Looking after ourselves when working from home

by Ryan Li

ryan_li_profile.jpgI was reading the latest salary report published by a leading recruiter in my living room. It stated that flexible work practice was by far the most common benefit offered by employers in Australasia, and most of the job seekers also expected it when looking for a new opportunity. It was in December 2019. 
Suddenly, working from home became ubiquitous to many of us a few months later. While some of us have operated remotely for years and are quite comfortable with it, many of us are still in the process to adjust to it. 
While working remotely a few times every week is a good perk, it could be a different experience when becoming the new norm. Besides the professional challenges we need to overcome to make ourselves a successful virtual business analyst, we also need to face some psychological effects related to working from home under the current climate:


Feeling lonely and isolated

To a certain extent, business analysis is a social practice. Small tea break chats and social gathering after work can be as important as running a workshop or the brainstorm session. To many BAs, there is a critical nature of face time as part of their daily routines. Working at a distance can create a dysconnectivity between ourselves and our colleagues. And it may make us feel lonely and isolated. Sure, we can see each other in a conference call, but the togetherness we are used to when we worked face-to-face does not always translate well over Zoom or Microsoft Team. 

Work-life-integration (in a wrong way)

Inevitably, working from home results in a work-life-integration as our living room becomes our office. On one end, it is awesome that we do not need to spend time on commuting, and we don’t need to worry too much about our dress code (as long as we hide the PJ shorts in a conference call). In the meantime, as the boundary between our professional and private life blurs, we no longer have the signal that reminds us to disconnect and unplug, and we could risk burning ourselves out. Moreover, working from home under the current climate means some of us must wear multiple hats at home. For example, some of us need to look after young children while working. It could be ten times harder than managing the most demanding stakeholders. Together, this kind of work-life-integration can add a lot of stress and pressure on us.

Feeling worried 

Undoubtedly, the current climate is unprecedented. Professionally, some of us have found the career goal we established at the beginning of this year is no longer relevant; personally, many of us have worried about the safety of ourselves and our loved ones. This kind of feeling can lead us to anxiety, especially when we are disconnected from our peers and cannot realise it is a problem faced by almost everyone.
So how do we look after ourselves and shield ourselves from these psychological effects? The first thing we need is to acknowledge a few things:
The challenges are not just for a few people, all of us are dealing with it
Like many other things, many of us need to learn to work from home to master it (we BAs are proper situation adapters)
and most importantly, it is fine to not feeling OK at the beginning of the learning curve
Once we get these out of the way, let’s see what else we can do to make our working from home experience a bit better:

Create and follow a routine

Most of us follow a routine when we work at the office. Typically, a routine is not necessarily exciting, but it creates certainty for our body and mind to follow. As we discussed above, one of the challenges when working from home is the loss of the signal that reminds us to turn off or switch between tasks. The routine can help us in such a situation.
It is also essential that we keep our tea/coffee breaks; usually, we don’t sit in front of our desk continuously for 3 hours. Why should we do it when working at home? Applications such as Marinara can help us to take the short breaks we need. 

Make necessary disconnections while working

This one may sound contradictory as working from home disconnects us from our colleagues and stakeholders physically, but let me explain. One interesting phenomenon I discovered during my first two weeks of working from home was that people would contact me on Skype even when I had a “Busy” status; if I didn’t respond, they would ring me on my mobile instead. It could be quite annoying, especially when I was in the middle of a task that required concentration.  Later on, I realised it was not always because people were determined to talk to me due to urgent matters; it was because they could not see me and realise I was actually in the middle of something else. And all I needed was to send them a signal telling them “I will get back to you later”. So I signed off from Skype, and I set my mobile to mute and check it every 30 minutes (again, thanks to Marinara)  when I concentrated on something. I also made my Outlook calendar viewable to others, so my colleagues know what I have already scheduled.  I found myself more productive after these changes, and I also felt that I had better control over my routine, which made me feel more satisfied.

Create a comfortable workspace

To look after ourselves mentally, first, we need to look after our body. When we work at the office, we always make sure we have the equipment necessary to do our job effectively. It is the same thing when working from home. Many organisations support employees to get stuff such as monitors, ergonomic keyboard, skype headset etc. Getting a comfortable chair will certainly help too. 

Recreational activities are essential 

Fresh air always helps us to relax and recharge; we should go out for a walk or bike ride daily. If we cannot go out, we should stretch indoor at least. There are plenty of YouTube videos teaching us to exercise at home. There are also home workout apps we can download and use.
Finally, there is a dedicated government COVID19 mental health support hotline we can reach out. We need to after our physical and psychological well-being in these unprecedented times. We can always reach out to someone we trust, speak to our family, or get a mental health professional if we are struggling with anxiety or stress. Don’t let working from home become a burden to ourselves.