What once may have sounded like a dream (No commute! Conference calls in pajamas!) may now sound like a bit of a Groundhog Day-esque nightmare (Limited human interaction! Zero boundaries!). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home was a once-in-a-while luxury for many computer-bound employees, but after eight months of couch-based computing, some of the novelty may have worn off.
While there are certainly plenty of perks to home-based employment, there are a fair amount of challenges as well, and as the pandemic rages on, some people are beginning to experience serious work-from-home fatigue. According to a recent survey from benefits management platform, Hibob, more than half of employees (55%) want to work in an office environment again. 42% of those employees said their primary reason for wanting to return was to resume everyday work routines, like face-time with colleagues. Isolation, monotony, and a lack of boundaries between personal and professional life are taking a major toll on many employees physically and mentally.
You may not be able to predict what your work life will look like in the near future or whether a return to office culture is in the cards, but you can address the obstacles you’re currently facing at home and implement strategies to overcome them so you can be as productive as possible while remaining happy, healthy, and sane. Here’s how:
The issue: Your productivity levels are seriously declining
Let’s face it: your home was made for cozy Netflix nights on the couch, not 8 a.m. Zoom meetings with your boss. There are so many obstacles and endless distractions that may be impeding your productivity, so first, give yourself a break. Are you sharing the house with your partner, kids, roommates, or anyone else? You may love them (and any furry friends who share the space as well), but they may also be making it tough to focus on the tasks at hand.
Maybe you’re a parent who’s suddenly been put in the position to supervise homeschooling while trying to juggle deadlines, or maybe your noisy neighbors are blasting bass-heavy beats at 3 in the afternoon. Whatever the reason for your lack of focus, remember that you’re in a tough situation and you’re doing your best. Here are some ways to address those obstacles:
- Establish a set routine: It may have been fun to divorce your alarm clock when kicking off quarantine, but at this point, your brain and body are likely craving consistency. Set up a regular schedule as if you were physically going to work every day—wake up at a reasonable hour and go to bed without binge watching your favorite show into the wee hours of the morning.
- Set up a dedicated office space with the equipment you need: Typing on your laptop from the comfort of your bed may sound sweet, but not only will it cause ergonomic issues; it will also make it tough to separate rest and relaxation from work and focus. No matter how small your living space is, you can find a corner to create a work-only zone that’s exclusively dedicated to job-related tasks. Keep it clean, organized, and totally free from distractions.
- Communicate more than you think you have to: Whether you’re talking with your boss, direct reports, spouse, or kids, now is the time to speak up and speak clearly about your needs. If you’re having trouble adjusting to Zoom meetings and feel you concentrate better on the phone, let your supervisor know so they can support you and help find a solution. If your partner is preventing you from completing assignments because they’re listening to podcasts at full volume, kindly communicate that so they can adjust their behavior accordingly (and hopefully invest in some headphones).
The issue: Your mental health has seen better days
There is certainly something to be said for declining social invitations in favor of at-home safety and self care, but round-the-clock isolation can take a toll. As you might expect, researchers found that loneliness levels increased during the COVID-19 lockdown. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have warned that the stress of the pandemic itself (not to mention the implications on work, family, and life) can contribute to the development or worsening of mental health issues like depression and anxiety. If you’re feeling suffocated at home and finding it hard to maintain a work/life balance, here are some strategies to consider:
- Keep your calendar updated and protect your downtime: With no physical boundaries to separate work from play, it can be easy to let one overtake the other. But personal time is essential to your mental health. Set boundaries by blocking off your work calendar when you’re off the clock and making it clear to your colleagues that you have set work hours. And stick to your own rules—resist the urge to answer work emails after hours and make sure your job-related stuff stays in your job-related corner of the house.
- Make time for social interaction outside of work: You may still not feel safe or comfortable meeting up for socially distanced events with friends, but you can still make time for human interaction. Set up weekly Zoom calls or FaceTime chats with friends and family, and be sure to call or text your loved ones whenever you feel up for it. Many of us are missing the regular extracurricular activities we participated in, like sports leagues, trivia nights, and more, so find ways to keep connected with the people you met in those outlets and continue cultivating those relationships.
- Unplug when possible: It’s important to stay connected and to keep up with work, but it’s also completely okay to take breaks to yourself when necessary. Strike a balance between staying in touch and on top of your tasks with enjoying your alone time and occasionally waiting to respond or react to texts and emails.
The issue: Your physical fitness is fading fast
Maybe you used to walk to the office or hit the gym before work. Invariably, your fitness regimen has shifted in some way, shape, or form since you transitioned to working at home. While it can be tough to stay motivated without external factors like fitness coaches or workout partners, you can find plenty of ways to get and stay fit at home:
- Schedule active breaks: While it may be tempting to reward yourself with snacks every time you hit a deadline or finish a meeting, these between-work breaks are perfect opportunities for bursts of activity that will actually leave you feeling more energized and focused than another handful of M&Ms from the kitchen. Even if you only have a few minutes to spare, you can intersperse high-intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) throughout your day.This form of exercise involves short bursts of extremely vigorous action and short rests, so you can reap the benefits of exercise without having to dedicate hours. If working up a sweat several times a day isn’t your style, then find opportunities for moderate movement. Rather than sit at your desk, request for your meetings to be phone calls instead of video conferences so you can take a walk while chatting. Instead of scrolling through social media during your lunch break, use that time to go for a run or do an at-home workout (there are plenty of free ones on YouTube).
- Make your errands more active: Find excuses to get moving in any way you can — walk to the store instead of drive, turn on some music and make cleaning your kitchen a dance party—do whatever you can to turn sedentary or low-intensity activities into high-energy ones and you won’t even notice you’re exercising.
- Find a motivation buddy: Even if you can’t hit the gym with your coworkers, you can still call on them for support and accountability. Ask around to see if any of your colleagues want to do an online workout challenge or do regular check-ins to keep everyone motivated. And if you feel safe and comfortable, consider meeting for socially distanced outdoor workouts, like yoga in the park, or neighborhood runs.
While remote working may be your reality for the foreseeable future, you can still find success in your professional pursuits while maintaining your physical and psychological well being. Try out the tips here and just remember to make your own health and happiness top priorities while you crush your work goals from the comfort of home.
Editor’s Note: Ethos has been working fully remotely since March of 2020, with plans to continue well into 2021 and beyond. We’ve deployed some of the tips above to help our employees stay productive and healthy, both physically and mentally. Employees receive a bi-monthly stipend to make sure their workspaces are fully equipped with everything they need. Team bonding isn’t limited to the office, either. Since becoming fully remote, we’ve had weekly events like game nights, cooking classes, and team offsites, all done virtually. We’ve learned new recipes, discovered the myriad of hidden talents that our team members possess, and welcomed new Ethosaurs. Learn more about our culture and current openings here!