How to Work from Home without Living at Work

How to Work from Home without Living at Work October 9, 2020

Whether you’ve had a home office or just started working virtually, the pandemic has accelerated the challenges of working at home for many. The “work from home” model has shifted to “living at work” where boundaries between work and home have blurred leaving you tired and stressed. Employers have reported that productivity is up in many cases. Is it sustainable?

I interviewed four executive women from our Key Women’s Leadership Forum about how they’ve adapted and gathered their ideas and tips to share with you. One of our members, Emily Knighton, CFO at Amuni Financial, Inc., initiated the article by suggesting that we might want to interview some of our members about the changes they’ve experienced going from work to home for the majority of their work time. I reached out to three additional members from various backgrounds and industries: Kelly Bousman, Sr. VP Marketing at AVI-SPL; Lindsay England, Associate VP, Career Services at Ultimate Medical Academy; and Dulani Porter, EVP Partner at SPARK. A big thank you to all of you for your thoughtful responses!

Below is a composite of our interviewed members’ responses. I asked each woman four questions:

  1. Did you have a structure for virtual work prior to the pandemic? If so, what changed as you were virtual most of the time?
  2. What system have you set up to be organized at home?
  3. What structure/boundaries did you set up to stop living at work?
  4. Any tips on how you stay focused on work from home so that you are able to live at home comfortably as well?

Did you have a structure for virtual work prior to the pandemic? If so, what changed as you were virtual most of the time?

Two of the women were new to working virtually and didn’t have a structure in place. Although they took work home, both didn’t feel prepared for the initial challenge. The other two had worked virtually, one full time before the pandemic. 

Here are the changes the women reported:

  • We had a lot of paper processes and had to accelerate going to the cloud.
  • Had to move my work to home offices three times – spare bedroom; then living room and finally made one at the kitchen table.
  • Nothing has changed. I wear shoes a lot less often now 😉
  • I had to completely relearn my job as a leader and how I showed up for my team. When we became virtual, I quickly learned that every interaction had to be intentional because it wasn’t as easy to have the office connection that most of us take for granted.
  • I had to change how I communicated with others. My communication style is very direct, and in virtual settings, that can be easily misinterpreted and taken out of context.
  • The biggest challenge is the “always on” aspect of work and life. Because our office is our home, it required us as individuals to put some work into creating structures that will help us turn on and off at the right times.
  • Missing “organic discussions” that were so critical to creativity that happens when you are in the same space with one another.
  • Recognizing that physical presence in an office does not always equal productivity. In the last six months, we have produced more work than we did in the previous six, all while working from home and managing the volatile market conditions that have required us to pivot quite frequently.
  • Forced us to prioritize what is the most important/will have the most meaningful impact and shed the things that won’t.

I had to change how I communicated with others. My communication style is very direct, and in virtual settings, that can be easily misinterpreted and taken out of context.

What system have you set up to be organized at home?

  • Big enough table; area that should not be used for other things; If that’s not possible, as in my case, get portable equipment and put it away at the end of each day.
  • A dedicated workspace with docking station, good, large monitor, camera, mic, speakers, strong wi-fi. My home office is separated from our living spaces.
  • When I went from a folding chair and card table and invested in an office setup, my productivity, engagement, and motivation soared. 
  • Make sure your dedicated workspace is not a common area (i.e. kitchen, living room, or bedroom; decided that this is the room that you will use to get work done.)
  • Shut equipment off – turn off speakers and monitor
  • Eliminate clutter – it helps you to focus

Make sure your dedicated workspace is not a common area.

What structure/boundaries did you set up to stop living at work?

  • Set your work times and stick to them; set a time to walk away from your computer and work. 
  • When picking your work space, it’s important to pick a location that isn’t important to you for other reasons. Don’t pick the room where you sleep, where you do your hobby that you love or that you enjoy spending time with your family. If it’s a space that’s beloved and used a lot, mentally it will transition to “your office” and that is not healthy for really being able to break from work mode into home mode.
  • If you have to give yourself leeway, make it conscious.
  • Maintain a routine. Here’ an example: “Start with a sunrise walk, breakfast, then “head to the office” across the house instead of in my car. I finish before it’s time to make dinner and still use my mobile device to answer urgent messages only until 10pm.”
  • When everything from work, school, play, etc. started happening in one place, I found myself saying “I’ll get to it later” because it’s all right here. It never ended up happening later so I recognized the importance of really compartmentalizing my day into focus areas for work, self-care and home life.
  • Schedule workouts and non-work commitments, make time for meal planning and hold yourself accountable to valuing your own time as much as you value others.
  • Be patient with yourself and make time for self-care.
  • Maintain a consistent schedule 90% of the time – it really helps to balance home and work life, especially if both parents are working. Give yourself permission to walk away and that can be the biggest mental hurdle. 

Set your work times and stick to them; set a time to walk away from your computer and work. 

Any tips on how you stay focused on work from home so that you are able to live at home comfortably as well?

  • Block time on my calendar for focus work vs. collaborative work to ensure I’m able to do all I need.
  • Working from home has also reinforced why it is so important to be active each day. Get up from the screen and move around periodically; take at least 30-minutes a day disconnecting and focusing on your health.
  • Sometimes I work outdoors on my porch doing my calls, meetings and/or work to mix things up. I also do quick chores around the house as an excuse to get up and out of my chair and just get the blood flowing again.
  • Taking ownership of your time is key to maintaining productivity and mental health -found myself getting to the end of the day and realizing I didn’t get a single thing done because I was just in meetings all day. I’ve started blocking off specific time slots on my calendar that are “no-go” zones for anyone to schedule over. It may be an hour one day, 2-3 hours the next and not always at the same time, but every Friday I look at the calendar for the coming week and block off time for myself to work.

Taking ownership of your time is key to maintaining productivity and mental health

What are your observations and tips? I would love to hear from you, please contact me: mary@keyassociatesinc.com