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Column: Managing the work-from-home transition – Suburbanite

Mar 29th, 2020

Like a runner picking that perfect training shoe with the ideal balance of weight and cushioning, Ive been sampling different spots in my house as a base for my home office.

Most, if not all, of my fellow journalists are among those improvising, often for the first time, a home office after being driven from our office by the threat of COVID-19.

Has it been perfect? No, but it hasnt been bad at all.

With three daughters, ages 11, 13, and 16, along with my wife, all in distance learning mode, and five cats, my home is far from monastic. We dont have a dedicated office where I can close a door and shut out the distractions of science projects, language arts, vacuuming and feline companionship, but the hustle and bustle of our house and the background noise it creates suits me.

Area residents working from home for the first time, as well as home office vets shared their tips for success, challenges, likes and dislikes with me this week.

Jennifer Wicks of Mogadore said she worked at home for 10 years and found that setting boundaries made her more productive during work hours.

"I had my office in the basement, separate from our living space," she stated on Facebook. "I had an open/closed sign on the door. When I left the office at the end of my prechosen hours, I turned the sign to closed."

Clearly defining her workspace and hours helped her focus when she was "open" and enjoy her off time more.

Work-at-home vets I talked to (or communicated with via Facebook) all said maintaining a regimented schedule is important. While Ive done fairly well in defining a work area like Abigail Prulhiere, also like her, Ive had trouble with the waking up part of the day.

Instead of waking at 6:30 a.m. to 6:45 a.m. more or less like clockwork, Ive been waking up in time to grab a cup of stale coffee and sit down at my computer bleary-eyed and creaky at 8:30 a.m.

"I no longer have a 30-minute commute during the morning rush hour, so I can get away with sleeping in a bit," said Prulhiere.

Shes also found she can be more focused at a table than on a couch, which I find to be the case, as well. During the day, I tend to wander around from my desk to an easy chair which is right next my desk, and this offers the requisite comfort and variety I seem to need to stave off fatigue.

Justin Ring, another work-from-home vet, said it also helps to move around a bit, even if the printer is sitting right next to you.

"I find [moving] once or twice an hour not only helps the body stay loose, but helps refocus when I sit back down," he said in a Facebook conversation. "Just make sure every trip is not to the refrigerator."

In addition to defining hours and location of a home office, the presence of children can be a curve ball for many. Ive been a little distracted by my teens, but the challenges can be much greater with younger children (which I recall from years past).

Nicole Turnquist, a second cousin of mine who lives out of state, has a 6-year-old and has to balance parenting with working from home.

"Im glad shes nearly 7; younger would be infinitely more difficult," she shared on Facebook.

Another former part-time home worker, Carrie Starling, said the transition to working from home full-time has not been perfect, which I will echo, but I feel like Ive really barely settled into a routine yet.

"Family members feel like a quick conversation should take priority over the five-paragraph email Im trying to write without sounding like a hillbilly," she stated over Facebook. "Although the commute is quite lovely."

Kim Hauge is Kent State Univesitys director of employee wellness, and shes overseeing around 6,000 employees working from home.

She said one of the common pitfalls shes seen is employees working straight through the day without any breaks.

"Put breaks on your calendar so youll take them," she advised. "You need that physical break, that mental break."

Hauge also said continuing to incorporate exercise is important for maintaining health and energy.

"A lot of people cant get to their gyms, so weve developed things they can do safely at home in their work environment," she said. "During 15 minutes of your lunch hour, go for a walk if you can. Do another 15 minutes at the end of the workday."

She said many people may need to rebuild their routines as they cope with the variables of working from home.

Rick Shaffer, a branding expert whos worked from home for years, said people tend to assume he has all kinds of time that he doesnt actually have because his schedule is his own to determine.

"Draw some boundaries," he said. "Even though I have a home office, theres no shortage of people saying, Hey, I need this or I need you to do this."

However, he said he believes having a home office also has benefited him in some ways, as well.

"I think working from home does allow me to be more creative," he said. "I can kind of manage my schedule. You dont have the drive time either. Some people take an hour to get to work. Youve technically got an extra two hours."

Reporter Bob Gaetjens can be reached at 330-541-9440, bgaetjen@recordpub.comor @bobgaetjens_rpc.

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Column: Managing the work-from-home transition - Suburbanite

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