April 17, 2020

– Article by Marilyn de Lang, Writer & Editor at Big Red Oak


There are a lot of tips and tricks out there these days for working from home, as businesses shutter their doors and employees fire up their computers, use online communication tools and exchange water-cooler banter for daily collegial check-ins. It’s sound advice: get up and dressed, draw up schedules, set up a designated office space, stay in touch with colleagues, balance work with personal time, etc.

While it’s true that we’re all in this together, it’s also true that each of us has our own distinct set of challenges. It’s not a case of one-size-fits-all, and we all need to set realistic expectations for ourselves.

Where do you live? And who lives with you?

Do you live in a rural area? Suburban home? Downtown hi-rise? Apartment-dwellers have to consider how to manage communal space and services, like laundry facilities, compact elevators, corridor traffic … and no private backyard for a breath of fresh air.

Do you have kids? What age group? Toddlers can’t be counted on to play quietly during an important conference call, and interruptions are the name of the game. Flexibility is key for these moms and dads in attending meetings and responding to emails. Older kids may need parental oversight in scheduling their online learning, particularly when computers are shared. Single parents shoulder the full burden of caregiving, groceries, cooking, cleaning while keeping up with their jobs. Other households may have a parent working on the frontlines and distancing themselves from the rest of the family.

A harried mother or father might be forgiven for an occasional flicker of envy for those who live alone, but coping with social isolation as a single person isn’t easy either. Communication-by-device is a poor substitute for face-to-face visits, and it’s not hard to imagine that some evenings may seem terribly lonely.

Lower your bar

The pandemic has turned time management into a fine art. For one thing, everything takes a lot longer! We stand in line at the grocery or drug stores, then unpack and wash it all, sanitize anything we touch, launder more frequently. You may have started your at-home stint with an ambitious to-do list: tidy the closets, sort the photos, repaint the house … it’s probably not going to happen, and that’s okay.

It’s difficult to let go of our high expectations for ourselves, but reassess your priorities and try to lower the bar. And take yourself off the hook of guilt as well. Guilt because the kids have too much screen time and too little physical activity. Guilt because the house has become a disaster zone. You’re throwing meals together that aren’t always nutritious. You’re impatient with your family, and work tasks are falling behind. And you may even feel guilty if you’re feeling sorry for yourself when others are dealing with worse things – those who don’t have jobs with a work-from-home option; those who are ill; those grieving the loss of loved ones; those on the frontlines.

Staying safe … and staying sane

We’re washing our hands and keeping our distance … but it can still be frightening if we get a cough or feel feverish. Not only that, but we don’t want to come down with an ailment or injury that might require a trip to the emergency department or clinic. Our leaders are reminding us every day how to stay safe, and we’re taking their advice.

It’s sometimes tough to maintain a positive mental outlook amidst the fear and uncertainty. But people are rallying together to support each other, with inspiring acts of charity and compassion. During World War II, songs like ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and ‘When the Lights Go on Again All Over the World’ helped to ignite the courage to survive the years of horror. Today, we have videos and memes and podcasts that remind us that we’re not alone; and that this, too, shall pass.

None of us knows how long we’ll be living in this surreal and unforeseen new landscape. Our habits and routines have been shaken to the core. New habits and routines take time to develop, and we should be kind to ourselves as we struggle to find our balance. It will be a different world going forward, but we are growing in resilience and we will be stronger to face whatever the future will bring.