As someone who typically works from home when not traveling, the impact of COVID-19 office closures has had limited impact on me to this point. For those who are accustomed to working in an office environment, the impact has often been profound. Meeting challenges require adjustment, both personal as well as family adjustments.
When I started working from home again several years ago, I found there were quite a few adjustments that I had to make, as well as adjustments on the part of my family. The fundamental adjustment, for my part, was maintaining a routine similar to what I had in the office. For example, adhering to consistent and ‘normal’ work hours. That is to say, normal in the context of the amount of time and specific hours I would typically work in an office environment – definitely not your typical 9-5 office workday. Managing activities within those typical work hours is also a key aspect of adjustment.
Deviating from a pattern that is consistent with your ‘normal’ very quickly begins to negatively impact your productivity. Your ability to concentrate for extended periods of time is also compromised by this, as well as being exacerbated by the interruptions that take place within the home, especially when the entire family is shut in together and is struggling with that adjustment.
Here are some suggestions on how to adjust:
- Manage Priorities. There will always be competing priorities, demands for attention and interruptions in any working environment. The home quarantine environment magnifies these significantly. However, with an ample amount of patience, empathy, consideration, and self-discipline, all of these challenges can be successfully met.
- Be patient. You will find that patience with yourself, as well as others, will be challenged at times. Being in close constant proximity to your family can be frustrating at times, especially when trying to manage competing priorities. Taking a few moments to collect your thoughts and fostering patience before reacting can go a long way to maintaining harmony.
- Be communicative. This situation is new for everyone. The only way to get a handle on the needs and wants of all those impacted around you is to be communicative. This starts with you. Use the family roundtable (see Family Adjustments) for a platform to encourage and facilitate this communication – be the driving force behind it.
- Be organized and disciplined but allow for flexibility. You are probably organized and disciplined in your office life. This is just as important in your work-from-home life, but more difficult to maintain. Setting up a commonly agreed upon schedule, and adhering to that, is important. But allowing for flexibility is important, too. If a one-time adjustment, address the need then. If it will require a continuing change or adjustment, use your family roundtable or other platform to discuss how the situation can best be handled to address everyone’s needs.
Adjustments, especially with young children or elderly in the home, will be more difficult and will take more time for the adjustments to take hold and become part of the new normal. The younger the children are, or the older the elderly, the more time it will take.
Just as important as it is for children to understand that having their mother and father home doesn’t mean constant playtime and for them to be the center of attention, working parents also need to understand that any adjustment period will be different for each child. Having them ‘help’ you with work for short periods of time during the day can help them get the attention they want, as well as have a sense of participation and contribution.
- Set the ground rules as soon as possible. The need for you to retain as much status quo as possible in your work life must be communicated and discussed with all family members, setting workable ground rules. Everyone has a part to play and adjustments to make.
- Be specific in your workday schedule. There will always be certain times of the day that require the most interaction with your employee, customers, clients or other people in your work ecosystem. Set those times as Do Not Disturb times.
- Carve out daytime family time if needed. There are situations where carving out some family time, perhaps a few times during normal work hours, may be required. This is typically the case when there are young children, or even elderly in the house than cannot wait for hours for attention or care.
- Set up family roundtables. If you don’t already do this as part of your typical dinner time, or some other set time during the week, consider adding this to your family activities. This will help ensure everyone is communicating and understanding changing needs based on the current situation.
We also need to remember that the ‘new normal’ will likely include far more work-from-home situations for an extended period, or even on a permanent basis. The adjustments we make now will always prove valuable, even in the office environment.
Your work ethic is a key to success, regardless of where you work. Enjoy working at home. It can be a blessing to be with family. Embrace it and cherish it – you may have to go back to the office soon.