Learning to cope with ‘working-from-home-itis’. How I learnt to make home feel like home again.

Is working from home all slippers and sleep-ins, or late nights and no disconnect? Similar to 3.5 million other employed Australians* my partner and I have spent the past three years working from home.

It did start off all slippers and sleep-ins. We loved the freedom of being able to create our own routine and duck out in the afternoon for a walk or hit of tennis. From the outset we understood that we would need to be motivated so we aimed to work whenever we were at home or around the house (our first mistake). As we are both night owls this also came to include midnight stops at our computers to finish work tasks or assignments. We also decided to stop watching television as it was too easy to duck downstairs and BAM a TV series would claw us in taking up the next 10 hours of our lives.

We were disciplined and managed to keep on track.

That is how the problem crept up. We became so disciplined that we just kept working. Working and working. We bought into the ‘eat, sleep, work, repeat’ cycle in a big way. All of a sudden home wasn’t home. Home was work, we had just lost the commute, the colleagues and the need to get out of our pajamas.

After one too many late nights we both realised we were encountering an ‘existential space predicament’. What does it mean to be at home if you work from home? We were online at all hours of the day and the menacing view of our desk was never far from our sites crying out for just a little more time even on the weekends.

We were productive yes, but other things started to suffer. We lost our sense being ‘home’! Culturally it seems like the ethos around working from home is all slippers and sleep-ins, but the reality for us was more late nights and a less sustainable lifestyle.

As a couple we realised that we needed to create some boundaries and rules as to how we worked from home. I wanted to share some of the lessons we learnt along the way that helped us to find a sense of ‘home’ again.

Tool 1 — Create your own routine & rituals

We started off so relaxed — just ‘winging it’. This was our first mistake. Without creating a sense of routine or shape to the week we became passive participants to a work volume that kept increasing. We were always dialed in and our own expectations that we should reply or stay on top of the work load at all hours kept increasing.

Our solution. Create a work from home routine and actually follow it. We had to explore what a realistic, productive and sustainable routine working from home could look like? Into that routine we then had to factor how did each of us mentally switch on and off from work?

The next tough question was how to create boundaries around what hours we did and didn’t want to work. Did we want to continue on the 9–5pm work hustle or did we want to create our own working hours? Until that point we had been passive. Working when the work arrived, until we had the reality check that the work will never stop. You are the one who has to stop. We slowly learnt to be more active in safe-guarding our time off, protecting our days off and giving ourselves permission to turn our data off.

Tool 2 — Can you find a work away from home option

For a couple of months my favourite coffee shop was only 200m away from my bedroom/office/home. Each morning I would bring a coffee home at 7am and get to work. You would then find me there at the same desk at 11pm. This was a terrible routine!

Having a variety of environments to move through in your day adds spice to your life. It doesn’t matter how much natural light you have at home or the time you spend on Feng Shui, having another space to work in adds variety and can help to bring a sense of structure to your day. It could be a local café, library or collaborative learning space. A trick that I learnt is to reserve the tasks you don’t enjoy for this space so that you don’t bring that work home with you.

Tool 3 — Make sure you move

On some of the busiest days working from home I didn’t leave the house. In hindsight this was terrible. I remember looking at my phone and I had done under 1,000 steps in that day. Movement will feed your body and mind. We implemented a minimum of a 45-minute daily walk and used a pedometer to make sure we weren’t getting caught on our ‘jabba the hut’ work from home routine.

Tool 4 — Make sure you see other humans

We are social creatures and we all need a daily dose of conversation. This is often not aligned with a lot of the work that can be done flexibly which involves little to no human contact (talking via work emails doesn’t count).

After months of working remotely both my partner and I started to feel pretty isolated. Without the serendipity of office social chats we had to become more active in creating our social life. This is where a coffee shop or local library can come into its own. We both sourced our own places where we could go throughout the day to see a familiar face and have a chat.

Tool 5 — Talk about it at home

Home (unless you live by yourself) is a collaborative and social space. The rules and dynamics are governed by everyone so start an open conversation. How can you and your partner, or your family or housemates work together to enhance the feeling of relaxation when business hours close. Everyone unwinds in a different way and maybe you can work together to find a collaborative solution that enriches your collective sense of ‘home’ (we bought more Succulents and candles).

Tool 6 — Be critical of the more work is always more productive mentality!

Don’t get sucked in like we did. Be an active participant in shaping your week so that you don’t end up like us in thinking that more work is more productive work. In looking back the more hours we did, usually the less productive we were. If we had been more deliberate I imagine we would have worked less hours and still produced the same volume of work.

These are just six simple observations and lessons we took away from our experience of learning to work from home more sustainably.

I know what you’re probably thinking. This is all easier said than done and if there is work to be done, I need to do it. I said this. Then I realised what needed to change was my expectations and the work load. If there is too much to get done you need to check in and change the work load. It is up to you to navigate how to balance your work from home and you that bares the consequences of this — it could even signal it’s time for a new job. You can only answer that question.

As a conclusion to our story both my partner and I realised we didn’t want to work from home exclusively. We now work two days at home and three days in an office. We’re now letting ourselves indulge in the occasional TV series and are enjoying the feeling of coming home after a long day at work and going offline.

After all that searching I think we’ve found ‘home’ again.

References

The Sydney Morning Herald. (2016). Working from home. Currently, roughly 3.5 million employed Australians work from home on a regular basis. Retrieved from:http://www.smh.com.au/business/workplace-relations/one-in-three-australian-workers-now-regularly-work-from-home-20160921-grl3a1.html