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Working From Home: Survival Edition

coronavirus covid-19 sanity working from home

So, I've got a lot of questions.

You working from home, too? We've been in it for a bit, no? Is the end in sight? It's not, really, huh?

Everything is weird right now, isn't it? It's hard to know how to feel in such an intensely odd time. Afraid? Annoyed? Drained? Grateful?

This virus is like the boogeyman--your community might not seem terribly affected by it, but a lot of people are still afraid. We're still practicing social distancing, working from home, unable to take our kids to the park or on playdates, gather in places of worship. Sporting events have been cancelled, the Olympics postponed for a year. There's talk that COVID-19 may come back with a vengeance in the fall. No one really knows how long this is going to go on for. It's hard to know what news coverage to believe. Everything seems either downplayed or sensationalized, but then you hear first-hand accounts of the bad experiences with the virus from people that you know. That's when you realize that it's real, and is impacting real people.

And then there's the personal stress of spending 24 hours a day in your home. With your partner. With your children. While you're trying to work. Zoom meetings can be draining in a way that in-person meetings only aspire to. Your laptop is much smaller than your workstation, so you're constantly clicking away, moving windows and trying to maneuver your screen to show as much of your needed data as possible. Your neck is kinked from staring down instead of straight ahead.

Working from home with a partner

Having a strategy for working from home is necessary, now more than ever before. Come up with a plan for your own body, your children's sanity, and your partner or roommate to keep everyone as sane as possible during this time of extreme togetherness while we socially distance from everyone else.

Don't neglect your body:
You need it to work.

  • Get up and move. You'll hear various specificities around this--Once an hour, once every half hour. Stand up every 20 minutes, even if you don't walk around. Sit for 20 minutes, stand for 8, walk for 2. There's no shortage of approaches. But the point is, moving your body often is good for your mental and physical health. Figure out how best it works for you, but be sure to do it.
  • Drink! Drink! Drink! Drink! Water, though, during regular business hours. There's really no substitute for drinking water. It's good for your muscles, your brain, your joints, your appetite.  Here's a snootful I wrote about it here.
  • Location, location, location. Consider where your desk or workspace is in your home. Is it a good temperature?  Do you have enough light? Are you in a cluttered or unfinished space that stresses you out?
    I asked my husband to consider moving his desk upstairs from our unfinished basement because it's so chilly down there. He was working from home maybe once a week before, so it wasn't a big priority, but now he's home daily. He moved up to our guest room and felt so much better.
    Hanging house plantThen I moved a lamp onto his desk to help with eyestrain.
    Then I stuck a potted plant on his desk for morale.
    You may not have a lot of space to maneuver during this time, but doing small things like adding good lighting is relatively easy, and can make a big difference. 
    Pro Tip: It's getting warmer out. If your wifi extends to your porch, deck or patio, consider taking your laptop outside for a 20 minute cup of coffee and answer emails in the open air. Your mental health is important, and being outside is important for your mental health. 
  • Consider your posture. Set up your desk as ergonomically as possible so that you are comfortable at it for long periods of time. Is the height of your desk and chair appropriate for your machine? If you don't have a fancy desk chair, use a pillow behind your lower back. If your feet don't reach the floor, get a foot rest, a short step stool, or even a box to rest your toes on. Try to sit with your shoulders back to take pressure off of your lower back. Staying body conscious is work at first, but it can be come habitual after a time building those posture-improving muscles. When I'm trying to be posture-aware, I just pretend I'm having tea with the queen.

Sharing space with your partner:
A game of chess.

  • Who is this person? You're probably seeing your spouse more often these days, and in a different light, as you are seeing their working self, rather than their home self. He might be the let's circle back guy in the meeting. Maybe she mutters or curses under her breath at every email. Maybe you've married a dreaded whistler. (Full disclosure: I'm one of those people.) Maybe you've got a partner who is very reasonable and calm and steady-as-she-goes at work, which seems very antithetical to their home persona. Maybe that's shocking or annoying or bewildering to you. It's an adjustment to see your partner in a professional light for hours at a time in your home.

    Boss cat
  • Respect my bubble. Try to find separate spaces to work. Take coffee breaks together for that watering-hole feel, but having your own space to work will help with concentration and productivity, cut down on irritation, and help keep your work life separate from your home life.
  • Rule breaker/rule follower. Set ground rules for work meetings/conference calls. Try to help run interference on the kids (if applicable) when your mate is on the phone or under a deadline.
    My husband hates rules. He hates being boxed in. He does not like being told what to do, how to do it, or when. However, he does not like anything unexpected or interruptions--from our children, from me, from anything not related to work--while he is working. I, on the other hand, like to know what to expect. I like to be able to anticipate. I like to just know how things are going to go. As such, we have set expectations to revolve more around his needs. I'm more flexible and have more flexibility in my work, so our roles during the day are different. 
  • I believe you have my stapler… Understand that their work annoyances are now occurring in the home. Try not to take that personally. They may need someone to vent to. You're there. And same goes. This is a time to try to give one another more grace, not less. 

    Office Space's Milton with Swingline Stapler

With Children at Home:
The Ultimate Challenge.

