Prof Talk | Tips for people working from home

Quickly changing a diaper in between meetings, catching up on your emails in between your child’s homework assignments, or working until late in the evening because movie night is off anyway. Working has become a bit different than usual for everyone in these times of corona, which leads to all kinds of compromises. As a result, many people working from home experience extra symptoms of stress. With these tips from TU/e expert Evangelia Demerouti, staff members and managers will be able to better organize working from home.

image Shutterstock / Bart van Overbeeke

Everyone one of us has been working from home - if possible - for some time now, and it looks like that isn’t about to change in the foreseeable future. An ‘interesting experiment,’ says professor of work and organizational psychology Evangelia Demerouti. Normally, she studies the factors that motivate people in their work, or that lead to sickness instead. Now, it has become possible to do research on how this works in a situation where everyone is collectively forced to work from home. “This is something altogether different from the weekly work day at home, which is a welcome change for people from days filled with meetings and colleagues that drop in unannounced. Instead, we now yearn for that brainstorm moment or fifteen-minute coffee break. You can’t simply bring you work home, allow yourself some time to make a plan. Which strategies do you need to stay healthy and to keep functioning, both at work and in your private life?”

Some of the solutions she has to offer may sound obvious, Demerouti acknowledges, but in situations of stress or crisis, people often tend to overlook the simplest tips. A short time-out, taking stock of your situation, accept and adapt, all this can have a refreshing effect, she says. “Now that we work alone, we need to adopt a proactive attitude. That means organizing more things, but also making clear agreements and asking for help where necessary. Who knows someone who has the expertise in a certain field in which you get stuck? Who can take over one of your tasks? Or very practical: can the girl living next door look after the children while you have that important weekly meeting?”

Naturally, things aren’t always that easy. An uncertain time, sickness and deaths, extra help for a family member. But try to reflect positively, especially now, Demerouti emphasizes. “We are no longer distracted by social contacts and the hectic pace of everyday life, which in itself is a good thing. Try to work on yourself in these times - you have the freedom now to arrange things differently - be creative in seeing opportunities. When you stay sharp and in good shape and adopt a structured daily routine, you’ll be less sensitive to uncertainties and better equipped to make yourself resilient. If we manage to bring that back to our work place when this is over, we will at least have gotten something of value out of this crisis.”

Tips for working from home

Know yourself

Listen to your body. Are you a morning person? Plan those tasks that are more challenging and require you to think in the first part of the day. A negative mood? Do something you can check off your list and go on to do something positive. Are you tired today? Try to make your schedule less tight, perform a few simple tasks and take an extra break to get some fresh air. Stay active by practicing sports or by exercising, both indoors and outdoors. In short, keep an eye on your body battery.

Organize your work practically and adjust your expectations and tasks

Your daily tasks are different from the usual practice, and you can’t do everything from home. Lab experiments in the attic? Mission impossible. Make clear arrangements with your manager about your new role and tasks, and make sure that your workload stays manageable. Do you have less time because you have to take care of children or provide informal care? Adjust your expectations and drop a few tasks when possible.

Ask for help

Make an inventory of your tasks. Do you have everything you need for that? Plan meetings so that you can continue to spar with colleagues and use each other’s networks to solve problems. Be proactive: you are the one who has to indicate what you need in order to continue to function effectively.

Keep yourself motivated

Continuously switching from one video meeting to another doesn’t lead to satisfaction at the end of the day. Try to vary your tasks, don’t forget to do things you enjoy and make sure that you perform tasks you can finish.

Separate your personal and professional life as much as possible

Normally, you close the door behind you in the morning and go to work. It remains important that you separate these two domains, also now that you spend all day at home. Make sure you have a fixed workplace and working hours, but also be creative with how you organize your work days, so that it suits your situation at home. A meeting with a baby on your lap? Fine, if you can perform challenging tasks that require you to think during your baby’s afternoon naps. Try to stick to a fixed structure as much as possible instead of constantly adjusting to tasks and demands that come your way.

Avoid being constantly ‘on’

It’s tempting to continue to work into the night. Your schedule is clear, or you feel guilty for not having worked efficiently enough. Hanging up your washing in between tasks, lunch with the children – during which you’re constantly checking your mail. Don’t do it, it ultimately leads to exhaustion. Make sure you have some time to relax at the end of the day so that you don’t need to think of work. Find a new hobby or finish that chore you hadn’t gotten around to; you have the time for it now. And continue to seek out social contacts, via a screen or a walk around the park where you see other people as well.

Continue to reflect positively

This period too shall pass. And in the meantime, it saves travel time.

For the manager

Stay in touch with your employee

Stay informed about your employees, for instance by using an app group. Wish each other a good work week on Monday, and inform how everyone is doing; show that you care.

Adjust tasks, expectations and demands

It costs employees more effort now to keep a balance between their personal and professional life. That is why you should adjust expectations and make clear agreements. Try to remove uncertainties that lead to extra stress.

Offer to help

Dropping in on a colleague when you get stuck isn’t an option any more these days. Set up meetings at fixed times and keep an eye on your employees so that you’ll notice it when someone runs into problems. Be approachable for help and use your own network for that. Sometimes all it takes is a listening ear.

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