Working from home amid coronavirus crisis? Stay sane by adding structure to your day, taking regular breaks, and setting yourself some new goals
- Your self-care routine can be disrupted when working from home. Combine that with uncertainty and not being active, and it can affect people’s mental health
- Look for the positives to being out of the office, such as having no commute, and reach out to your colleagues via digital media to avoid feeling too isolated
For the most part, we have the technology to be able to do this, but are we mentally and emotionally prepared for the challenges that come with working on our own, separated from colleagues and friends?
The usual structure of our day – commuting to work, chatting with colleagues, meeting a friend for lunch, going to the gym after work – may seem so mundane that it’s easy to overlook the powerful role it plays in our mental health.
Take that away and replace it with the potentially shapeless form of “working from home” and it can be overwhelming.
Working from home can be very isolating, particularly in a time of uncertainty. It allows for plenty of time to dwell on the situation, repeatedly check the news and, if you aren’t careful, let thoughts spiral in ways that are unhelpful. Add to this the challenge of Hong Kong’s small flats, and our mental health can suffer.
“There might be a few family members all trying to find space and quiet in the flat. Family dynamics are quite disrupted, people are not used to spending so much time around each other and that might lead to conflict,” says Sugarman.
The coronavirus threat creates uncertainty. To overcome that, we need the normality and routine that office life’s daily pattern provides. With a little effort, we can recreate that structure, self-care and a sense of achievement while working from a Hong Kong flat.
Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, is among the legions of Hongkongers adjusting to working from home.
“By the afternoon I start to feel a bit low. I realise I’ve been alone all day, I miss the vibrancy of being around people,” says Joseph. “To be successful working from home you need a little discipline put into place – you need to programme in breaks and your own health time.”
A naturally extroverted personality, Joseph misses the regular get-togethers with colleagues and friends. To make up for this, she uses digital media to connect with her team and contacts, exercises during the day and sometimes invites a few close friends over for dinner.
In the recent past, Joseph would awaken at 5.45am to go to the gym before getting into work at 8.30am. Now she doesn’t need to get up so early, and saves the 40 minutes usually spent travelling. Close to home, she can fit in a short hike or play tennis.
“It’s important to put a structure in place that works for you to be able to achieve the work you need to get done and also do the things you need to do to have a healthy lifestyle.”
“If you miss that water cooler moment, you can integrate those ways of working from home without being disruptive. Reports suggest that video conferencing is a good alternative to have that face-to-face contact, so that people don’t miss that communication with others,” says Fortune.
Recreating the routine and structure of office life in a home environment may mean getting a little creative. Fortune says getting dressed for the office – rather than staying in your pyjamas – can help get you in the right mindset.
A “mini commute”, getting out to walk around the block before settling down in front of your laptop, may help to establish a boundary between home and work – which can be challenging when the physical spaces for living and working overlap.
For Joseph, a challenging part of the current situation is not knowing when it is going to end. She has been making plans for a special trip later in the year.
“Without something to grab, the days can feel endless. You need to plan in little goals and gifts for yourself, and something to look forward to,” she says.
Although there have been ups and downs, she’s learned from the work-from-home experience and plans to carry forward some of those lessons when everyone returns to working in the office.
Sugarman is also sanguine. “I think we’ll look back on this as an interesting time on a population level – everyone facing challenges; people never had to think about managing worry and mental health and well-being – they are having to give it a lot more thought now because of the uncertainty.”