BY DR NATASHA FONG
Establish boundaries for yourself by starting and ending your day at specific times.
Working from home as part of the circuit breaker measures in Singapore may present different experiences for people. Some savour the additional time sleeping in and not having to struggle with morning traffic. Others find this a lonely time or struggle with issues of overcrowding at home and work-life balance.
Some common factors that can affect our mental health as we work from home are:
Being separated physically, the impromptu exchange of ideas and social banter between co-workers are diminished. The significant reduction in amount of social interactions can affect our sense of belongingness to a group and result in feelings of loneliness.
The sudden change to working from home requires us to quickly adapt to a different way of working in a different environment. This adds to the worries and anxieties we are already feeling about COVID-19. As a result, work productivity may be affected as we spend more time worrying about our health, finances, job security and future. We also need more time to complete our work as we are constantly distracted by the non-stop updates about the coronavirus.
Being at home for both work and personal life can blur work-life boundaries. One has to meet expectations of being an employee, a parent, a wife and even a caregiver. This could lead to feelings of being overwhelmed and even burnout in the long run.
For those with children or elderly parents, working from home can be daunting as they must juggle work with their caregiving responsibilities. A mother of a young child shared how she found it unbearable to work from home as she struggled with attending to her pre-schooler, working from a makeshift desk on the floor, and hearing snide remarks from her mother-in-law about how she was not helping with household chores every 15 minutes.
With many family members having to stay home, space and resources may become an issue. A student needs a study table and a laptop to engage in home-based learning. A working adult needs a workstation to do work and privacy to conduct meetings. However, space and resources in many families are limited. Having to work or study in close proximity to others and having to share resources can be frustrating and result in family conflicts.
Despite the above challenges, we can adopt some strategies to help us carry out our responsibilities productively and maintain our mental health.
Remain connected with your co-workers. Try scheduling a virtual work lunch with colleagues without focusing on work. You can also text message your friends and have virtual gatherings with them just as you would in the past. Stay connected with your family members too. Engage in casual conversation with them or spend time together on a favourite pastime or activity such as baking a cake or watching a home movie.
Establish boundaries for yourself by starting and ending your day at specific times. If possible, have a dedicated space where you can work and leave when you are done for the day. Once you ‘leave the office’, resist checking emails or work-related texts unless you are attending to something urgent. If you find yourself working prolonged hours or having difficulties with work-life balance, talk to your manager to find solutions.
Develop a schedule so that each member is clear on when to carry out specific tasks. This can help you better manage limited space and resources in your household. For example, exercise time for you could be time for your child to use a shared computer. This is also a good way to teach children time management and develop a healthy daily routine. Do schedule time for family activities where everyone can come together, and of course schedule some alone time for yourself to recharge and rejuvenate.
Finding a productive work-life balance while working from home is challenging. We may feel like we have failed family members who expect you to be the perfect parent, companion and caregiver. We may feel like we have failed our bosses who expect us to be equally productive working from home. The sense of failure evokes emotions like stress, anxiety, loneliness, and guilt. During such times, remember to practice self-compassion. Acknowledge that this is a difficult time and you are trying to do your best. Try to understand why these feelings are there and give yourself permission to feel them given the circumstances. Treat yourself with kindness just as how you would a loved one going through a hard time.
The contributor is a Clinical Psychologist at Viriya Community Services.