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Unique biweekly insights and news review
from Ray Schroeder, Senior Fellow at UPCEA

Home Sweet Home Is Not Office Sweet Office

As many of us are still adjusting to working from home, we are coming to realize that the accoutrements of our offices are not readily available to us at home.

Many of us have been working from home for some weeks now. It is convenient in many ways; no time lost in commuting, less formal dress code, closeness to our loved ones and a more relaxed atmosphere. But with this shift also comes a loss of many of the tools and comforts afforded by the office. I, for one, miss my Herman Miller desk chair that I tweaked to the perfect adjustment over the past decade. And, of course, I miss my colleagues, whom I have only seen on Zoom in the past weeks. There is precious little friendship talk in those meetings — it’s just down to business and, we hope, we can accomplish what needs to be done. The personalized support and care is not fully there as it is in moments here and there in the workday.

Similarly, our home “offices” may fall short of optimum for handling our needs. I want to offer some ideas and some links that might be helpful to you and your staff. One that I have not heard enough mention of is Google Voice. I first tested this tool in 2010. It remains a most useful tool for the home office. Perhaps you, like much of America, have dropped your wired phone service and rely only on your smartphone. If you cannot forward your office phone, you are in the awkward position of giving out your personal number to everyone. Google Voice gives you a free phone number for calling, text messaging and voice mail. If you haven’t used it before, you may want to try this out as an alternative to your personal phone.

Bandwidth remains an issue for many at home, especially if others on your ISP are streaming multiple movies! Of course, you can purchase a plan with greater bandwidth, but the alternative I have found that works best for me is to log on early in the morning — say 5 a.m. I can sail across the net without any difficulties in the early hours. In my neighborhood, things begin to slow down around 10 a.m. Also, depending upon your plan and smartphone, you may be able to use your phone as a hotspot. Or you might consider adding a separate hotspot device from your wireless provider (an additional cost, but think of the money you are saving from commuting that can subsidize this added service). This will give you a backup if needed, when your co-habitants all stream movies while you work!

Perhaps in your office, you have the luxury of multiple screens. Assuming you are using Windows 10, there are ways to optimize splitting one monitor’s screens to create a similar effect. You can also feed a second screen from your laptop and have two monitors.

There are many tips from those who have been telecommuting for years. They range from finding work-stimulating background music, dressing each day as if you were going to work, adjusting your schedule to accommodate your “best times” when you are brightest and most efficient, and many more.

No doubt, you have much work to accomplish. However, there may be some additional time in your schedule freed up from the absence of commuting and other office-afforded activities. Heed the cautionary note that working from home may create a feeling of isolation and abandonment. Here’s a good short list of mental health activities to consider in isolation. The isolation — especially for those without co-habitants (human or pets) — can become oppressive. It is important to self-check to assure that you are not slowly sliding in your outlook and health. It is also important that you colleague-check for mental health during the isolation. Do not leave your colleagues out there all alone without any support. We must be alert to signs of this accumulating stress. The CDC says that this stress can cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco or other drugs

With a few relatively simple and mostly free tips, you can create a home work environment that hits the sweet spot for your needs and preferences! Take advantage of the benefits of working at home and keep your spirits up during this challenging COVID-19 time.


This article was originally posted in Inside Higher Ed’s Transforming Teaching & Learning blog.

Ray Schroeder 2016 Summit for Online Leadership

Ray Schroeder is Professor Emeritus, Associate Vice Chancellor for Online Learning at the University of Illinois Springfield (UIS) and Senior Fellow at UPCEA. Each year, Ray publishes and presents nationally on emerging topics in online and technology-enhanced learning. Ray’s social media publications daily reach more than 12,000 professionals. He is the inaugural recipient of the A. Frank Mayadas Online Leadership Award, recipient of the University of Illinois Distinguished Service Award, the United States Distance Learning Association Hall of Fame Award, and the American Journal of Distance Education/University of Wisconsin Wedemeyer Excellence in Distance Education Award 2016.

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