Scott E. Aikey, DHA, MLS(ASCP)CMDLMCM
|Author Scott Aikey invested in the physical hardware necessary to create a home office space that is defined and conducive to working remotely.|
On March 12, 2020, I received notice that I should pack up what I would need to work from home. Little did I know at the time that the move would be essentially permanent. First, let me say that the many people who are working on the frontlines of this pandemic, including the thousands of medical laboratory scientists, have my undying gratitude. I am fortunate to be able to do my job from home, and I am thankful every day. With that said, the adjustment to working from home was not easy.
Prior to the pandemic, I had worked from home occasionally, but that usually meant sitting at my kitchen table hunched over my small laptop on a kitchen chair that was not meant to be sat in for eight hours straight. Working from home on a more permanent basis truly requires a change in thinking and an investment in not only physical gear, but also an investment in yourself.
The first few weeks of the pandemic were very busy, and an all-hands-on-deck approach was the mantra of the time. You worked as long as it took to get the job done. On many days, the hours were long, much longer than a typical day at work. But as the emergency of the pandemic turned into the reality of the new normal, it became important to be able to create a sense of normalcy in the working environment that would enable one to be efficient, as well as self-preserving, for the long haul. Once it became apparent that neither the pandemic, nor the new working environment, was going away anytime soon, planning for the long-term became the focus.
First, it was essential to create a working environment or office space that was defined and conducive to working remotely. For me, that meant investing in the physical hardware that would enable that goal. A new desk was purchased because the old one was only meant for the occasional surfing of the internet or paying an online bill, and not for sitting at all day. Throughout the month of April, additional monitors, a new webcam, wireless keyboard and mouse, and a hub to connect it altogether were also purchased. Specific attention was paid to what was in the background when I turned on the webcam, as most meetings were converted to video meetings. Finally, I felt I had a workspace wherein I could be productive.
The money spent to invest in this physical hardware was not cheap, but if you compared the one-time dollars spent against the potential money saved from not driving to work daily, the cost would certainly be recovered in a short period of time.
“Working from home on a more permanent basis truly requires a change in thinking and an investment in not only physical gear, but also an investment in yourself.”
Focus on Personal Life
Now that the investment was made in the physical hardware, it was time to make appropriate investments on the personal side. There are many advantages to working from home, including saving money on gasoline and parking; the amount of time traveling to and from work is also a savings. Initially, it was common to start working early (about the same time that I would have left the house to drive to work) and end later (about the same time I would have arrived home from work). That led to a perception of increased productivity, but in fact, I was just working more hours. In addition, the notion that I was home (and the pandemic forced most extra-curricular activities to be canceled) meant that I could be available at any hour of the day or night.
The concept of work-life balance is important for everyone, whether you work from home or not. The ability to disconnect from work, when not working, is essential to one’s personal well-being. It gives one the ability to recharge, focus on leisure activities, and connect with family and friends. Our workplace spent a lot of time driving home the concept of disconnecting from work when not working prior to the pandemic. Post-pandemic employee surveys, however, suggested that all of that work was negated with the pandemic. Specific attention was placed on reinforcing the goal and the need to have a good work-life balance even when working remotely.
So, what does that look like from a practical standpoint? Songsangvos & Iamamporn (2020) discuss several things that you can do to achieve a similar work-life balance when working remotely as compared to when working onsite. In addition to setting up your office that is conducive to working efficiently, having that office be in a separate room or part of the house can be helpful. One should get up in the morning and prepare as if you are going to drive to work, including dressing as if you would be in the office. Not only does this prepare the mind to be ready for work, but it also shows your team that you are prepared for work via your appearance on video meetings. Lastly, at the end of the day, it is equally as important that you turn off your computer, leave the room, and act as if your day is done. For me, that meant starting and stopping my day at a certain time, and changing my clothes from my work clothes to my home clothes.
Almost seven months into this pandemic, I have now adjusted to the new normal. I look forward to potentially going into work sometime in the future maybe one day a week or so. But until then, I know that I have taken all the steps I can to invest in my personal well-being, as well as my physical space, to be productive and happy while still working from home.
Songsangyos, P., & Iamamporn, S. (2020). Remote Working with Work-life Balance. International Journal of Applied Computer Technology and Information Systems, 9(2).
Scott Aikey is Senior Director, Core Clinical Applications, at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.