We understand that working from home has many benefits—but comes with a host of challenges as well. Given the current health environment, your ability to balance family and life is being challenged in ways you’ve likely never experienced. With many employers instituting a work from home policy, you now need to adapt to a new way of working, connecting, and telecommuting. Our team members at Wilmington Trust are right there with you, with a majority of our staff now facing this new way of working.
With today’s culture of increased connectivity, for many, working from home is not a new venture. Those familiar with this daily routine are much better equipped to handle challenges and to take advantage of the many benefits the lack of commute and solitude provide. These seasoned work from home veterans make it look easy, but in reality, it’s an adjustment for everyone.
However, as many are learning today, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the cubicle or office wall. Working from home for the first time, full time, can be a huge adjustment. From creating a suitable workspace to instilling a personal work discipline—the challenges are many, but if you approach it the right way, your productivity, and your employer, will thank you.
Even more challenges today
As we’re facing the COVID-19 pandemic, schools and daycare centers are also shutting down, so those with children at home are facing even greater challenges. And if you are married, your spouse is likely in a work from home situation as well. To help you navigate what could be a trying time for all, we offer some general tips on how to balance work and family when your office space now includes everyone in your household – including your pets.
Wilmington Trust Assistant Vice President and Wealth and Investment Content Specialist—and expectant mother, Shraddha Walter, feels that “Uncertainty can easily take a toll on us. But times like this can bring the best in you to innovate, adapt, and learn. You may be juggling multiple things at one time. Break tasks into small chunks, focus and prioritize. Most importantly, stay positive and hopeful.”
Establish a dedicated work-space
You may already have a home office. But what if that space is not large enough to accommodate you and your spouse? And how do you decide who gets to use the home office? Consider temporarily using a spare bedroom, the garage, or even the basement. Having a dedicated work space for whomever needs it is very important. It allows you to be more focused and more productive, and gives you the privacy you need, when you need it. Do your best not to let your work space “invade” your home space, though. If your office is now the dining room table, make an effort to tidy up at the end of each day to avoid causing frustration for other members of the family.
In addition to “work only” areas, consider rearranging parts of the house to have focused areas for other activities such as reading, art, and meditation.
Create a morning routine
Your specific family dynamics will determine how you approach this step. It might mean sharing breakfast with the family before your workday begins. Or maybe it means taking a morning jog, or walking the dog, so that you can start your day fresh and more focused. Whatever your circumstances, a routine can be a very powerful tool as you navigate this new way of life.
It’s also important to consider your wardrobe for the day. Those who are accustomed to working from home will admit that it’s very easy to just roll out of bed and into your desk chair, but it may help you adjust to your new situation if you follow your normal morning routine. You don’t necessarily need to dress to impress but making an effort to adhere to some of your normal practices goes a long way in helping you feel like you are still “going to the office,” and not just to your dining room table.
Wilmington Trust’s Client Communications Director, Kristen Wood, has been telecommuting for several years, and shares that it’s easy to let comfort rule over vanity. “There are many days when I look up at the clock and realize it’s five already and I’m still wearing my equivalent of fuzzy slippers. At the very least my teeth are brushed, but that’s about the extent of my efforts. With the preponderance of video conferencing, I’m really going to have to step up my game!”
Schedule calls and meetings
Participating in conference calls or web meetings can be a daunting task when you have competing background noise. If you have young children at home, try to schedule those important calls or meetings when your child is down for a nap, or focused on quieter activities. If you have school age children, it might be best to arrange those events during their home school and study sessions.
It’s also helpful to post a note on your front door for any potential delivery services, so that you are not interrupted during an important call by a ringing doorbell—which in turn could create a barking dog. A simple post-it stating “meeting in progress, please do not ring bell or knock” can be very helpful.
And remember, you are not alone. Others may be in a similar situation and are likely to be very understanding. Try not to let the stress of noisy children or pets get to you. It’s very easy to get frustrated quickly but take a deep breath and remember that these are the signs of a robust and active life, and turn that negative into a positive.
