Learning A New Normal: Working From Home During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Some Tips from ThedaCare Behavioral Health

For many workers whose companies have ordered them to work from home during the coronavirus shutdowns, the experience is entirely new and possibly discomforting.

“Going to work daily provides significant structure to our lives,” said Catherine Langdon, a ThedaCare Behavioral Health Mental Health Clinician. “When that structure is suddenly withdrawn, many of us might struggle to find a new normal.”

Adding to the feelings of disruption is the fact that schools are closed and children are home 24/7 each day and struggling with their own feelings of confusion and discontent.

“It’s a very challenging time for all of us,” said Langdon. “Some workers are being sent home to work, some are losing their jobs temporarily, and others are working extended hours at their workplaces. Life isn’t normal for anyone right now. We just need to remember all of the changes are to ensure the safety of our community.”

She offers these tips, from various online resources, for those suddenly working from home:

    1. Set up a schedule similar to your regular go-to-work/school routine or create a new morning routine. Shower and get dressed, even if you wear more casual clothes. The act of getting dressed sets a tone for your day.
    2. Create a specific workspace for yourself (and for your children to do their school work). Have distinct zones for work and normal family life. Even if your workspace is a table in the corner, think of it as a separate zone from the rest of that room so that when you walk away from your “desk”, you know you’re leaving your work behind to resume family life. If possible, find an area with good natural lighting, especially if you’re used to having a window at work. Use something as simple as a houseplant or a folding screen to create space separation. If you are unable to leave your work-from-home area setup due to having limited space or needing a multi-use space, create a system for “setup” and “takedown” of your workspace to maintain that mental distinction between “work” and “home”.
    3. Establish distinct work hours so that you and others in your household know when you’re available and when you’re “at work”. If you are assisting your children with schoolwork as well, establish set times to provide assistance to them. Such routines will give everyone a sense of structure. Recognize that you may have to break your work hours into two or three segments during the day to accommodate assisting children. If possible, set an agenda each day to adapt what’s happening in everyone’s lives.
    4. Create a transition between work and family time. Your commute to work typically provided this transition, but now you don’t have that experience. Create a signal for yourself that you’re moving from one function to the other.
    5. Avoid distractions. This is important for you and your children. Turn off TVs and avoid looking at social media sites and personal emails during your work/school hours. Utilize headphones or earbuds if your environment is distracting. If you find yourself becoming easily distracted, take a short break.
    6. Communicate frequently with your coworkers, especially managers and direct reports. Today’s technology offers several methods to communicate remotely. Use text messages, FaceTime, video chats and video conferencing tools like Slack, Skype, Zoom or Google Hangouts, or whatever tools your company may offer to hold video meetings. Face-to-face discussions help resolve and/or reduce miscommunication issues.
    7. Continue to socialize with your coworkers. Social interactions are part of the work experience and help create a team atmosphere. Use the technology opportunities listed above to also maintain social connectedness with your coworkers. Videochat with a coworker while you eat lunch at your respective homes for a quick catch-up. Actually seeing one another is important; don’t just text or chat by phone.
    8. Get moving during your work breaks. No one sits at his or her desk for eight hours straight in an office. People move around to get coffee, go to meetings, or use the restroom. Don’t sit at your desk more than a couple of hours without taking a physical break. Remember, “Sitting is the new smoking.”
    9. Keep your kids moving during their schoolwork breaks as well. Get outside, walk the dog, walk around the block. Exercise is a great way to reduce stress, and walking is a great exercise for people of all ages.

“We are all living a different ‘normal’ right now; being flexible and able to adapt to change is very important,” said Langdon. “That’s one of the best ways to reduce stress in our lives and the lives of our family members. Be creative in how you approach working from home. If after a few days or a week you find that what you’re doing isn’t working for you or your family, change your routine or your work environment. That’s a benefit of being your own boss at home.”