Working From Home or Living at Work? 6 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 72 degrees outside, and I’m bitterly watching the spring leaves sway silently across my beloved backyard in Franklin, Tenn. While it provides an inspirational backdrop in which to write, on some level, the bright sunshine 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. 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 a warm spring day, create good work for clients while it feels like 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:
1. 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.
2. 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.
3. 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 two 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.
4. 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.
5. 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 or some other method, find a way to walk away.
6. 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.
Bill has over 20 years working in executive leadership positions at leading promotional products companies, always working collaboratively to achieve the “wow” desired by the target audience.
A Managing Partner at brandivate, a full-service marketing services and advertising agency, Bill is featured speaker at numerous national and international events, a serial creator of content marketing, and co-host of the industry-leading podcast, Promo UPFront. Bill has extensive experience defining brand strategy, creating successful marketing campaigns, creating and developing winning RFP responses, and presenting winning promotional products solutions to Fortune 500 clients.
A fierce advocate for the Promotional Products Industry, he is the Immediate Past President of the Regional Association Council (RAC) board, has worked closely with senior leadership at Promotional Products Association International (PPAI) on many committees and work groups. In appreciation of his years of service to the promotional products industry, Bill was named as an inaugural PPAI Fellow—a program designed to recognize influential individuals who have actively supported the industry through personal involvement.
Bill lives in Franklin, TN with his wife of 26 years, Sandy, and their 17-year-old twin boys, Drew and Mitch.