Working from Home and Health in a Pandemic
The past year has been, to say the least, unlike anything we’ve ever seen. Our lives have been upended in ways that most of us never thought possible. From the lack of ability to travel to or visit family and friends, we have been working together to try and get a grip on a global pandemic. One of the biggest challenges for many of us is the change from an office environment to working from home (aka WFH). Many people, especially those in essential services, have continued to physically go into work everyday. Whether those are doctors, nurses and first responders, or grocery workers and warehouse employees, my hat is off to them for keeping our world moving. However, what I want to focus on today is those of us who had to learn to cope with the new reality of WFH.
For many people there are some definite advantages to the WFH lifestyle. The lack of time spent commuting topped the list of most people who enjoy working from home. Other advantages included being able to focus with fewer distractions from other team members, being able to have a better work-life-balance, and the ability to spread work over more productive hours. Personally, I have enjoyed the chance to focus on my work and get things done quickly while also being able to complete small at-home tasks, like getting laundry started or emptying the dishwasher while having lunch.
There are of course some challenges to WFH, and I wanted to provide some, hopefully helpful, suggestions on how to handle these stresses. One of the most common responses I have heard regarding the downside of WFH is that there is not as much camaraderie or human interaction as in the office atmosphere. As social beings, we crave having those breaks of being able to talk to others, whether it is socially or for work collaboration. I have found that scheduling time to do “coffee breaks” with others is helpful in easing that. Thankfully, there are many options to stay connected with others whether video calls or text and email messages. We are all trying to deal with similar situations when it comes to the day-to-day grind of Covid-19, so do not be afraid to reach out and get that human touch when you can.
Another issue that many people deal with is the ability to have a comfortable set-up at home to work effectively. The government of Alberta has a document that gives some tips on how to try and set yourself up for success, whether you have a designated office space in your home or must use other space. If you have roommates or significant others who are also working from home, they suggest setting up a space that is yours and having things to acknowledge that you are busy working to not be disturbed. Whether it is an actual door or simply a sign noting that you are not to be disturbed, these can help to facilitate an easier at-home adjustment (Government of Alberta). These can help with your overall mental health, as well as set ground rules for others and yourself in your expectations while WFH. I have also found that because of not going into the office that there were, especially at the beginning, days where I was not getting as much physical activity in a day. Finding time to do some stretching or walking just to keep the blood flowing is a great way to break up the day, and I have personally found it has helped me to feel more awake and less achy. Set a timer and do any type of exercise at least every couple of hours, it can be a helpful motivator to get you through long days at home.
Mental health is another area to pay attention to, as research has shown that rates of depression and anxiety have more than doubled globally due to Covid-19. The restrictions upon us have made it hard to reconcile our familiar lives with what we are all dealing with now. You may find it helpful to find small ways to take time for yourself, such as taking a few deep breaths which has been found to decrease blood pressure and help you focus. I have found that at the end of the day, taking 10 minutes to turn off all phones, TVs, or anything that is distracting and taking a moment to reflect on all the positives in my life has helped immensely. Missing friends and family is difficult, especially when you have a toddler who does not get a chance to see grandparents. So, finding things to keep yourself busy, such as taking a walk or calling a friend for video chat can help immensely. Personally, I love taking my dog out for a good walk and just taking in the community I live in. It sounds a bit corny, but the small things are so much bigger to me right now, and staying healthy and happy are the most important things for me and my loved ones.
Remember, as much as it may sound odd to say, we are lucky in many ways. However, if you think about the time we live in, we can research and find innovative ways to stay connected, stimulated, entertained, and productive. If we make good use of all the resources available, we have a better chance of coming out the other side of the pandemic as stronger for the experience. Stay safe and never be afraid to reach out and find ways to help you and yours, whether it is in the WFH lifestyle or your overall life balance.
Government of Alberta. “Working from Home during a Pandemic.” Covid-19 information, Government of Alberta, 2020, https://open.alberta.ca/dataset/f1e33f8b-e58c-4813-9b36-848d0d3f90c9/resource/e093812f-e98e-4b04-8594-94d989a753bc/download/lbr-working-from-home-during-pandemic-2020-04.pdf. Accessed 28 April 2020.