• Suzette Feller

How to Stay Happy, Healthy, and Productive While Working from Home Due to Coronavirus

At Parklife, we’ve always operated from a “virtual office” hosted on communication platforms like Slack, Basecamp, and Google Hangouts. We work together and with our clients, all of us in different cities, from the comfort of our own homes. And so, when many companies began to require their employees to work from home in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, not much changed for me – I’d gotten pretty good at working productively from home while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

But for millions of other people, working from home presents a new host of challenges. It’s made even harder by the buzzing presence of children, most of whom are also stuck at home because of coronavirus. I wanted to write an article for these people. I hope you might gain a little something useful from me sharing what I’ve learned over my years working from home.

Rule #1: Create Your Schedule and Stick to It

I’ve heard from several of my friends and family members that they’re struggling to maintain a proper work-life balance while working from home. In my experience, setting clear boundaries between work-time and play-time is extremely helpful.

That starts with deciding your hours. Some employers may already have set work hours for you to follow, but many others (like mine) do not. I chose to work nine to five each day and have stuck to that with near-perfect consistency, not because I’m required to, but because it’s made my life feel easier and more manageable. Something about having a routine in place that you follow each day helps put your mind into work mode and makes you perform better.

These are my most productive hours; my mind tends to shut down right around sunset. I always log off right at five, and try my best to push away all thoughts of work at this time, reminding myself that they can wait until tomorrow morning at nine. I stop checking my email and responding to work texts. This is a healthy thing to do, and having those evening hours to wind down and relax keeps me sane.

I’m lucky to have an employer who respects these boundaries and doesn’t try to encroach on them; if you don’t have one like that, I strongly suggest you find one! I can assure you it will make you a happier, more centered person. Setting work-life boundaries doesn’t make you any less hardworking or dedicated to your employer.

Rule #2: Designate Work Areas

Many psychology experts have touted the benefits of designating one room of the house for work, and avoiding work outside of it – for example, avoiding work in your bedroom or living room. For a detailed explanation of the psychological reasoning behind this, you may want to consult a true psych expert, but I’ll provide a basic explanation.

Essentially, when we work in any given area, we unconsciously begin to associate that area with work – and often, in turn, with stress. You want your mind to associate places like the bedroom with relaxation, leisure, and sleep. But when you’re working out of your bedroom, your mind will begin to associate it with just the opposite (work, stress, a go-go-go attitude). This has a direct negative impact on your sleeping habits as well as your overall well-being.

To keep my bedroom and living room as my happy places, I chose one table in my dining room to serve as my home office, and it’s almost the only place I work. (This is a rule that I still have trouble following myself.) I’ve noticed a major difference since setting this boundary, and the more I stick to it, the better I sleep. I also have an easier time kicking back elsewhere in the house.

If you’re really lucky, you may even have space for a home office – a personal dream and goal of mine!

Rule #3: Expect Distractions and Make Peace with Them

I don’t have any children of my own, and I can’t even imagine the added strain of having kids stuck at home while trying to work remotely. However, I did make it through one summer of working from home with a super energetic puppy who had a near-constant need for stimulation. I’d imagine the two situations are at least somewhat similar.

I got through that summer without succumbing to stress, partially by wearing out my puppy, and largely by managing my attitude. I woke up early to take him on a long walk and play with him for a while so that he was worn out (at least for a few hours) by the time I started work. Then, I expected him to distract me throughout the day and made peace with that fact.

The thing is, most people are pretty understanding when life gets in the way of work, because they’ve experienced the very same thing themselves. If I asked to push back a deadline for an hour or two so I could wear out my puppy and get him off my back, my boss was always understanding. Never once did I get an “Unacceptable!” in response, or even detect a hint of annoyance. I’d imagine that during this incredibly difficult time for so many – perhaps even your boss – people will be even more understanding than usual. Remember, a lot of them have kids stuck at home and distracting them, too.

Now I’m not saying kids are exactly like puppies … But one thing I’ve learned in my time as a dog owner and as a babysitter is that a tired kid is a well-behaved kid, just like a tired puppy is a well-behaved puppy. So wear your kids (and puppies) out to minimize distractions. There is a lot of good content online suggesting ways to tire kids out while social distancing. Beyond that, try your best to maintain a positive attitude, ask for extensions/help when you need it, and don’t be too hard on yourself. If you’re trying your best, you’re doing just fine.