 stay-at-home orders with no one here to protect me from workplace cat harassment.
In any given moment throughout the workday, I deal with my dog barking, Mumford doing his very cat-like things, kids homeschooling and a husband also trying to get his own work done. The Wi-Fi crashes quite often and the neighbors' kids seem to be having an awful lot of very loud outdoor homeschool PE.
And what about all those video conferences? Working from home is supposed to mean pajamas all day and hair and makeup never. But, no, we - as well as the room behind us - have to look professional. And we're responsible for the other people in the home office looking presentable, too, in case they get within view of the computer's camera.
While all of these issues are mere annoyances in the big picture of what the world is dealing with during the COVID-19 pandemic - and I am very aware of just how fortunate I am to have a job I love and can do from home - there is some truth to the point that remote work is not all we may have imagined, and for many, work-from-home (WFH) burnout is very real.
Solutions to your WFH problems
Here's why working from home feels so tough and what you can do about it:
1. Work-life balance becomes far trickier.
It's hard to fully step away from your work life to focus on your personal life when both take place in one small space. The memo you didn't finish earlier still appears on your monitor, just waiting to be completed and sent. And remember when you used to leave your office and drive home to enjoy some time with your loved ones, or go straight to your favorite fitness class? I hardly do, either. Due to stay-at-home orders, there is no easy way to ensure you're enjoying real work-life balance when it all happens in the very same space.
The solution: Create a regular work schedule. Decide the hours you will work, when you will take breaks and when you will "clock out" and focus on your home life. The key is then to stick to that schedule, allowing some grace for kid and animal interruptions. At the end of each workday, create a task list for the following day and vow you won't try to tackle those projects - along with any incoming work-related emails - on your "you time," which should include activity outside your live-work space, if possible.
2. You miss in-person connection.
You know that co-worker who always talks about herself and rarely asks how you or your family members are doing? Or the one that never hesitates to take a moment to congratulate you on a job well-done and share his incredible home-baked cookies? You might be surprised to find you miss them both equally. In fact, you miss all of the people you see each day in the workplace because humans need connection, and while modern technology offers a pretty good alternative - choppy internet and video conferencing rookies aside - it's just not the same.
The solution: Find new ways to keep up personal connections with co-workers outside of scheduled calls and video conferences. Swap recipes via text, send funny memes in a quick email or become social media "friends" to learn more about their personal lives, if you feel comfortable doing so. Any form of human connection is valuable - make a little extra effort to ensure you're connecting with others, both in your work life and in your personal life.
3. Your home office is not as user-friendly as your onsite office.
Think of the equipment and resources your onsite office offers: Your managers and team members are mere steps away for easy access when a question arises or you need to brainstorm a project, not miles away dealing with their own kids and creatures. The Wi-Fi flows freely; but if not, the IT pros can swing by your desk to work their magic. It's obvious that the 2 square feet at the end of the kitchen table you now call a home office is definitely not comparable to what you're likely used to.
The solution: Your employer will likely be very willing to help you get what you need to do your job well — just ask. You can make just about any space a workable space with a few tweaks. Seek out a spot that offers good lighting, an orderly background for video conferences, enough tabletop space for your computer or laptop, a comfortable chair, and no sightlines to dirty dishes in a sink or loads of laundry waiting to be put away. A dedicated workspace with a door you can close is optimal, but a small, secluded spot and some good earphones can also do the trick.
There's a lot you can't control, so focus on what you can
While we may not be able to get our new office mates to cooperate — or just to not walk across our keyboards while we're working — there are things we can control about our WFH experience. We can be grateful about having a job and not having a commute longer than one room to the next; give ourselves permission to work a little differently than we're used to with allowances for a few extra distractions and breaks; and make sure we're not letting the lines between work life and personal life blur.
So, grab your face covering and take a walk around the block during your "lunch hour" or simply sit outside and listen to the birds. Build an online exercise class into your after-work schedule or set aside some time to try a new recipe. Plan a virtual "happy hour" with good friends or simply sit quietly with a good book and cup of tea. Taking the time to be good to yourself and your loved ones will ensure you're also a good WFH employee.
Plus, let's all take a moment to recognize that once we go back to in-person meetings, there's no "mute all" button that can be activated. And those furry friends and cute kids that might be driving you nuts now? I'm going to take a wild guess that you're going to miss them as much as I'm going to miss this extra time with Mumford and all my other noisy, messy quarantine co-workers once the pandemic has passed.
Jen Spengler is a health and wellness writer for Sharp HealthCare.