Photo Credit: Alessio Magliano
It’s as if we’ve stepped into a whole other world. Millions of people are now forced to work from home, which was once a benefit sought out by many, but now kids are home too, nothing is open, and the weather isn’t cooperating. Worse, your spouse brought their career home too and you have just one office space, if you’re lucky.
My husband and I have been doing this for years, sharing space both in the office and at home – Hawaii and Colorado – and we still like each other, most of the time. The kids, well, they’ve survived summers and breaks so far. It’s not perfection, but we do have some experience with this. Every family dynamic is different, but beyond the obvious priorities: proper technology, appropriate bandwidth, coffee, (toilet paper, the new luxury) etc., here are five tips I’ve found to be immensely helpful…
1. Create Your Space
First of all, you have a job! Now let’s get creative…you’ll want to carve out a corner all your own. What speaks to you? I have a small canvas print of my kids, a colorful beaded lamp I’ve been “storing” for my sister for almost a decade now, a postcard from Prague – also from the sister, a large can of Crazy Aaron Magnetic Thinking Putty (because after enough mishaps, it belongs to the mom), and my “normal” desk items: a staple-less stapler (they make me smile), lotion, lip gloss, nail polish, pile of logo stickers, and a corkboard collage of photos and miscellanies items – the things I keep at every desk. This last part is key.
With our remote work / travel situation, we each have desks in three locations, sometimes four if in a pinch. In a room of workstations, you now have enough clues to identify my space (because it’s uncivilized to paint nails and type). I do this, the supplies not the polish, because it helps me feel normal amongst the chaos that is. The small comforts speak to me… “Hello there, I’m your workspace, let’s do this.” And so we do.
2. Keep You in Check
You’re responsible for you. Sure, everything is exploding around you, but you’re still a professional. Set your alarm, shower, do your routine, and absolutely get dressed, no pajamas unless you’re sick (hangovers don’t count). Stay mindful of your conduct at your desk, a new habit of boogie scooping could be awkward when back at the office. You’ll thank me later for this tip 😉
Your ritual will keep you sane and focused. I call it “switching gears,” silly, but it helps me visualize the concept. The you at home is responsible for a different set of tasks than the career you. Put these tasks into their appropriate categories and use time and space to separate them. Ignoring the pile of laundry lingering in your peripheral view will drive you crazy without the self-discipline to focus. Find a method to your madness and repeat. Good habits will eventually produce good results.
3. Stay Connected
Feeling part of the outside world is hard enough when in the office all day, from the extroverted point of view anyway. Not going anywhere – gym, coffee shop, brewery, restaurant – sounds excruciating to me. Luckily, I can draw from the past on this one. I spent several years home with my young children. I freelanced, which was gratifying, but it meant I often never left the house.
I learned that staying connected can be as simple as blogging or connecting with others digitally. Stepping out into the sunlight is vital too, so schedule your breaks and appreciate the nature outside your door. Focus on the small joys, spring flowers peeking out from hibernation, clouds in the sky, you might start noticing that there are a lot of things to smile about once you can see them. Definitely take a moment to facetime a friend or family member, this small, “water cooler” moment can fill a disconnection void. Stay aware of your individual needs for interaction and rehydrate.
4. Establish New Traditions
Sure, keeping your daily routine is healthy, but new circumstances require new activities. Maybe having access to your family all day long isn’t so bad after all (I’m really reaching in optimism here). A work break spent with a child or spouse might help develop a new bond with that person. Try coming up with a new activity or discussion topic to mix things up.
I suggested that my children read up on current events each day so we can have an informed discussion at dinnertime, we’ll see how that goes. My daughter invented a new game (Pictionary / Mad Libs combo) that involves coffee mugs labeled “noun” or “adjective.” She fills the mugs with words for us to choose at random and then sketch the interpreted combination, competitively. The activity promotes imagination, creativity, artistic ability, and she discovered that her mom enjoys drawing, just like she and her brother do. When she asked why I don’t ever sketch, I told her I have a day job that sucks the life out of me (facetious, of course). She thought seriously for a moment and asked, “Would you rather have a night job?”
5. Be Thankful
I’m phenomenally appreciative that I don’t work night shifts. Kids can really put things into perspective.
If we look closely, there are some advantages to our current situation. Many people or industries had no prior reason to explore new options. These new solutions can be used to pivot our business perspectives and create new opportunities where there existed none.
In our small town of Kailua, my husband and I have a favorite take-out Thai restaurant. We find parking, walk through the crowd waiting to be seated and back to the large counter where we place our order, because getting a call through during dinner hours is unlikely. We then drive home for a 30-minute wait before making the return trip for pick-up. We consider our adventure worthwhile for superb Panang Curry. Until this week, curb-side service was something we had only dreamed of. This is one, small example of the business transformation at hand.
Change and transition are stressful for everyone, but sometimes it’s the push that creates the change. Many of my personal achievements are due to a resourceful response to an otherwise unfortunate scenario. One-part effort and a larger part luck.
So, dust off, straighten your crown, and remember success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success, and be cautious of viewing things through a keyhole – everything can end up looking keyhole shaped!