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Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D
We’re several months into this global pandemic-how are you and your families coping? Chubb recently conducted a survey among Americans who are working from home because of COVID. The survey showed that it seems like most people who are working from home are adapting quite well. In fact, most participants reported working the same or more hours (83%), being productive (2/3 say they as productive as before or more) and staying connected with family and friends.
What’s more, people seem to be getting so used to the new work environment that the majority (74%) reported that they want to continue some type of working from home even when they are allowed to go back to the office.
Many are finding the ease of a commute that is a few steps, rather than a few hours, to be an attractive way to start and end their workday. Others seem to appreciate the ability to stay in PJ’s all day (at least the bottoms). And some enjoy having more time with family, although loved ones can also serve as a source of tension.
The study was entitled Resilient, Committed, Engaged and Worried: The Experiences and Risks of Americans Working from Home During COVID–19. Over 1200 Americans ages 20 to 65 who are now working from home as a result of COVID 19 participated in the study.
While there was a strong indication that American workers are resilient to the changes forced upon them during the pandemic, some less-than-positive findings also arose. For one, creating a work/life balance while working from home can be challenging. In fact, 60% of participants described being distracted by those who were also home with them, including children, housemates and pets. Less than half (43%) reported they are able to separate work and personal activities. Luckily some (albeit only 38%) have established time specifically for family.
Appetites seem to have increased. Almost half (42%) report snacking more while working at home and a third (36%) admit to consuming more overall. Luckily, rates of exercise are relatively high with 82% reporting that they are exercising the same or more while working from home.
Overuse injuries appear to be a problem for some. Forty one percent of participants reported experiencing new or increased pain in their back, wrist or shoulders. The majority of these folks have not taken measures to optimize their ergonomic setup.
Another concern that came to light was related to money worries. There was a significant concern expressed by the majority of participants (68%) regarding the financial wellbeing of themselves and their families.
So, how would you evaluate your success when it comes to working at home? Here are some tools to help you optimize your current situation to help you now and, in the future, should you continue even at least some component of working from home.
Physical, social and psychological boundaries are important to help keep you on track. Physically, find a space to work that helps promote work (such as a quiet room or even a desk where distractions are minimal). Use noise cancellation earphones, if necessary, to keep your mind focused on work and not your children shrieking as they play together.
Social boundaries refer to clearly communicating with those who are home when you are working and the parameters for interrupting you. Being assertive is key. Keep in mind, being assertive means to clearly communicate your needs in a respectful way. “I need to really focus for the next three hours, so please don’t disturb me unless it is an emergency,” for example. And realize, that you may need to reinforce such boundaries. So if your partner or child come racing into your office area to share an important (to them) but not an essential bit of information, you can assertively and politely remind them, ‘I am excited to hear, as soon as I have completed this project, which will be in two hours.”
Psychological boundaries have to do with what’s going on inside of you. Thoughts such as “Oh, I might as well fold the laundry before I start my next call,” may be helpful if you are on a break but may also deter you from getting your work complete if that is a time when you had planned on working.
Research shows that focused working followed by breaks helps to boost productivity. As a result, set a timer for 45 minutes (less if that is too much). Remove any distractions (or as many as you can). For example, if you are working on writing an article or preparing a presentation, turn off email and text alerts. You can check them when the timer goes off. Multi-tasking (such as going from your work project to reading a text) can severely hamper efficiency.
Take a five to ten-minute break after your focused work to give your mind and body a bit of respite. During that time, you can check messages. This is also a great time to do something to rejuvenate your energy: go for a walk, listen to a song, do a brief meditation, watch a five-minute video that makes you laugh. These are all ways to boost your physical and mental energy.
A break is also important for your body. Sitting hunched over, typing away, for hours upon hours can result in musculoskeletal injury in your neck, back and/or hands. Take a moment to stand up, stretch and relax those fingers that spend so much time tapping away.
What’s more, schedule your work start and stop time and try to stick to it. If you happen to slip back into a multi-focused mindset, take a deep breath and just get back on track.
Although it may all be in one place, try to keep your work and personal time separate. That is, when you are doing work, focus on work and put the personal life thoughts on hold. Similarly, when it is time for a break, leave work at your desk and focus on your personal life.
Being present also means being aware of how your body is feeling. Your body is a master at communicating with you, IF you listen to it. When you notice any aches, pains or discomforts arise, stop what you are doing. That is biofeedback from your body letting you know that you need to take a break. By listening to any bodily irritations, you can prevent sustained injury.
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. This certainly is true when it comes to eating during the day. Be mindful when you eat. Consider, are you having a snack because you are hungry or because you are working at the kitchen table and those cookies are practically calling your name?
5-Consider your mechanics
Body mechanics are key to preventing occupational injuries. Make sure your work positioning includes sitting (or standing) upright and not slouched. Your computer monitor is best placed at eye height and at arm’s length away. When speaking on the phone, use earphones so you don’t hold the phone by straining your neck to one side in an effort to hold it up without your hands. When typing, ensure that your wrists are straight; excessive flexion in your wrists can cause injury.
6-Set a budget
Financial concerns are a significant source of stress for the majority of Americans. This is a great time to take a step back and really get a handle on your finances. Look at your bills to determine what is essential and what is not needed. One client decided to cancel her cable in order to save some money. When she called to terminate service, the cable company offered her to keep her cable for a drastically reduced fee. She saved money AND still gets to watch Billions. Once you understand your necessary costs, create a budget to help you and your family to spend wisely.
As we continue to live through this pandemic, take the steps you need to optimize your working from home to endure productivity, engagement and your health.
Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a Licensed Practicing Psychologist with a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Master's degree in Physical Therapy, and the authority on how to crush your inner critic so that you can live a life of purpose, fulfillment and True Success™. She’s America’s most trusted celebrity psychologist with over 100 national media interviews. She writes for Combined Insurance in an effort to help educate readers, but her medical opinions and advice are for entertainment purposes only and should not be considered a substitute for visiting your doctor.
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Combined Insurance Company of America (Chicago, IL Illinois) is a leading provider of individual supplemental accident, disability, health, and life insurance products and a Chubb company. With a tradition of nearly 100 years of success, we have an A+ rating by the Better Business Bureau and are one of Ward’s Top 50® Performing Life-Health Insurance Companies. Combined Insurance is also the number one Military Friendly® Employer in the over $1B revenue category for 2019 by VIQTORY. This is the company’s eighth consecutive year on the top 10 list and fifth consecutive year in the top 5—Combined Insurance was previously named the number one Military Friendly® Employer in the nation for 2015 and 2016. In New York, products are underwritten by Combined Life Insurance Company of New York (Latham, NY).
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