At the onset of statewide lockdowns as a result of COVID-19, it seemed like working from home would last a month or two at the most. Now months into the global pandemic, WFH is the new reality for many employees—and there’s no end in sight.
With many companies declaring employees won’t be returning to offices until 2021, it’s time to settle in for the long haul and take measures to ensure your WFH situation is setting you up for success. Because as easy as working remotely sounds, it definitely comes with its downsides—such as fatigue from virtual meetings or too many distractions.
But armed with the right healthy habits, you’ll be able to overcome any work-from-home challenges that come your way. Below are some of the issues you may be facing—plus how you can alter your behavior to be more productive and, most importantly, take care of yourself.
The Challenge: Zoom Fatigue
Now that meetings have migrated from conference rooms to Zoom and other video apps, it’s natural to feel strained by the end of the day. According to the Wall Street Journal, virtual meetings tend to be more draining than in-person meetings because staring at your coworkers’ faces (also known as the “constant gaze”) forces you to pay more attention. The result? Decreased productivity.
The Healthy Habit: Step Away From the Screen
Career coach Tiffany Waddell Tate of Career Maven Consulting suggests taking a break from video throughout the day—and assessing whether a virtual meeting is even necessary. “Does the meeting actually require video or would a phone call or email suffice?” she says. “Giving yourself time off from being ‘on’ is key to energy and stress management.”
The Challenge: Pressure to Perform
It’s natural to feel like you should be getting more done at home than you were doing at the office. After all, you’re not wasting time commuting, going out to lunch, or chatting with coworkers. It’s something Waddell Tate admits to struggling with herself.
“In the beginning, I felt this urge to be 150 percent ‘on’ for eight hours a day with little break—especially since I was gaining back the time that I would normally have been commuting, traveling between meetings, or traveling around the country for work,” she says.
The Healthy Habit: Take More Breaks
You know the scene in Hamilton when Eliza begs Alexander to take a break? That’s what your body is also asking of you. In order to fight fatigue, Emily Kennedy—president and co-founder of Marinus Analytics and host of The Empower Podcast—factors in multiple rest periods into her workday.
“I encourage people to take more breaks than you think you need because often your working time at home can be more intense than at the office,” Kennedy advises. “You may feel less productive, but you actually get more done when you take breaks. They also help prevent burnout.”
Set a timer or block the time off on your calendar so that you remember when to take a break. And make sure to choose an activity that you enjoy—such as breathing exercises, guided meditation, seated yoga, or reading a book—before diving back into work.
The Challenge: Too Many Distractions
Whether it’s your kids asking what’s for your lunch, your partner talking loudly in the next room over, or your coworker Slacking you for no good reason, it’s hard to stay focused on the tasks at hand.
The Healthy Habit: Try the Pomodoro Technique
Developed by global business consultant Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s, the Pomodoro Technique is a time-management system that works by selecting a task you want to focus on, spending 25 minutes on that task, and rewarding yourself with a short break once the timer goes off. For every four 25 Pomodoros, or work blocks, you take a longer break.
Kennedy recommends batching tasks, or “grouping similar categories of tasks, like email or marketing, into certain time blocks.” It’s a strategy that works wonders for her—as does using a Pomodoro Timer or time cube. “Seeing the visual representation of time passing helps me stay focused and also helps provide structure at a time when everything feels a bit fluid,” she says.
The Challenge: Social Isolation
Without coworkers around to talk to—whether during scheduled lunches or chance encounters in the hallway or kitchen—it can feel a little too quiet or lonely when working from home. (Assuming you don’t have family members or housemates on top of you 24/7, that is.)
The Healthy Habit: Seek Out Connections
If a socially distant midday walk with a friend is too hard to schedule, opt for the next best thing: a phone date. At the beginning of each week, Kennedy schedules time to reach out to loved ones. Then, during her breaks, she’ll take a walk and call a friend or family member. (It helps to schedule calls in advance so the person on the other end can also set aside the time.)
There’s a good chance you also miss the background chatter of the office—all the ambient noise you don’t notice until it’s no longer there. Kennedy’s solution is to listen to podcasts while completing lighter tasks. “Listening to something in the background helps me feel like I have humans around me,” she says.
If you typically work out of coffee shops or other public spaces, there are a variety of coffee shop playlists for every mood and genre.
The Challenge: Finding Work/Life Balance
You know the feeling: Your alarm goes off and the first thing you do is check your work email, before you’ve even had your cup of coffee. Or it’s 10 PM and you decide to cross one more thing off your to-do list instead of streaming Netflix or reading a book.
The Healthy Habit: Have a Dedicated Workspace
Designating an area where all you do is work “is critical for creating and honoring boundaries between your work and personal lives,” says Waddell Tate. “Whether it’s an in-home office, a mini-desk setup in a corner, or a small perch at your breakfast bar, a designated work area creates a physical anchor for ‘work time’ around which you can create structure and routine every single day. It becomes the area where you ‘go to work,’ and later step away from when the work day is over.”