In the before times, I didn’t really consider working from home as something that would be necessary or that I would need to prepare for. My job required me to be at my desk because it focused heavily on paper files. I did have access to remote working, which I occasionally used for checking in on sick days or when the subway was not working and it would take me hours to come in so it was easier to stay home (this def happened once!). Also, I have an eight-year-old laptop, so it was difficult for me to want to be on it all the time!
Now, six months into what was supposed to ONLY be six months of work at home, I can’t imagine going into the office for more than a couple days a week! One, the open office plan is not conducive for multiple people working in a post-COVID world, and two, 95% of the tasks that once bound me to my desk are now fully remote! The months of March and April were incredibly stressful because of all the changes to our workflow, but now that we’ve been doing it a couple months, I’m starting to get the hang of it.
So how have I managed working at home during these unprecedented times? Let’s see.
Luckily, I do have a desk at which I can work so I can “make my own space” in the apartment. Unfortunately, this summer it was too hot on that side of the house to work at it. So for the past three months I’ve been working at the couch (my back = ouch!). The internet is mostly reliable, but some days are definitely better than others. My laptop is my home computer. I got this laptop when I first moved to NYC, I just needed it for school. But it still works for now! My only home-office purchase so far is a cooling pad for the laptop so it won’t overheat too much. I think if I were to buy anything going forward it would be a ergonomic chair. Soon as it gets cooler, I’ll be back to working at a desk, which will be nice. It’s definitely true what others say about having a dedicated WFH space. Sitting on the couch to work and leisure has started to blend together where I feel like all I want to do is lie down!
Worth mentioning, some of my coworkers were able to work from more remote locations over the summer such as their family homes. Personally, that didn’t really work for us because we were worried about paying for a separate place (like a hotel or airbnb), paying for travel, figuring out how to take the cat with us to avoid having others have to travel to our apartment, plus with Josh no longer receiving unemployment benefits because he declined to go back to work at a restaurant, it didn’t make sense to make those moves. I think if I or we are working from home in non-pandemic times, that would have been a fun thing to do, but a change of scenery wasn’t in the books this time around.
It’s also nice that I don’t have to worry about the clothes I wear or my presentation of myself. My job doesn’t require me to do video conferencing, we usually communicate by phone or instant message if needed, so I’m free to look and dress however I want. Professional dress requirements mean absolutely nothing and anyone can get work done no matter how they are dressed–working from home absolutely proves this. If you’re working independently there’s no reason for anyone to police what you want to wear. I thought at the start of this that I would need to dress like I would in the office to motivate myself, but I’ve learned that this is one thing that I can relax about. I have barely worn makeup too, which has saved me a lot of time. One less thing I have to think about during the day.
On a practical note, when we transferred to working at home, I began keeping a work at home log in a small notebook that was a way for me to keep track of tasks I completed day to day. My boss didn’t ask for this and it’s not required, but it helps me by telling my brain that I did something that day and it wasn’t just sending out emails. Maybe I took a call or worked on something that required a few hours of dedicated time–I wrote it down! (Also, in the back of my mind if anyone asked, I could show them the log so they know I wasn’t slacking off, but so far this has not been an issue.) And it’s the opposite of a “to-do” list on purpose. I know that I’m going to be frustrated and anxious about a to-do list, so I just wanted something for me that said “I did this.”
Based on the way my office culture was before, I didn’t feel the need to check my email or have notifications on for those apps after working hours. When I switched to work from home I did turn on the notifications, but ultimately they were frustrating to me because I knew it was something that could wait until the next day. So I’m adding this little section to the motivation part of this post because it was motivating for me to have a dedicated start and end time (even if those times were a bit flexible) for the sake of me doing the work during those hours. It was also important to me to take a dedicated lunch break at some point during the day. Having these regular hours makes working at home a bit more structured and let’s me have time throughout the day to check in with myself.
Some of my motivation comes from setting up a bit of calm and allowing myself to do things that I wouldn’t have been doing when I was in the physical office. Sometimes I’ll throw on an ambiance video in the background so I can have some soothing background noise. Other times, I’m listening to podcasts while I do administrative work, or watching random YouTube videos. I’m not losing productivity because of it, and in fact, most of the time, it helps me focus in a way I wasn’t doing in a physical office.
For my existential motivation, it’s to remember that we’re in a really challenging time right now and to remember that it’s extremely fortunate that the pandemic/recession has not yet made me one of the people to lose my job. I have a steady paycheck. Working from home and all its ups and downs is the price I pay to keep my job (aka try not to complain too much).
This is the part that I feel the most vulnerable putting on the internet, which is why I feel more comfortable letting Twitter posts explain my mental health than I do actually writing about it. To get to the point, I have not been working at full brain capacity since I’ve been home. Many days are filled with anxiety or a feeling of despondency. The days blend together. One week doesn’t feel different from the next. Often I will receive an email and it will go days or weeks without responding. Or I put off certain tasks because when they arrive in my inbox they feel overwhelming and I can’t face them, though truthfully, after being at the job for over five years, there hasn’t been much that I haven’t run into or couldn’t talk to someone about. It’s just that my brain is telling me that it’s a problem for another day when I feel more myself, but when does this future day happen? (Not asking for advice–just saying that some days are better than others.)
Another aspect of my mental health and working from home is when I get distracted. On a recent monthly check in call, I mentioned that I might not be working as fast as before, but I am still getting work done. There are times where I am particularly focused (thanks, brain), but other times I’m just checking my gmail or trying to keep my cat from sitting on our pillows. Or when my fiance starts telling me about his latest web development project. There are distractions here just like their would be at the office where I can chat with my co-workers, but at home I feel like there’s more that takes me away from a task, and that makes me feel more guilty for not working when so many people are without jobs right now. And this doesn’t even touch on other families who might have kids at home, though some co-workers will mention this in their emails and I’m not holding it against them. All this to say, that when I get distracted, it is harder for me to get back on track and then it becomes a cycle of clicking on things, but moving on to something else before addressing the task I was working on before.
It’s been a rough few months. I wish I could write this post with a bit of a hopeful outlook, and maybe if I was working from home when conditions were better, this post would end this way. I’m glad that we are not required to be in the office to work, I’m glad that my job transitioning to working from home was successful, and that I was able to keep my job. But it’s not without its struggles, and I do want to acknowledge that they are there. Working from home during a PANDEMIC is frustrating. It has its benefits, but it is certainly not a free vacation or time spent in leisure. Again, I am very grateful to have a job that was able to transition, and I am also fortunate to have supervisors and coworkers that feel the stress that I feel. It looks like we’ll be able to work this way into 2021 (just my expectations, not set in stone). The pandemic isn’t over and all the fears, hopes, emotions that come with it are now at my place of work, at home, everyday.
“How the Pandemic Defeated America” by Ed Yong (The Atlantic)
“The Children in the Shadows: NYC’s Homeless Students” by Samantha M. Shapiro (New York Times)
Donate: (these are for my area specifically, but you can search for these organizations in your own area)