When I started working at home as an editor and writer, everyone I told immediately replied with jealous anxiety, suggesting I was nothing short of lucky to be able, if I wanted to, to sleep in, stay in my pajamas or slip into some sweats (not to mention skipping the make-up), and taking breaks when I felt like it. Not only are those behaviors extremely poor for one’s mental and physical well-being (and impossible if you actually wanted to do a good job, for it is a job), but people never seemed to wonder about the difficulty of maintaining a healthy life-work balance; what negative effects chronic isolation were at play; and how my house began to feel as unpleasant as any office, therefore giving my little solace when I was “off the clock.” Things typically taken for granted, such as the infrequent illuminating conversation with peers or face-to-face feedback (and the notion that your job, which consumes a wealth of your time, is somehow less important), became hugely important in their absence. Of course, the positive points to working at home are many, thus making the issue much more complicated than the one-size-fits all/”thumbs up” it has traditionally received…except by those who have actually done it. And this holds true for a truly hugely challenging work-from-home job: being a stay-at-home parent.
As one IT professional in the Boston area commented on his intellectual site detailing his new telecommuting employment opportunity:
It’s not just a matter of feeling lonely: all kinds of emotions depend on regular, face-to-face human interaction, and you run a serious risk of becoming unproductive, uninspired, and even depressed without it.
Nonetheless, telecommuting does have its benefits, some of which are tremendous: you can now do work from anywhere, meaning you can live places where your job sector is small or even non-existent. You may be able to keep your job after leaving a city, a state, and perhaps even a nation. But how does one navigate the negative moods that may come with working from home, which can adversely affect not only the worker, but his/her relationship with a partner, friends, or even a community?
Cabin Fever No More: Navigating The Challenges of Telecommuting
Isolation, boredom, and depression befall many who work from home: an estimated 3+ million Americans deal with this challenge on a full-time, and approximately 37% on a part-time level. In a digital age where this class of work is sure to become all the more common, what can people do to prevent or lessen the effects of depression that are frequently resultant of the home office culture?
- Get Out Of The House. Sitting alone all day staring at a computer screen with no social interaction is bound to depress even the most introverted and independent workers. Taking a traditional lunch break, where one gets out of the house for a walk, is absolutely critical to happiness. Many have the propensity to work non-stop for far longer than they would in a more traditional office setting: a pattern that cannot be part of your telecommuting routine with taking a negative toll on your mental health.
- Set Your Hours. Working from home does not mean getting up, walking directly to the computer at 8am, shuttling down dinner at 8pm after finally stopping work (likely with no break), and crashing in the evening. This is a sure fire way to become extremely depressed very quickly, and will have the opposite effect on productivity: it declines. Get that work/life balance in order from the jump, and refuse to sacrifice it. Be the employer you’ve always wanted rather than the one you couldn’t stand!
- Enact a No PJs All Day Policy. As lovely as it sounds to some, staying in your pajamas all day is a sometimes thing; it’s also a major red flag for people who suffer from depression. If you don’t take pride in your appearance, it’s a slippery slope until you don’t have much faith in yourself either. And as statistics show, if folks who work at home don’t bother to shower and dress in the morning, they are significantly less likely to leave the house at all that day. We all know that’s not good!
- Let Co-Workers/Supervisors Know Yours Hours. Just because you’re office happens to be in the place you reside rather than in an office park does not mean you are on-call; capable of working “until you can’t stand it”; or should be willing to work more. Part of setting your work hours and planning your day means letting the people you work with/for know your hours. Remember: your hours are not “whenever” or “as many as it takes.” It is no great feat to finish project on time if it means staying up, continually, until 2a.m. working. It’s simply going to cause you to burn out, and ultimately resent your job quite a lot.
- Keep Work and Home Tasks Separate. Separating your home and work life does not mean you can use that lunch break (which you take!) to do something around the house that is enjoyable; that’s merely a perk of working at your humble abode. Water the flowers in the garden or read a book while seated on your patio, but don’t start dusting or mopping or doing some other chore. You’ll only serve to make your job the worst of both worlds, and you definitely don’t want that.
- Don’t work from your bed or the couch. Make your office a work space! If there’s one thing any head shrink will tell you, it’s that spending excessive time in bed or on the couch is one of many signs of depression. It also diminishes your productivity, and then you will end up working longer hours…with no return at all. Keep your bedroom and office separate, even if you aren’t lucky enough to have separate rooms. It’s all in the way your conceive of your space…and your home should be for leisure. Make sure to keep it that way no matter how tempted you are to carry that MacBook over to the bed.
- Network. Just because you are physically alone doesn’t mean you have to be capital-A “alone” as well! Be sure to keep in contact with others in your field. Regardless of whether or not you’re job-hunting, it is always healthy to be in touch with people in your industry, and will yield long-term benefits for your career. With new online avenues like LinkedIn, this shouldn’t be a major challenge at all; the real trick is remembering to do it.
- Make sure you have the right equipment. You wouldn’t dig a garden bed with a kitchen spoon, so why would you try to edit video on an old, slow PC? Treat your home office just as you would an office in a building and make sure the technology is up to date. While this may mean some up front costs (or some mindful credit card use!), setting up and honing an appropriate office infrastructure goes a long way toward time management and toward making your day more enjoyable.
- Expect a period of adjustment. Remember you first few days (or even weeks?) at any new job? Did you feel a bit nervous, trying to suss out the situation and decide how to insert yourself into the office culture and environment? Well, telecommuting is no different! Just because you are in a setting you are familiar with does not mean you should expect to be able to jump into your new work immediately…because, in truth, the setting is new. Be gentle and patient with yourself during the adjustment period. In time, you will find out how to work in a way that suits you best, both fiscally and emotionally.
- Take Vacation Days. Don’t be a horrible employer. Give yourself two weeks of vacation at minimum. Seriously. You REQUIRE the time to recharge and you deserve to treat yourself well. After all, you’ve earned it!