Before COVID hit, I was conscious and conscientious about “space.”
What does that mean?
My creative space was different from the space where I ran my business and they were both separated from the space for my day job. Speaking engagements were almost always at venues organized by the organizer. I would go away to a writing residency once a year to work on my books. For my weekly article deadlines and columns, New York City subways were my muse. Where I offered Ayurveda and mindset coaching was separate and sacred. Having these defined spaces allowed me to add healthy boundaries between the employee, coach, writer, and speaker in me. My brain, like Pavlov’s dogs, knew it was time for <fill in the blanks> the minute I was in a specific space.
I was recently telling a friend about how COVID and remote work derailed the concept of space. My yoga space is my weight-training nook in the evening and my tiny office during the day. I was initially frustrated, but I believe whining doesn’t get us anywhere. We are all in this together – the pandemic that is. If you do not like your situation, either do something about it or alter your attitude.
I had to get creative when the commute time became 30 seconds (kitchen to living room) instead of 45-60 minutes (home to workspace) and remote work became the term of the year. I have four chairs (all different colors) in our NYC apartment for the different professional roles I play. A proper desk and chair for my day job; another chair for my coaching sessions; the third for writing assignments; and the last for my speaking engagements. It is a little like musical chairs. But it works because my brain thinks of these intentional boundaries as different spaces. Also, as a general rule, 90% of the time (unless I am doing an event or supporting a friend’s gig or part of a work webinar), I do not work after 6 pm. My day starts before 5 am, and I make it a choice to not be available 24/7 just because we are home.
I spoke with three women in leadership roles to find out their secret juice for remote work during the pandemic.
Anu Agarwal, who is managing editor, Asia, at Argus Media Limited, and lives in Singapore, says, “It has been a steep learning curve. Although I started by being tethered to my laptop pretty much all the time. I have learned to start work at the usual time I would if in the office, keep the laptop away during lunch and coffee time and now even making the time to run a personal errand or even do a girls lunch during the week… [All this] without the accompanying guilt keeps me sane. Having a fixed time for exercise and walks has also helped me to keep the space between work and personal time.”
Here is her one tip for women working from home: “We are all exhausted by back-to-back video calls and meetings. Take breaks as you would when in the office and be flexible about the meetings you set up. Sometimes just small old-fashioned audio calls for work are nice instead of long, structured video catch-ups. Deep-breathe often. Everyone is in this boat and no one expects you to be a superwoman. Do not overplan and overstructure your day.”
Ritu Saheb, founder and principal architect at Saheb Architecture, who lives in New York City, says, “I lock myself in the room with a sign that says ‘DO NOT DISTURB’ to get work done. I recognized my in-built need for alone time a long time ago. If I do not allow myself that, I am completely useless at work and home. During pandemic, I have ensured that I have plenty of time for myself — walk around, go to coffee shops, run outdoors, sit on the balcony etc.”
Saheb whose business has grown tremendously, adds, “Educating the family has been key. I have a husband and a teenage daughter who love constant interaction, while I like to have my head space to myself during work hours (to mull about work). I had to request my family to respect that headspace.”
Vinita P. Kumar, the vice president of quality for a biotech/pharmaceutical firm, intentionally made time for what nourishes her.
“I have created my work-life equilibrium by creating a regular schedule I follow every day, making sure to include time set aside for myself,” she says. “A silver lining has been the opportunity to use what was previously my commute time for gardening and music rehearsals.”
She adds, “It is impossible to be in two places at the same time, so designate a specific space for work, separate from home. That way … when you are done working, you leave your office and ‘come home.’ Avoid multitasking during the day. Do NOT try to be Superwoman and do it all 24×7!!!!”
Tell us how you have navigated remote working and setting up necessary boundaries.