  • Fruit and veggiesThrow food at it and run away! If you've ever tried to accomplish anything with a hungry child nearby, you know this is your only recourse. They're basically wild animals when they're hungry.
    Set up a "grazing station" where kids can grab what they need without interrupting you. Try healthy snacks like apples, bananas, carrots, cheese sticks, nuts, raisins, cherry tomatoes, peppers, pita bread or naan is good, too. Like a kids' charcuterie board. They like to be fancy. You could also try to make a big batch of pancakes on the weekend so they can pop them into the toaster. There are some good protein packed mixes out there. We like this one.
  • The TV is a tool. Use it wisely. Educational programming can be fun for kids, and you don't have to have Blippi on in the background driving you crazy while you're working. There are other options.
    • Daniel Tiger is always a winner in my house, and for every other family with toddlers that I know. He's helped my girls, all under 5, with their emotional intelligence. From dealing with separation anxiety (not really a problem right now), to empathy, to channeling frustration, to coping with death, the spinoff of Mister Rogers Neighborhood has been with us through a lot.
    • Bill Nye The Science Guy is on Hulu. Bill! Bill! Bill! Bill!
    • Science/Nature shows. I just watched an episode of "Secrets of the Universe" on Amazon Prime with my 4-year-old about black holes, and another on the death of a star. A lot of the physics behind it was over her head, but I love that she's interested in being exposed to this stuff.
    • Cosmic Kids Yoga is great to encourage them to move their bodies. Plus, yoga is good for the mind. If I turn on yoga, and my kids just sit and watch it without moving their bodies, I turn it off. If they want to watch it, they have to participate.
    • You guys. Netflix has Reading Rainbow. (!!!) Reading Rainbow! I love love love LeVar Burton. He actually also does a podcast called LeVar Burton Reads, geared more toward adults. He is so great.

      LeVar Burton with Reading Rainbow Coffee Mugs
    • Longer movies are great if you need to capture attention for a longer period of time. Generally, we like movies to be a family affair. But again, the TV is a tool. Parents shouldn't be ashamed of using it as needed during this odd moment in time. 
  • Small Motor Skills. If your kid is old enough not to shove them up his nose, try Perler beads. They're plastic, fusible beads that can be arranged on a pegboard, and then ironed together to form anything from necklaces to keychains. Particularly creative minds can even make 3-dimensional mini-sculptures.
  • Puzzles! These are great for small motor skills, teaching spatial relations, problem solving, and building an attention span. My three year old can do the same 60 piece puzzle over and over and over. It keeps her busy for a surprisingly long time. 
  • Outdoor play. There's no substitute for being outside. Send your big kids out on their bikes. Littles are trickier, but if you can move your laptop outside while they play for a while, do it.
  • Impromptu Dance Party: The Best Party. Indoor play doesn't have to be sedentary. When you get up from your computer to move your body, get your kids up to move theirs.
    My toddlers like to stretch with me. We "tickle the clouds" by standing on our tip toes  and wiggling our fingers high over our heads. They dig it. They also like little dance parties. Who doesn't?
  • The Wee Monet. My kids love art stuff. Paint/markers/colored pencils/crayons. But also glitter, stamp cutters, stencils, pipe cleaners, chalk, scupley, play dough.
    Our latest is painting rocks. We grab a few rocks each from our walks, and paint them when we get home. It's not paper, so it's somehow cooler. When they're dry, they like to line them up on the window sills, or carry them around in their pockets. To each their own.
  • "Boredom is the birthplace of genius." It's okay for kids to be bored. Kids will learn things by finding things on their own to amuse themselves. As long as you know your environment is safe for them to rove around in, let them be bored. Every second of their lives shouldn't be curated, and you are not their museum director.
  • Realize they are stressed, too. This might be the most important thing on this post, if you're a parent. This is as weird a time for our kids as it is for us. Their routines are shot to hell, their parents are probably grumpier, they can't go to the park, or play with the neighbor kids, and a lot of them are small enough to not understand why. How frustrating this must be to them, who have so little control of their own lives as it is.
    We have a responsibility to them to shield them from information they are too young to comprehend. Information should be given in digestible ways. They need time to think, to understand. They require patience, probably more now than ever before, and it is at a premium. Give them even more grace than you give yourself. Regression is going to be normal; encourage without being demanding; listen without judging; hug without reservation. They need it. So do you.

Now: Mental Health.

This is harder to put into tidy bullet points. You're going to have good days and bad days working from home. Just like you did at the office. But you're compounding it with the visual of your undone laundry, your unwashed dishes. Your children will be caterwauling for your attention. Your spouse may be taking frustrations out on you, and vice versa, that were previously excluded from your home time. Because our lives are no longer as compartmentalized as they were before coronavirus turned everything upside down, the collective pile of "to dos" in front of our faces is a greater challenge to slog through.

In the meantime, be kind to yourself. Find some silence and digest what you need. The learning curve on this is steep. This is the time for self-awareness. It will aid in your survival. 

You're not alone. We're all in this together, we're all feeling the weight of uncertainty, we all miss what life was. I don’t think it's an exaggeration to say we're grieving for it.

Get through today. Then get through tomorrow. If you need the ordinary to feel normal, then actively look for what is customary and expected in your day. Be conscious of acknowledging the things that make you feel normal. If you need variety, spontaneity, excitement, and it's lacking in quarantine, you may have to work for that a bit. Put some effort in, because if it helps your mental health, it's worth it.

Find something to be grateful for. Even before the pandemic hit, I would sometimes think--I don't live in a Syran refugee camp. It was enough to jangle me out of any self-pitying party I'd thrown for myself. So, find your Syrian refugee camp to help you gain perspective, and then examine your life. Be present. If you can find a way to help your neighbors, do it. If you can find a way to show love from a distance to family and friends, do it. If you can find a way to just *be* for a moment, do it.

Grateful

Do the things you need to do to be calm. To be present. To be there for the people who depend on you. Taking care of yourself makes it easier to care for others. It's hard to share from your cup if it's empty.

Deep breaths. Stay well.

 


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