Over the past year, I have carved out a new post-academic career that is based on working from home. The majority of my work is now conducted online.
I have stage 4 endometriosis and trying to work through and mask endometriosis in the workplace led me to burnout – and ultimately forced me to rethink how I could work.
I had planned to write a couple of blog posts this month – March is Endometriosis Awareness month – on working at home and managing productivity with illness.
As we now focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic is going to be tackled via social isolation, I thought my experience of learning to work well from home might be useful for those who are now newly working from home.
I want this post to be a helpful checklist of things to try if you are finding the shift to working from home challenging; not only in terms of missing out on the social aspects of work, but also in finding new ways of working that don’t represent too much of a challenge to professional identity.
We can learn a lot from those of us with chronic health conditions.
Afterall, remote working may become a new normal for those that can for the time being.
It’s not all working in your pyjamas: working from home is still work
Working from home is not an easy option, especially if you thrive on working via face-to-face contact. If working remotely means seeing the work that you have put into teaching and events being ‘cancelled’, this can create serious stress. Add loss of income and it is clear that working remotely is not an easy choice.
Being forced into something is always going to be difficult. You might be feeling stresses right now about how all of your plans have changed. About having no time to adjust and continue. About coming off strike and being put under ‘emergency’ measures to continue to deliver teaching. Perhaps you have never taught online before.
In addition, there may be a real impact on identity. Again, often the case in academia – an organisational culture that prioritises the visible, the present and the ableist cultures of overwork. Not going into work and being ‘there’ can have a profound impact.
You may feel unmoored – you don’t have to be adrift.
There are benefits to being at home – lack of travel and commute time; less energy on the performance of teaching, of meetings, of being ‘on’.
Yet, working from home is still working.
So here are my suggestions of what to think about before you feel the urge to overwork to somehow ‘compensate’ for not being physically present.
My top ten lessons from a year of working from home:
- Resist using this time to ‘catch up’ on writing and research if you are actually going to be very busy. In this case, you are likely to be converting formerly face-to-face teaching (and meetings and supervision) to online formats. I have suggested some strategies to make this less onerous here, but this process is still going to require work and may well initially involve more hours spent (in communicating the changes to students, research partners, colleagues; the resulting an influx in email responses). You will also be getting the tech set up and adapting the materials.
- Plan out your days and don’t overcompensate not being on campus by being available online at all times; you would not be doing this normally. Your students will be fine with your online teaching and follow up. Don’t burnout. Set reasonable boundaries. Set office hours. Choose a platform that works for you to deliver feedback.
- Plan breaks and as much as you can get some fresh air. This may mean opening a window or popping into a garden if you have one.
- Eat your lunch. Away from your screen.
- If you are in bed because you are unwell, don’t take your laptop too. Again, just because you could check email or try to write, doesn’t mean you should.
- Think more in terms of physical distancing, rather than social distancing. You can use social media to connect positively with people in your network. You don’t have to constantly scroll the news and think about COVID-19 if it is causing you stress and anxiety. Check in one or twice a day and you will be informed. I’ve seen some great uses of social media already; virtual yoga; writing retreats; sharing teaching materials; tech advice; live streaming wildlife in the garden.
- Get some ambient noise or background burble going. Listen to the birds, check in with some audiobooks or podcasts or radio. If you miss working in cafes, you can also download a soundscape of a café to fake that atmosphere. This one called ‘Coffitivity’ even has a campus café choice…
- Talk to people and check in with one another; this might mean reanimating your phone for calls, or a quick Whatsapp. Don’t isolate yourself completely.
- Remember, you are not the only one impacted by this. Your work and research may well be impacted; but this is not down to you. It is outwith your control. This is not wasted work. It can be built on and back up again.
- Be kind to yourself and others. Take the time you need to do your work, and this as an opportunity to reflect on which ways you want to continue working in when this is finally over.
I am now almost 1 year out of academia and being self-employed based at home.
Most of my days are spent either at home, or in a very small local circuit involving the school run.
It has taken me months to reconcile myself that shrunken physical boundaries do not mean the end of a full life.
Working and living and connecting online is different from being able to do all the things face-to-face. It is not the same as being able to physically see new people and places.
Working from home is not worse. It is different.
I have ‘met’ and become friends with some of the most intelligent, funny, kind, smart people since I have began working remotely.
I now don’t know that I would go back to predominantly face-to-face work even if I found a magic wand that waved my ill health away.
Perhaps this enforced period of working differently will show more of us different ways are possible; a diversity of working patterns and practices can mean more, not less.
And I say that from the perspective of a chronically ill person who is still unravelling many, many layers of internalised ableism. I’m still working on working better every day.
Perhaps this is the time to think about how we really harness our own use of the online to enhance what we do offline too.
How are you finding working from home?