This isn’t my first working-from-home rodeo. But this time around is different.

Right out of college, I worked in offices for about seven years, then took the plunge to be a stay-at-home mom not long after our first daughter was born. Those were lean years, for sure, and I found myself a little restless, so I almost always had one or two freelance projects cooking. The days flew by, as I tucked in work between naps and timeouts, trips to the park and the pediatrician, endless practices and school field trips. All of it felt like I was making a choice, and I was always keenly aware of my privilege, despite the chaos and interruptions that just come with the territory when you have young children and family life in general.

I started working full-time again about 10 years ago, and during that time, ended up with two stints during which I needed to again turn my dining room table into an office. Both times were necessitated by needing to accommodate health issues. I started experiencing seizures that happened multiple times a day and made it almost impossible to work in an office setting. At the time, my employer was very open to letting me do my work from home, as I could not safely drive. The kids were all in school, so it was a different experience. Isolating, in fact. Once my health was in better shape, I was relieved and thrilled to be back amongst my co-workers and to have a routine again. Just a few years later, our son became very ill and it was clear that I needed the kind of flexibility that only freelancing could offer. I was fortunate to secure some solid work and get us through that tough time. It was isolating, but I had the freedom to give our son what he needed and I’m still thankful when I think about that period in our lives.

Three years into the full-time office scene again, and I have a confession to make: I love it. I like the relationships I build with colleagues, the energy of being part of a team, the routine and just having a space that’s dedicated solely to getting the job at hand done. I like dressing professionally and just being part of the working world. When you are passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t really feel that much like work. I actually like Monday mornings as much as Friday afternoons.

I guess this explains why this sudden pandemic-induced return to camping out at home to do my job-- even though it’s the absolute right and responsible thing do as a member of the global community-- isn’t that fun. This isn’t whining. It’s simply acknowledging that I miss my work friends, a good printer, easy access to my files, and frankly, just the energy that comes from being with people. It’s an appreciation for all that is normal. And as I fumble with Zoom, try to be efficient and still accomplish things with dogs and my whole family underfoot during this very unsettling time, I’m still humbled. I know that I am very fortunate to be among the lucky who are even able to work from home.

For me working from home is kind of like riding a bike—you never forget how to do it. Ever since my first work-from-home gig nearly 25 years ago, I’ve embraced some strategies that at least make me feel more productive and effective:

  • Shower, get dressed and put on makeup. It might sound a little shallow, but I just feel better if I look better. No pajamas and slippers for me. I was doing this well before anyone could see me on Zoom! A little lipstick makes me feel like a boss.
  • Go ahead and talk to your family members if you need to and pet the dogs. I justify this because I know that I would stop to visit with my co-workers throughout the day, so giving my people and pooches the same kind of courtesy is just the right thing to do.
  • Stop and eat lunch. I’m super guilty of eating at my desk, even when I’m at the office, so I’m still working on this. Stepping away to warm up some soup or take a walk around the block is just healthy.
  • Try to not get too distracted by the news. I’m a news junkie, so it’s very tempting to indulge in a quick trip to the latest headline. I’m working very hard to limit this, especially during the pandemic. I try to catch up when I’m finished for the day, so I’m still informed, but not consumed and wildly distracted with news that only heightens anxiety. At least for me, anxiety and focus don’t co-exist.
  • Check in on your co-workers. They are probably craving connection, too! Especially those who are new to working at home.
  • At the end of the day, just stop working. This is not always easy to do, but it’s really the healthy route. Tidy up your desk, make a to-do list for the next morning, and just make the short commute to your kitchen to make dinner and be with your family. We need each other more than ever.

About the Author

Anne Heinrich is Vice President of Development for Mental Health America of Eastern Missouri. She has worked in communications and the nonprofit sector for over 30 years. She and her husband, Bret, live in the St. Louis area, and have three children.