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Lessons learned from WFH.
My family is frustrated with me. My husband has a free moment between meetings and my kids have questions about their online learning assignments. Suddenly, everyone wants to talk; I just want to be left alone. I need to work.
I am grateful for my job. It has provided me with stability, a sense of accomplishment and control, plus (virtual) social interactions with my colleagues. I have greedily consumed the many work-from-home tips to ensure productivity, professionalism and connectivity with my remote office. But my other life keeps intruding. How can I take my work-from-home best practices to successfully navigate my personal life?
Book a 1 - 1
Our company has smoothly transitioned to exclusive work from home, in part due to our regular touch points. From day one we have had short daily video meetings between team members in order to share what we are working on and ask for support when needed.
Living in close proximity with my family day-in-day-out it is easy to take communication for granted. We are in the same home, All The Time, so we must be interacting with each other. Right? Not necessarily, and perhaps not in the way each of us needs. I now make a point of connecting with each of my family members at the start of the day. Sure, for my teens that sometimes means closer to noon, but that’s ok.
With my kids I use this time as a touch point to gauge how they are doing emotionally, after all they are missing their friends and routines, too. I also get a sense of what their plans are for the day and what assignments they have on the go. This is the opportunity for me to just listen (they tell me so much more when I keep my ‘helpful advice’ to myself). Importantly, I also let them know what I have on the go for the day - when I will be busy due to work, but also when I will be available to them, to help with school, watch their latest video obsession or listen to them complain. I get it - they need a face to see and talk with in person, and sheltering in place means the options are severely limited. Book the time, and make the connections.
Working from home does not mean working alone. We have all been quickly mastering the art of remote collaboration. Collectively, we have laughed at the Zoom failures even as we do so silently because we forgot we were on mute, and learned to navigate the shared documents and spreadsheets that flood our inbox. Not only do we have shared work, we have a shared experience, one that unites us.
When sheltering in place with others it can become too easy to stay in one’s lane all the time. Since our lives are virtual, each member of my family is connected to their individual virtual worlds: school; friends; work; entertainment. I needed to take the “we’re all in this together” mindset from my workplace and reinvent it for my home life.
For us, that has meant laying new hardwood floors ourselves. The wood was delivered but we can’t contract an installer, so cue the DIY YouTube videos and curbside pickups at the hardware store. Yes, this collaborative project is extreme, although it’s incredibly therapeutic for all us to tear things up and pound away, and has worked magic in easing teenage frustrations. The point is, find something you do together. Experiences provide longer lasting happiness than things. Try closing the computer on online shopping and embracing an activity everyone in your home participates in.
Designate a workspace
This was part of the first wave of informational tips that started to flow once WFH came into effect. From establishing a clearly defined workspace near natural light to constructing a backdrop that projects a level of professionalism while on video calls, these strategies were both useful and actionable. However, what’s out of the camera’s view is the messiness of daily life.
Being in your designated workspace signals to those you live with that you are in “work mode”. By practicing the important habit of taking a break away from your workstation in order to enjoy a meal, exercise or simply recharge, you are signalling that you are now off the clock and available to connect. Having this spatial cuing circumvents curt “I’m busy!” remarks.
Importantly, by establishing a work or school “zone” for each person in your household you are helping to ensure that everyone has a place where they are not disturbed. Paradoxically, although we are physically cut off from much of the world we still need to protect our alone time to think, create and dream.
Shut it down
Working longer does not translate into working smarter. None of us can produce our best when we ignore the need to power down in order to recharge. Remind everyone in your home to leave their virtual bubbles at the end of the work/school day. Hopefully, this will be a new normal that we take with us for the days, weeks and years to come.