It wasn’t so long ago that most blogs about work and home focused on topics like work-life balance or limiting email response times to working hours. My, how the times change quickly.
From my experience, work-life balance is even more challenging when one takes on a remote or work from home (WFH) role. When the home space becomes the workplace there is a tendency to blur the lines between the two. The couch can be a meeting room. The kitchen is now a work desk. The bathroom…is hopefully still just the bathroom.
While some of us are lucky enough to have a dedicated office room in the house, many others switching to WFH may not have that luxury. Even those who do, like myself, may need to share the room with their partner or other members of the family who live in the same house. Living in highly-concentrated urban areas will create further difficulties. Roommates will need to discuss how to arrange the home as a workspace. Does one side of the room become the office, while the other side becomes the living room? Is the Wi-Fi able to handle media streaming and videoconferencing at the same time? Do you need silence for meetings or can music play in the background? These are just a few of the questions that will occupy the minds of remote workers. And while each situation will be presented with a unique blend of challenges and opportunities, the same overall theme will be prevalent: Spaces.
When I first switched to WFH, I moved constantly across multiple spaces within the home. It was almost an exercise in replacing my previous car commute with a step-wise commute:
Six steps down; two steps to the right; three steps forward; aha! I’ve arrived at my destination, a snug little corner desk. This will be perfect. Now let’s set-up for our first video meeting. Aaaand. Oh that lighting is terrible. Hold on, let me move to my private meeting room, which is just a little shift over to the right and voila! My face is now half-lit. Good to go.
Ok — I’ll be honest that’s a short, glib retelling — but it’s also not far from the truth. Even small changes in space can have big effects when working from home. The positive side here is that you have a lot of the decisions when it comes to finding that space in your home. Yes, you are limited within the boundaries of your four walls. Yet, just like an undergraduate writing assignment, creativity can flourish within these limitations. I for one was always glad when my writing assignments had a specific topic or theme that needed to be addressed. Woe were the times when professors handed out 10-page papers on topics of our choosing:
“What do you mean just write a descriptive essay?! How am I supposed to decide among such interesting topics like cryptocurrencies and post-ternary societies in pre-war Europe; summing up different levels of infinity starting with Aleph Noll; and an in-depth review of Dead Poets Society’s effects on homosexuality on college campuses! You simply leave me with too many options, so I will just describe my favorite at-home macaroni recipe and leave it there.”
The only caveat I suggest keeping in mind is to remember that your workspace is just that: your workspace. I repeat that because it’s important to build in the right habits early in the WFH process. If your couch will be your workspace, that’s great! Well, it’s great if you know that your couch is your workspace. If it’s also where you go to catch up on episodes of [insert favorite binge-able show here], then you might as well forget about treating it as the place to get work done. Not only will you focus less on work, you might end up focusing less on your favorite show during off-time because you feel like you’re at work. Creating separate spaces can help to improve your productivity AND help to ensure your downtime is enjoyable instead of stressful.