It is important that you maintain a schedule whenever possible, and that includes scheduling break times to refresh, stretch, and check in with the family. Establish a set lunch hour, which can include a family meal and a short walk. It may be tempting to grab something to eat at your desk, but this time away is important. Before you go back to work in the afternoon, see if your children have schoolwork questions. Plan another 15-minute break in the late afternoon to be with your family. Do something that you enjoy.
Think about how your day normally goes when you are in the office. How often do you stop and take a break to catch up with colleagues, wander into the kitchen for a coffee or water? When you’re working from home, it’s very easy to fall into a “work marathon routine” where hours go by before you realize you haven’t even left your desk once. Allow yourself that time to reboot throughout the day.
Being inside for an extended period of time can be difficult for anyone. If you have children, they may have pent-up energy or might get bored easily. You can help them expel that energy by giving them specific tasks. If you have a budding chef in your family, ask him or her to go through the pantry and create a dinner menu. Ask someone to choose a fun activity you can enjoy as a family after dinner. If necessary, you and your spouse can share any housekeeping duties with the help of your children. Create a chore chart with rewards for a job well done, and include yourself so that you are all working together as a team.
With older children, this may provide an opportunity to teach them about your job. Let them sit in while you work, explain some of the tasks you are handling, encourage them to take an interest in your career choice. Often, children have no concept of what it takes to manage a busy career and a busy family. Give them tasks “from the office” that they can complete for you. With younger children, set them up with some supplies and let them “play office,” handling fictional tasks for you such as writing memos, sending mail, and even creating fun office flyers that you can hang up around the house. Engaging them in how you spend your day goes a long way in keeping them from being frustrated that “mommy or daddy have to work.”
Make time for fun and family every evening
Evenings are your time to relax and enjoy being together as a family. After all, school and work can be stressful. This is your time to have fun. Enjoy a movie night with the entire family. Set up a puzzle or game you can all take part in. If weather permits, spend as much time out in the yard as you can. And if it doesn’t? Put on some boots and grab an umbrella and make an adventure out of a rainy evening. This is new for everyone, so it’s also important to balance what down time means to each family member. If you prefer to lose yourself in a good book and need your own time, split the responsibility with your spouse so that you both get an opportunity to unwind without sacrificing family time.
As important as it is to have an established routine, it is essential that you be flexible. Maybe you find that you are more productive early in the morning before anyone else in the house wakes. Perhaps the opposite is true. Staggering your day can be helpful to you and others in your home.
Also, remember, this is uncharted territory, and not everyone will adapt the same way. Talk together as a family about everyone’s need for privacy. Don’t be upset if someone wants to opt out of family night to play his or her favorite video game. If you have children who can’t articulate their needs, pay attention to their actions. Now, more than ever, you want to respect one another’s differences and adapt as needed.
As Wilmington Trust’s Vice President of Client Engagement & Experience, Allison Blackwood, shares, “While one side benefit of this situation is spending a lot more time together, it can get overwhelming for all ages. Talk as a family about everyone’s different needs for alone time and privacy. Find a way to work that into the new home routine that respects those differences.”
Take care of your “employees”
We hope the tips we have provided will help you better manage your time at home and allow you and your family to enjoy your time together. While this change is not easy, when this time is a distant memory, you can be proud of your ability to adapt, and may have created stronger family bonds in the process.
A final word about solitude
What if it’s just you in the house, and this is your first work from home experience? No barking dogs or noisy children or others crowding your office space. You face your own set of challenges in adapting to this new environment. Many of these tips for creating a schedule and being flexible apply to you as well, but you also need to be careful not to isolate yourself to the point of loneliness. When you’re used to being surrounded by colleagues in an active office environment, the silence at home can be deafening. If it doesn’t distract you, put on some music or the TV for background noise. Get up and leave your workspace at least once an hour and stay in close touch with your colleagues via phone calls, not just emails. This will help you feel more connected as you adapt to your new normal.
This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended as an offer or solicitation for the sale of any financial product or service. It is not designed or intended to provide financial, tax, legal, investment, accounting, or other professional advice since such advice always requires consideration of individual circumstances. Please consult with the professionals of your choice to discuss your situation.
Submitted by: Joseph J. Imbriale, CFP, Vice President, Business Banking Relationship Manager, M&T Bank
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