Is Working From Home Your New Normal? Here Are Some Coping Tips From a Resilience Coach

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What we’ll cover:

  • Working from home has its perks, but it can bring its own set of challenges, making it harder to focus and be productive
  • Trying to work at home while having to take care of your family at the same time can be a stressful balancing act. There are steps you can take to help manage the stress and bring some structure to your day-to-day work environment
  • General tips: Establish a set work schedule, take regular breaks and monotask
  • For parents who are taking care of kids throughout the day: Consider having regular family check-ins to set clear expectations and boundaries
  • For those who are taking care of older adults: Focus on what you can control and continue to show up and give your best

Working from home has its perks. Your commute is short. You usually get to decide what the dress code is for the day and may have a little flexibility when it comes to managing your work schedule. With access to your own kitchen, you don’t even have to pack a lunch! 

Not having to be in the office can be liberating, but it can also have its own challenges and stressors. This may not be obvious right away, but over time, the loss of routine and face-to-face interactions with co-workers could have a serious impact on our emotional well-being (more on this later). 

Even though the US economy has started to reopen from coronavirus lockdowns and some people are gradually making their way back to the office, working remotely is going to be the new normal for many people (especially those who can’t send their kids off to daycare or have elderly parents to look after). 

Some may also choose to go fully remote for the rest of the year out of personal health concerns, while others may opt for a “hybrid” approach where you work in the office on some days and from home on others. 

There’s really no right or wrong answer: It all depends on what makes the most sense for you and whether your employer offers that kind of flexibility. 

All this is to say working from home is probably not going to disappear completely, which means the stresses that come with it won’t either. So a coping strategy is in order, and we asked L. Barbour, a resilience coach with Optum at Goldman Sachs, to share some of her insights and tips. 

Why working from home can be stressful

Being able to skip your commute, sleep in a little and respond to your work emails in your pajamas may have been great during the first few weeks of lockdowns. 

But over the long run (for those where working from home is the new normal), these little comforts can become a source of stress, making it harder to work – here’s why according to Barbour.

Lack of structure. Not having a set schedule for when you wake up, work and go to bed can lead to unhealthy sleeping and work habits. You may find yourself struggling to set boundaries for yourself and others when it comes to work. A typical 8-hour work day may easily become a 12-hour day because you are working around the clock and no longer have a set time to “leave the office.” In this way, you may start to feel like you’re losing control over your environment. 

Social Isolation. You may be able to focus better at home without the usual distractions of a bustling office. While this kind of respite is nice to have every once in a while, prolonged social isolation can be a danger to our physical, mental and cognitive health. Loneliness has been linked to various health problems such as depression, insomnia and cognitive decline. The lack of face-to-face interactions can also impact our ability to deal with stress. 

Distractions. Sometimes office chatter can be draining and distracting, but your home can have its own distractions, too. For example, you may end up spending more time on social media because you’re no longer connecting with people in the office face to face. Pings from family members or friends throughout the day can make it harder for you to focus and stay motivated to finish the task at hand. Add in young kids or older parents you need to care for into the mix, and you may find it that much harder to balance your work priorities and personal obligations.

Signs of stress and how you can handle them

If you’ve experienced anxiety, lack of motivation and sleeping problems (or they’ve worsened) since working from home, you should know that these are some common signs of stress and that you’re definitely not alone.

Here are some positive coping strategies from Barbour that can help you better manage stress and restore a bit of structure to your work day. Remember, stress is the reaction to the things that happen to you, and your reactions are within your control. 

  • Set regular times to log in and log off from work and commit to them. 
  • “Fake” your commute by stepping outside of your front door or going for a walk to bookend your work day. This can help to re-establish some form of routine to your day. 
  • Monotask whenever possible. Focusing on one task at a time can help minimize distractions or interruptions.
  • Take regular breaks throughout the day. Use the time to stretch or exercise. 
  • Designate a specific work zone in your home. This is for those who do not have a dedicated home office, where you create physical cues to differentiate personal versus work zones. For example, sit in a different chair if you’re working from the dining table or use a different glassware during “office hours.” 
  • Practice mindful eating. At lunch time, focus exclusively on eating (as in no screens). Also, remember to prioritize proper hydration and quality nutrition throughout the day. There are two good reasons for this: Left on our own, some of us might try to make it through the day on coffee and beef jerky alone! Even mild dehydration can affect mood and mental performance. 
  • Schedule fun activities to look forward to throughout the week. This could be things like cooking a nice meal or dining over video chat with friends. Other examples include a virtual book club, trivia or game night, virtual workout or meditation classes.

