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Suddenly having to work from home can create new challenges

Mar. 18, 2020, 2:28 PM


by Nancy Humphrey

For those who work in an office surrounded by co-workers, working from home can sound like a dream come true  —  there’s no frustrating commute and you can sit quietly at your own kitchen table or home office, away from the distractions of daily office work life.

But if it’s not your choice, it can be a different story.

At Vanderbilt University Medical many nonclinical personnel are being encouraged to work from home to help curtail the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus). Social distancing is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but it can also increase feelings of isolation.

“When it’s encouraged or mandated suddenly it feels much more restrictive,” said James Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, manager of VUMC Work/Life Connections – EAP.  But there are tips to make your transition easier.

James Kendall, LCSW, CEAP

“It’s important that people think about wherever they set up to work, as their workstation. Come up with an area designated for work, if you can. Surround it with some plants, some good smells. Make sure there’s good lighting and maybe some pictures of things that are important around you so that you have a pleasant workspace.”

It’s also necessary to keep work and home separate. “We need to let family know we’re not home to babysit. We’re home because it’s our new temporary work environment,” he said. “There needs to be some intentional thinking about how to limit distractions and at the same time create a comfortable work setting.”

Kendall said it’s also crucial to keep your work relationships going.

“That immediate isolation can be difficult, so it’s useful for groups to set up times to check in with each other, whether it’s a daily email chain or checking in with a few contacts. It’s great when managers can set up time for home huddles. If that’s not possible due to the nature of the work, there may need to be at least some form of daily communication for people to respond to. That will help members of a work team stay connected.”

Kendall said if there are tech savvy people in your department, setting up something like Microsoft Teams may be useful in helping teams interact.

Routines are important, Kendall said. If you are working from home, set a similar schedule to what you would be doing at work.  It’s also important to take regular short breaks as you would at work. “If you have the opportunity during a break, go outside and get some fresh air,” he said.

Kendall offered some tips for good mental hygiene during and after work hours, and recommended avoiding what he calls “coronavirus fatigue.”

  • Remember, your work-from-home situation and distancing yourself from friends and family is not permanent. “This too will pass,” Kendall said.
  • Think about the projects at home you’ve meant to do. Clean out a room. Sort through photographs.
  • For those who have said they don’t have time to exercise, you now have time, Kendall said. When the weather is good, work a walk or run into your day.
  • Pull out a hobby you haven’t done in a while. It’s a good time to be creative.
  • Before or after work hours, to help combat feelings of isolation, get in your car and drive around for a while. It’s useful to change environments as much as you can.
  • You’re not the only one at home, so use breaks or time after work hours to stay connected with people by telephone. Call friends and family or those you’ve been meaning to reach out to.
  • Think of others who might benefit from a call. Call elderly friends who might be shut in and feeling more isolated.
  • Avoid constant TV or social media updates on COVID-19. Get your news from reliable sources – national network news, respected media outlets and most of all, from daily MyVUMC updates geared toward VUMC employees.
  • Social media is a good way to keep connected with friends and family, but too much screen time isn’t a good idea. It’s OK on platforms like Facebook to “hide” those who are sharing too much information or mostly negative updates.
  • Stay connected with family members who don’t live with you, especially those who are at a higher risk of COVID-19 complications. Increase the amount of phone or video chat time. “This is what we used to do,” Kendall said. “We called people on the phone. Ask them if they’re OK. See if they need groceries.
  • Be patient with people. “Everyone is under heightened stress,” Kendall said. “Give each other the benefit of the doubt. And above all, be kind to each other.”

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