working from home

The first case of COVID-19 in Washington state was reported Jan. 20. In an attempt to slow the virus spread, the state virtually shut down on March 23. The governor’s “Stay at Home” order was to last just two weeks, but was extended to May 31 — and it forever changed the world of work. Companies that had never considered telework before sent their staff home and expected business to carry on.

It’s now late September and I’m still working from home.

Working from home definitely has its advantages. My beloved pup, Maisy, sleeps by my side while I peck away at my laptop. I can reach down and scratch her behind her ears at any time during the day, and the thump-thump of her tail brings a quick smile to my face. My commute has reduced from a 15-minute drive to Union Gap to a walk into the dining room. I can dress down, and I’ve saved money skipping the morning stop at the local coffee shop for iced tea. Heck, I’ll even sneak in a load of laundry or two during work hours.

Still, like many other people out there, I am starting to discover that remote work has a dark side.

For one thing, working from home takes a lot of self-discipline and energy. When you work from your house, the line between work and home begins to blur. I find myself trying to remain connected at all times. I don’t want my co-workers — or worse yet my supervisors — to think I am not staying busy and productive the entire time I am home. I am being paid for eight hours after all! Catholic guilt has pushed my work ethic to new heights. Instead of browsing Facebook in the evening for relaxation, I find myself searching feeds related to work and reading articles about human resource management in a pandemic instead of a novel.

Worried that work will become overwhelming and cause eventual burnout, I’ve been researching best practices for working from home. Surprisingly enough, there have been a lot of studies discussing the effects of telework on mental health. I’m embracing a few and hope some of these tips will help others:

It’s important to have a dedicated space in your house that is for work only. You want an area that you can leave or walk away from when your workday is done to help clearly define work and personal space both physically and mentally.

Maintain a regular work schedule. This means getting up at the same time, showering, putting on work clothes, etc. It can be easy to lose track of time when you aren’t in the office. You might forget lunch, or work well into the evening, telling yourself you’ll stop working when the project is finished.

Take breaks! You might even set an alarm on your phone to remind you to step away from your computer. Take a walk and clear your head. At a minimum, go outside, stretch and take some deep breaths (when the wildfire smoke clears).

Avoid isolation. Stay connected with co-workers. Schedule regular virtual or phone meetings and include chat about personal life. Spontaneous conversations don’t happen when you are working from home. You have to be proactive to maintain a positive social connection.

Try a digital detox each evening. When I was at the office, I decompressed on the drive home so I could “switch off.” Now when its 5 p.m., I’m going to try to switch off the computer and put the cellphone away.

Remote work isn’t going away anytime soon, so we should all try to gain a better understanding of how it can positively and negatively impact our life.

Michelle Smith is an employer engagement analyst for the South Central Workforce Development Council in Yakima.