Tips for parents working from home

It’s important for everyone to establish predictability, clarity and connection in order to promote a sense of security within the family.

“Each family member has needs and priorities, too,” Barbour said. “They’re all going to want a piece in the new order, and it should be encouraged that they bring forth their needs and wants. We want our family to express their needs so they can feel acknowledged and appreciated. This is where you and your family can experiment with different approaches.” 

To help with this, Barbour suggests scheduling regular family check-ins. With everyone at the table, you can work collectively to set new boundaries and agreements. These meetings can also give you the opportunity to tweak your plans and communicate openly. Barbour offers this general approach:

End of the week/weekend:

  • Review children’s daily schedule and activities (e.g., extracurricular, social time, or play).
  • Lay out and commit to regular meal and snack times.

Night before:

  • Review parents’ schedules.
  • Decide on who will be “on-duty” at what times. For example, which parent will be “teacher” or “nanny.” 
  • Schedule these duties into respective calendars.

Morning before “office hours”:

  • Set expectations with the family (e.g., during breakfast).
  • Block out times for meal prep, eating, snacks and activities.
  • Commit to screen-free time. This applies to both parents and your children. Parents can lead by example by not being on their devices during designated times with their kids. You can ask your colleagues to call if they need to reach you in an emergency.

Use red/yellow/green light statuses for your work (consider using homemade signs):

  • Red means do not disturb (closed door).
  • Yellow means proceed with caution or knock before entering.
  • Green means you’re available.

Make time for yourself and be patient

“Parents must put themselves on their calendars, too,” Barbour said. Prioritize scheduling some child-free time with yourself and your partner (e.g., movie night after the kids go to bed).

Barbour reminds parents that it’s important to temper expectations for yourself and your household.  Working from home, while at the same time dealing with homeschooling and summer activities for your kids, is a big adjustment for many families. Naturally, certain home and work routines (e.g., working from a smaller computer screen) will take a bit longer than usual to establish, so it’s important to be patient and be kind with yourself!

Tips for caretakers of older adults

Older adults like our parents have their own special set of challenges. Many of them – due to their age and other health issues – are forced to stay at home because they may be at a higher risk of contracting Covid-19. 

Their temporary loss of independence may mean that they’re having to rely on you more for certain day-to-day activities, such as grocery shopping, going to doctor’s appointments, etc. 

Having to juggle these personal priorities against the demands of working from home can be incredibly stressful. Barbour’s advice is to “focus on what you can control and continue to show up and give your best.” She also offers these practical tips:

  • Schedule regular video and phone chats - in addition to calls around birthdays, holidays or other life celebrations. This gives everyone something to look forward to on a regular basis.  
  • Schedule fun virtual activities together to help them stay connected (e.g., bingo nights, story time with your kids, etc.). 
  • Send groceries and cards, in addition to making regular calls, to remind your parents that you’re thinking of them.
  • Help them make use of telehealth appointments and online support groups.
  • Assist them in monitoring their finances, keeping an eye out for scams that target older adults.

The bottom line

Working from home every now and then can help us break away from the doldrums of our usual “9-to-5,” but working from home over the long term can produce its own particular set of stressors. 

It’s important to understand these potential sources of stress and then arm ourselves with a few practical strategies to manage them. This way we can enjoy the benefits of working from home without putting ourselves at an increased risk for burnout or other health issues.

Interested in learning more? Check out our article on building resilience in these challenging times.

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This article is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for individualized professional advice. Articles on this site were commissioned and approved by Marcus by Goldman Sachs®, but may not reflect the institutional opinions of The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., Goldman Sachs Bank USA or any of their affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions.