For the many folks now working from home, the stay-at-home order happened so quickly that there wasn’t time to prepare. That left many people trading their standing desk for the dining room table and fighting spouses for dedicated work time and space.
According to the social media service Pinterest, searches for “tips for working from home” skyrocketed between March 4 and 17 compared with the two previous weeks. Specifically, searches for "work from home time management” were 14 times greater, and “work from home desk ideas” rose fivefold.
Now that we may be in this for the long haul, it’s time to rethink our makeshift home setup. Here’s how a handful of workers are managing, and some tips to make the situation less stressful.
Jayne Feld, executive editor, SJ Magazine
With three teenage boys in and out, Jayne Feld has a kitchen workspace in her Cherry Hill home that is often chaotic. At first, her priority was getting the kids set so they could focus on their schoolwork. But she quickly realized that her makeshift office at the kitchen table wasn’t working.
She borrowed a 24-inch monitor from her office, commandeered the kids’ video-game monitor, and with her laptop and office chair, created a dedicated workspace. Though still in the kitchen, it’s now in an alcove off to the side.
“It looks like NASA and is the best I’ve ever had,” she said. “But the drawback is that I’m in the middle of a busy kitchen with three teenagers who eat all the time.”
Feld got a noise-canceling headset to drown out the distractions and created rules about when the kids can interrupt her. For example, if it’s a technology issue, she gives it her immediate attention, but for less immediate homework help, they make appointments.
“In the beginning, I missed having my own space that people respected," she said, "but I’ve learned to live with it.”
Steven Peikin, gastroenterologist, Cooper Digestive Health Institute, Mount Laurel
Working from his Penn’s Landing home in Philadelphia was certainly a new experience for Peikin, a doctor for 46 years. Since March, Peikin has conducted telemedicine visits from his home office, which he makes sure looks pleasant and professional to his patients. He wears a scrub shirt, and his backdrop is a tidy bookcase.
“I’m getting paid to do a job, and I take that seriously,” he said.
Though some patients shy away from video calls, worried that their background or lack of a recent shower may be embarrassing, “video is important to see how the patient looks,” said Peikin, who can direct patients how to check for pain by pressing on and around their abdomen.
Although working from home can be isolating, the doctor likes his setup. His office furniture is comfortable, he has a nice view of the Delaware River, and plenty of sunshine pours into his office.
“A lot of patients like the telemedicine so much, they ask if they can continue it, for certain visits, when life goes back to normal,” he said. “I think that’s going to be a new reality.”
Megan Owens, kindergarten teacher, Vare-Washington School, South Philly
Her Manayunk living room couch has been ground zero for Owens, who is now teaching her students online.
“We don’t have another space that I can use as an office, so I make do with other parts of the house,” she said. “You just kind of roll with the punches.”
A typical day includes online meetings with the entire class, reading sessions with individual students, prep work and occasional staff meetings. All the while, her 2-year-old golden retriever, Kelce, and 4-month-old mini-Bernedoodle, Charlie, vie for attention.
“There are definitely times when I’m in a meeting, and they bark,” Owens said.
The students love the canine distractions, and parents and coworkers are understanding, but Owens, in her fourth year of teaching, is mortified.
She’s also been challenged by a lack of supplies at home. “As a teacher, you’re used to having things like index cards and white boards,” Owens said. “I’ve learned to adapt.”
Sean Cherry, senior manager in customer experience at Comcast
Faced with working from home indefinitely, Cherry is getting used to the makeshift office in the guest bedroom of his home in Philadelphia’s Pennsport neighborhood. He’s adjusting to not having a standing desk. Getting out of the house for breaks has been a priority.
“I’ve been going on some bike rides, taking walks with the dog, playing lots of guitar, and trying to cook different things,” he said. “It’s nice that when the workday ends, you’re home. Without a commute and errands, you have that much more time.”
Although he has the computer and monitors necessary to get his work done successfully, he misses the personal interactions with his colleagues. On Zoom calls, for example, you don’t get the benefit of facial cues or body language.
“There’s something intangible about interpersonal communication that you only get when you’re meeting face-to-face,” he said.
Hilary Young of Hilary Young Creative, a content strategy and branding consulting firm
With five years of experience working from home, the mother of two toddlers has figured out how to work successfully from her Queen Village home office.
“You definitely need a dedicated space,” she said, while acknowledging limitations based on people’s living situations. She designed her office, an alcove off the living room, to look different from its surroundings. “I have artwork, cute office supplies, a comfortable chair and an organized desk, and I make sure mail and my kids’ stuff doesn’t end up there.”
Set rules, including creating a schedule, to prepare for times when you can’t be disturbed. Coordinate with your spouse on caring for the kids or work when they are otherwise occupied — perhaps nap time or a favorite TV show. “I end up working after we put the kids to sleep,” she said.
Rules should recognize both work and family time. “Because there’s no physical separation between work and home, my husband and I agreed to defined hours when we are allowed to be on our phones so we can focus on each other,” she said.
At the same time, be flexible wherever possible, to allow time for the children, walks, exercise or a coffee break. “It’s really hard to shut off mom-ness when they’re awake,” she said.
And don’t be too hard on yourself. Most people are going through the same thing and are understanding.
“Figure out what your ideal working conditions are and what your mental health requires right now and try to do everything in your power to support that,” she said.
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