man working from home talking on the phone

How To Make ‘Working From Home’ Work For You

9 Tips for Finding the Right Balance

Still working from home? Working from home … again?

As the coronavirus remains active in Northeast and Central Wisconsin, employers continue to grapple with the best ways to keep their businesses functioning and productive while protecting the health of their workers and customers.

Depending on the activity level of the virus and other circumstances, it may mean working from home for the foreseeable future, or even bouncing back and forth between the office and home. And though teleworking offers some undeniable advantages, it also has its drawbacks. Catherine Langdon, MS, Licensed Professional Counselor and Mental Health Clinician at ThedaCare Behavioral Health in Menasha, offers a few tips to make working from home a little easier.

1. Create a dedicated work zone.

Establish when and where you are going to work. It’s important to create a separate work zone that helps you mentally separate from everything else taking place in your household. Then decide what time you are going to start and stop your work day, and stick to it as much as possible.

2. Be candid with your boss.

As families prepare for the upcoming school year – potentially featuring a blend of in-person and virtual learning – communication will be key.

“If you have children at home that you must care for and are unable to maintain a typical work schedule, make sure you are talking with your manager/supervisor about how you can still work and care for your children,” said Langdon. “Be sure to convey that you really want to work, but you need some flexibility. That’s going to be especially important as the school year opens, depending on how your child’s school plans to operate.”

3. Set boundaries.

“It’s okay to tell your co-workers and friends when you’re working and when you’re not available,” said Langdon. “You can say, ‘I’m not checking my work email during these times or I’m not available to socialize at these times because I’m working.’”

It’s important to be able to give each part of your day the attention it deserves. This includes spending quality time with your family, allowing yourself time for self-care and personal space, and dedicating time to your work. Setting and communicating those boundaries is critical.

4. Keep the lines of communication open.

Once boundaries and routines are established, it’s important to reduce the isolation between your co-workers and yourself.

“You can’t congregate in the break room or eat lunch together to keep communication lines open, so use video chat options like Zoom or FaceTime to continue that interaction,” recommended Langdon. “Maybe meet a co-worker for a virtual lunch in addition to the professional virtual meetings you’re having. It’s important to keep interpersonal relationships active, too.”

You’ll also want to consider asking your manager for a little check-in time occasionally to understand what is happening throughout the company and engage on a more personal level.  Make sure you identify any needs that aren’t being met and offer suggestions about how to make things better.

5. Get moving.

“Get up at least once an hour and move around,” noted Langdon. “Take a walk around your house or go outside and walk around the block. When you’re working in an office, you move around more than you might realize, but working at home you could sit for a few hours without moving, and that’s not good. Remind yourself to incorporate physical movement into your day.”

6. Acknowledge the distress you may be feeling.

If the fluid nature of this pandemic is creating stress and anxiety for you, explore coping strategies like distress tolerance and radical acceptance that can help you manage uncomfortable situations you have limited ability to change.

The acronym ACCEPTS, from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), describes some distress tolerance skills one can use to distract their mind and reduce their stress:

A – Activities – engage in a hobby, watch a movie, read a book, go for a walk or a bike ride; do something to be active.

C – Contributing – Make food for a neighbor, volunteer, sew facemasks. Help a cause or a person.

C – Comparisons – Think of a time you experienced something worse and consider how you reacted and survived.

E – Emotions – Create an opposite emotion to what you’re feeling. If you’re sad, do something that gives you happiness.

P – Push Away – Push away negative or unhelpful thoughts. Write them down on a paper and then crumple up the paper and throw it away.

T – Thoughts – Focus on non-emotional thoughts. Distract your mind by performing an activity that preoccupies your thoughts, without involving your emotions.

S – Sensations – Hold onto an ice cube and feel the sensation of feeling cold. Take a cold or warm shower. Smell a pleasant scent from flowers, soaps or lotions.

Another coping strategy Langdon recommends is radical acceptance.

“Radical acceptance is saying, ‘I don’t like the situation the way it is. I wish it was different but I accept that I can’t change it’,” she explained. “It is recognizing that other people feel differently or that circumstances require you to do something out of your comfort zone, but you still get to acknowledge that it makes you uncomfortable.”

7. Practice self-soothing techniques.

Put your five senses to work to help relieve stress:

Vision – go for a walk somewhere nice and pay attention to the sights.

Hearing – play some enjoyable music or listen to sounds of nature.

Touch – take a warm bath, wrap yourself in a soft blanket or get a massage.

Taste – eat a small treat or drink warm tea.

Smell – Enjoy the scent of flowers, a perfume or essential oil that you like.

8. Engage in self-care.

“Self-care is a broad concept, but basically it’s doing things that give you mental and emotional space; doing things you enjoy, whether that’s going for a walk or a bike ride or maintaining your space hygiene so you’re comfortable where you are working,” said Langdon. “Whatever makes you happy. It’s important that everyone has some time for themselves, even it it’s only 10 or 15 minutes a day.”

9. Look for the good things in life.

It’s important to practice gratitude when we’re inundated with so much negativity. Practicing gratitude doesn’t mean that you invalidate other feelings, but that you simply acknowledge things you appreciate, such as a supervisor being flexible, the support of your coworkers, or the fact that your family has remained healthy.

“Any amount of gratitude helps balance out negativity and is important for your mental and emotional health,” said Langdon. “It doesn’t change the challenges that we’re facing, but it does help us cope with those challenges.”