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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

Do You Work from Home or Live at Work?

Six strategies to create balance when your house and office collide

Like most people in the COVID world, I work from home. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated home office, a great computer setup, speedy fiber internet, a pantry full of Pringles, and just about every creature comfort any human could desire. Yet, as time marches on, there is an undercurrent of resentment related to my current working environment.

When I worked in an office, I loved the occasional work-from-home day: no commute, no shaving, and no one judging me for lingering in sweatpants all day. However, now that rare treat has become part of my everyday routine. As I write this, it’s 28 degrees outside, and I’m warmly watching the snow cascade silently across my beloved backyard in Franklin, TN. While it provides an inspirational backdrop in which to write, on some level, the gathering snow just yields an additional reminder of the resentment I mentioned above.

Working from home means there are no breaks, no water cooler to break up the isolation, and, as last week reminded me, no snow days – hence the ballooning resentment. As a child, I coveted the rare snow day: no school, sledding down a hill at warp speed, building snowmen and snow forts, and the promise of hot cocoa with a billion mini marshmallows when I was finally ready to come back inside. Because I work from home, the mere thought of a snow day further grinds me because I am expected to work through just about any weather event as long as my internet remains stable, and my power stays on.

I’m not the only one. If you work from home, you know the exact feeling of being expected to respond instantaneously, power through distractions that a busy house beams, look for something in another room for the family because “you’re at home,” and, in the case of last week, create good work for clients while 80% of the world is frolicking. This is further compounded by the lack of business travel which has always served to break up the monotony.

Because we are forced to, these days working from home feels more like living at work – and that’s not conducive to mental, social, or even physical health. It’s important to intentionally create actions that break up the monotony of days and weeks when working from home to work around this feeling. Below are six strategies I've employed to maintain a semblance of balance and sanity at Stately Petrie Manor:

Set Boundaries – one of the most challenging aspects of working from home is the interruptions from other family members. There is a straightforward rule in our house as it pertains to work: when the office doors are closed, imagine that I’m working in an office 10 miles away. If I’m answering emails or doing something that doesn’t require focus, I will have the doors open. However, if those doors are shut and you need something, call or text me. This rule has helped me be far more productive at home because I don’t have to white-knuckle client phone calls or podcast recordings.

Schedule Share – affixed to my office door, I have a frame with my schedule for the week. This way, everyone in my house understands what my week looks like and can plan accordingly. This also helps my family respect my time because they know I’m not squeezing in calls between Food Network shows. Just as if I were in a remote office, they can see that I bounce between projects, phone calls, and client work. By sharing your schedule with the others in your house, they will gain a far better understanding of and respect for your time.

Get Out – like most people, I have a routine that I have created as selfish as it is important. Every morning after I walk, train, and feed the dog, I go workout and then go to the grocery store to get food for dinner. It’s about 2 hours a day that is just for me and helps me get each day started the right way. Every single day – even if it’s just to walk around the block – get out of your house. It will boost your creativity and your spirits.

Field Trip – once a week, I take a field trip into the wild for lunch or a beer. Many times, it’s with my business partner, Kelsey Cunningham. Sometimes we bring our laptops and work on client projects over the phone (and over wings), but most of the time, we just chit-chat over lunch. Yes, it’s virtual, but it helps both of us disconnect from work for a while, which ends up fueling our creativity. Every week, take yourself on a field trip as it will break up the monotony of your environment, and you’ll be happier for it.

Walk Away – at least for me, this the most challenging thing about working from home/living at work: I never leave. Because of this reality, I find myself drawn to walk into the office “just to send a quick email” or some other mundane task on nights, weekends, and yes, even holidays. While it improves response times, I’m not sure there’s anything else positive about that habit. As humans, we know we need to disconnect, and working from home (and constant connectivity because of smartphones) makes it difficult to do that. I’ve had to be intentional about walking away to the point I protect specific hours of “non-work” just as fiercely as I watch my time working. It works because when I do come back to work, I’m far more refreshed and focused due to the time I have had away. Whether that means closing the office doors with your phone in it for a few hours each night, find a way to walk away.

Be Present – let's face it, I am not so obtuse to think that I'm not part of the problem. When I'm quick to respond to an email during dinner or ask my family to pause the latest episode of "Chopped" so I can "deal with a work thing real quick," that's on me. When I'm not working, I intentionally try not to work. I can't say that I'm always successful, but there is a consistent effort to resist the siren song of the home office during off-hours. Like it's expected that my family respects my time in the office, I need to respect their time when I'm not working.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted not just the way we work but where. Today, more people are forced to office from a spare bedroom or even the kitchen table. While this has undoubtedly been necessary due to the pandemic, it’s also resulted in new challenges as workers have to navigate the murky waters of the work/home relationship. By implementing some simple strategies, living at work can, again, become working from home.

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