It’s a common image: harried adults racing from workplace to home and back again, trying to fulfill work responsibilities, but wanting to be home with family. What happens when working adults have no place to race to, since work and home are the same place? As the COVID-19 pandemic turns homes into workplaces, how can Iowans best cope with the consequences?
One of the most important suggestions, during this time, is to clarify your boundaries, says David Brown, behavioral health specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
“Maybe you can set a boundary, such as ‘weekends are sacred,’ or ‘most evenings I try not to work, unless there is work that has to be done at that time,’ or ‘I make sure to schedule breaks into my day.’ This gives you the opportunity to refresh yourself and recharge,” Brown said.
Creating a dedicated workplace is also a good way to set a boundary. This might mean setting up a space in a home office or at a small table. This keeps your workspace separate from the rest of the home, while keeping your work material organized and available. It also makes it easier to set ground rules with other people in your home about access to this space, particularly if the space is shared.
Establish a routine
It is also important to set a work schedule and stick to it — most of the time.
"You may now have the flexibility to schedule your work during the times of day you are most productive. You can use this opportunity to work during hours of high focus for your most important tasks. However, for whatever schedule you develop, stick with it," Brown said.
“Just as we can train our body with bedtime routines to prepare ourselves to sleep, we can also use routines in the morning to prepare our bodies to work. This might include starting the workday by making a cup of coffee or starting your work after a run or in-home workout. It could mean getting dressed as you normally would for any other day of work. Dressing down, as in working in pajama pants, might be a perk, but for others, it might not be a very good strategy,” Brown added.
Enjoy the advantages
Brown also suggests taking a moment to sit back, enjoy and recognize some of the advantages of the imposed work-at-home conditions. These advantages could include familiarity with the environment, comfort, having the opportunity to spend more time with family and children, flexibility, no travel, self-management and a quiet working environment — though maybe not so much if children are also home, Brown noted.
Access helpful resources
If work-at-home strain is causing concern, there are resources available to help.
Iowa Concern, offered by ISU Extension and Outreach, provides confidential access to stress counselors and an attorney for legal education, as well as information and referral services for a wide variety of topics. With a toll-free phone number, live chat capabilities and a website, Iowa Concern services are available 24 hours a day, seven days per week at no charge. To reach Iowa Concern, call 800-447-1985; language interpretation services are available. Or, visit extension.iastate.edu/iowaconcern/, to live chat with a stress counselor one-on-one in a secure environment. Or email an expert regarding legal, finance, stress, or crisis and disaster issues.
211 is a free, comprehensive information and referral line linking Iowa residents to health and human service programs, community services, disaster services and governmental programs. This service is collaborating with the Iowa Department of Public Health to provide confidential assistance, stress counseling, education and referral services related to COVID-19 concerns.