You have two minutes to feed your dog before the host lets you in on that Zoom meeting. You have mastered the art of muting your microphone in sync with the pressure cooker whistle, and lunch often happens with at least 10 people peering at you from your laptop screen.
Some days you find yourself binging on Netflix dramas in the afternoon. Naps are non-negotiable. There’s no such thing as a late submission, only internet issues.
But as liberating as working from home might feel, it’s difficult to get work done when there are countless distractions and “better things to do” than draft a research proposal.
For Swasti Gautam, an intern working in the development sector, rolling out of bed at 10:00 am for a meeting at 10:15 am was one of the biggest perks of working from home at the start of the lockdown in March this year.
She liked not having to change into office attire. Best of all, no more traffic jams. She could use the extra time to work out and pick up new skills. And she did.
Fast forward five months and working from home is making her feel less creative and a bit sullen.
She isn’t alone.
Most people APEX talked to claimed that working from home is challenging once the novelty wears off. It’s either tough to be disciplined and get things done or you tend to put in longer hours than you would have at office as the line between home and work life blurs.
If he had a choice, Swarup Acharya, health reporter for Kantipur Daily and eKantipur, would go to office. Besides the home environment not being conducive to working, there are no discussions and conversations, which are highly valued in his line of work.
“It’s a one-way street. You do your work and submit it. There is no feedback,” he says.
But working from home isn’t a choice or a luxury now. It’s a compulsion. So, you are forced to navigate your life between attending Zoom meetings and doing the laundry. Tackling dirty dishes in the kitchen and overseeing your kid’s homework are as important as working on that presentation.
Is there a way you can stay on top of work while lounging in your pajamas? And is it possible to disconnect from work—in bed, at the dinner table or when your mom is talking to you?
The best way to ensure you are productive and get work done, says Swasti, is to exercise regularly and sit at a desk and not the sofa or bed. Trying to work within office hours also helps—pretend you are at the office and thereby trick your mind and body.
For Pankaj Thapa, communication strategist at Think Ideas and Solutions, setting up a routine has helped him survive this work from home situation. Listing out a realistic number of things that he wants to complete in a day comes a close second.
Eta Shrestha, CEO, Mantra Spa & Wellness and founder, Tissah Pvt. Ltd., swears by the effectiveness of a work schedule. Setting manageable goals helps too.
Eta uses Trello, a project management app, to organize her tasks and finds it really helps with productivity.
Pankaj says working from home is a relatively new concept for Nepalis and it’s going to take a lot more getting used to. Poor infrastructure, in terms of electricity and internet, makes an already difficult situation all the more strenuous.
“The main thing, for me, is to take care of my mental health so I try to communicate well with my team members and set realistic goals,” he says, adding that it’s important to set aside time for your family and hobbies.
Eta has a simple solution for that. She and her husband both work from home and they have a cut off time, after which they try not to work. Also, they keep evenings and weekends relatively free.
But Eta misses meeting people—real time interactions with her team and peers. Pre-Covid-19, she worked with team members and partners; sharing ideas and building collaborations.
“A lot can be done remotely with Zoom meetings and Whatsapp/Viber calls but in-person human interactions cannot be replaced,” she adds.
That is indeed true, says Richa Bhattarai, external affairs associate, World Bank Group. Richa too misses face-to-face interactions that made for a fun and productive work environment.
What’s worse, Richa adds, is that simple conversations now require elaborate mails and calls which take up a lot of time and contribute to screen fatigue. There’s also the pressure of constantly being online and available.
Separate space and to-do lists
But the main challenge of working from home, for most, it seems, is the merging of home- and professional-life.
Sometimes, co-working with your partners can also get a little chaotic. You might have always wanted to spend more time together but a pandemic lockdown wasn’t exactly what you had in mind.
“My husband and I co-work in a tiny apartment and it’s tricky when we have meetings at the same time,” says Richa. Her husband, however, communicates about his potential calls, and if it’s not possible to join meetings in different rooms, they reschedule their appointments so as not to clash with each other.
Some have taken things several notches up.
The first thing Prasanna KC, executive director, KPMG, did when he realized he and his wife were going to be working from home for a while, was build a new study. That way each of them could have their own space and work undisturbed.
Interestingly, everyone APEX talked to also engage in some form of physical activity—be it running, cycling, or YouTube-guided workouts. Some have taken up yoga and pilates. It keeps them mentally agile and gives them an endorphin high—which is of paramount importance in these stressful times.
Working from home, which comes with its fair share of challenges, is a whole different ball game when you have children.
At 2:00 pm this past Monday, Sangharsha Bhattarai, ICT specialist working in the development sector, was putting his youngest son to sleep. His wife, Avinashi Paudel, also works from home and Sangharsha says time management is a huge issue.
“My wife and I have designated our work hours to ensure they don’t overlap. One parent is always minding the kids,” he says.
Prasanna, who has an eight-year-old son, says parenting is a full-time job. For two people.
“Be reasonable and know your limits in terms of what you can do with a kid in the house,” says Prasanna.
But working from home, with or without kids, doesn’t have to be such a daunting task if you follow a system, according to those who have been operating from the home base before the lockdown made it mandatory.
Sneha Koirala, founder of the lifestyle brand Studio Sarcastic, recommends making notes to keep yourself on track.
“Don’t underestimate the power of a to-do list,” says Sneha who is a sucker for making daily agendas. That is how she stays on top of things.
Ayushma Rana, founder of ST Group which deals in luxury gift packaging and event management, on the other hand, suggests you first calm down and then figure out what works for you. Ayushma, a mother of two, prefers to work in the nighttime when everything is quiet and there aren’t 10 things that need her attention.
“I’m not saying everyone has to become a night-owl but working from home becomes a whole lot easier when you know what works for you,” she says.
Most people vouch for the power of a disciplined lifestyle when it comes to juggling work and home responsibilities while working from home. Those with years of practice know that’s true. Both Sneha and Ayushma agree that the best way to be productive while working from home is to define how, when, and where you are going to work, and stick to the plan.