This article is part of Confined Grind, our crowdsourced guide to maintaining a balanced, healthy work life while working and living at home amid Covid-19. Join the conversation on the BBC News LinkedIn page.
Earlier this month we shared expert insights for maintaining productivity while working from home during Covid-19. Many of you subsequently shared your own stories and tips, which included both practices that follow common advice and new and creative ideas.
Several recognised that the pandemic makes working from home far more challenging than usual; people are sharing workspaces with family and dealing with anxiety, stress and other mental health problems.
Sarah M, a service desk analyst from the UK, admits she’s finding the isolation rather “depressing” and urges others not to take day-to-day human interaction for granted. Haralds Gabrans, a digital marketing manager from Latvia, says he’s struggling to accept that this is “the new normal”, and that it will go on for more than a few weeks.
Despite the challenges, many have discovered working from home amid a pandemic can still be a productive and even rewarding experience with the right mindset and behaviours.
Structure versus flexibility
Many have told us they are working longer hours, since being at home blurs the lines between the beginning and end of the workday. Without cues from colleagues heading out for lunch, or the side chats we often engage in at the office, it can also be hard to remember to take breaks.
Several people suggested putting structure and daily routines in place, including scheduling frequent breaks.
Many readers brought up the importance of mindfulness and positive thinking while stuck at home (Credit: Getty Images)
Angeliki (Pavlou) Heinz, an audio marketing and development manager in Germany, meets her husband in the kitchen for regular coffee breaks “just like normal colleagues”. Similarly, Diana Nilsson, co-founder and chief operating officer at Tracemyfile in the UK, says her family “never compromises on breakfast, lunch, tea time and dinner together, regardless of if our work is done or not”.
Christina Brazzale, a digital marketing manager in the UK, says working from home actually provides fewer distractions than her usual office environment, and pushes her to make more of her lunch break than simply eating at her desk. “Now, as I'm at home, I can't wait to head out for some sunshine, fresh air and a brisk walk,” she says. “It's definitely helped me make a serious effort to take my breaks, which is very refreshing.”
It's definitely helped me make a serious effort to take my breaks, which is very refreshing – Christina Brazzale
At the same time, however, some are finding that they’re encountering increased social pressure to accomplish more professional, personal, creative or household tasks during this time.
Hannah Allyse Kim, a children’s literary editor in South Korea, has been quarantined at home for more than a month. Her message: go easy on yourself. “You may feel as though you can tackle all the home improvement and organisation projects now that you're confined to the house. Don't pressure yourself,” she says. “Completing only a few extra projects each day outside of your scheduled work leaves time for recharging your mind, whether that's picking up a book you've been meaning to read or trying out a new recipe in the kitchen.”
You may feel as though you can tackle all the home improvement and organisation projects now that you're confined to the house. Don't pressure yourself
Yvonne Dodd, a transformation coach from the UK, agrees. She suggests having a daily schedule, “but don't beat yourself up if you don't stick to it rigidly; have fun with your kids; get out in the fresh air and get some exercise (if possible)”.
For many, the days are starting to feel jumbled together, and, at times, dreary. One tip several readers offered was to work in a spot in your home that gets good natural light, or to work in any outdoor space you have. Anastasia Balandina from London works from her balcony when the sun is out, and describes this experience as “life-saving”.
Anastasia Balandina works from her balcony when the weather is nice (Credit: Anastasia Balandina)
Another way to revive flagging energy for yourself, your colleagues or your family is to come up with creative, silly games or group activities. Nilsson spices up time with her family by doing at least one fun activity together every day. “We take turns to choose an activity. Examples: making a slime together (I would never do it otherwise), making raw balls (my kids wouldn’t do it otherwise), making a family TikTok video (really?), a puzzle. This way we stay productive but also have time to appreciate each other.”
Meg Tweed, a recruitment resourcing consultant in the UK, also plays a daily game with her colleagues. “We have a short meeting/update every morning and have begun to bring in an element of fun to them by doing a 'treasure hunt', where we have an item each week and whoever brings the best one wins. This week is an embarrassing photo of us as a child!”
Meg Tweed participates in a weekly 'treasure hunt' with her colleagues over video call, which involves sharing things like embarrassing childhood photos (Credit: Meg Tweed)
Robert Stride lives in Switzerland where he can’t roam far outside. He invented a little game for himself to stay sane: “Ten places in your home you really need to visit.” Every day he visits a different location in his flat. “Day one was the washing machine, day two was the shoe rack, day three was the toilet bowl brush, day four the flat door, which we know must remain closed. Tomorrow I’ll visit the dishwasher.”
In London, Hannah Cordle is taking regular “bounce breaks on my kids’ trampoline” and participating in virtual runs with her colleagues, “tracking our daily steps on Strava and visiting strange tourist destinations en route”. In Switzerland, Sarah Holland has turned her kitchen worktop into a ping pong table.
Sarah Holland's family plays ping pong on their kitchen worktop (Credit: Sarah Holland)
Get your kids involved
Readers who are self-isolating with young children may well be finding it hard to follow tips about avoiding distractions and keeping workspaces sacrosanct. Many of you suggested ways to keep your children busy, including chores, games and taking shifts with your spouse.
Emma Cantril, owner of Intelligent Profile in the UK, says she has given her kids daily jobs. “Having worked from home for 20 years, I would say the biggest challenge is having to manage the sudden influx of family, cooking, washing, cleaning and how impossible it is to have a quiet space for everyone to focus,” she says. “To avoid being overwhelmed with a mess at the end of the working day, make sure everyone tidies as they go along. Otherwise, it’s impossible to cope and you will spend precious time in the evening sorting everything.”
Emma Cantrill and her husband rented a shepherds hut to use as a home office, after finding it too distracting to work in the house (Credit: Emma Cantrill)
Jonathan Wareham, a sales director from Treviso, Italy, who is under full lockdown with his wife and three children, also agrees that chores and outdoor time is important. He adds that it’s important to be “honest with yourself and your kids about the situation”.
To avoid being overwhelmed with a mess at the end of the working day, make sure everyone tidies as they go along – Emma Cantril
Though Wareham has found home-schooling his kids to be the most stressful task, he says balance is crucial. “We have now accepted that we will make a daily effort and do what we can BUT refuse to stress ourselves and the kids out!” He says it’s important to give kids time to be both creative and bored.
Many of you suggested ways to keep your children busy, including chores, games and taking shifts with your spouse (Credit: Getty Images)
In the midst of the crisis, many readers also touched on adjusting your mindset to embrace a more positive outlook.
Wareham says it’s important to establish a good attitude early on. “Take this opportunity as a positive, to challenge and build up your character and that of your family,” he says. As he and his own family have had to adapt to being constantly together, he adds that flexibility is key. “Start to recognise your negative traits. This gives you the opportunity to grow.” Try to enjoy the stillness, he adds, and recognise that your concept of time will change.
Remember that together you are building a unique memory, that these moments will stay with you and your family forever – Jonathan Wareham
Ultimately, he reminds us that time with family is precious, even if it is not on our own terms. “See the lockdown as a time to build lasting bonds with your family and to understand what is important in this short life. Remember that together you are building a unique memory, that these moments will stay with you and your family forever.”
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