By Elizabeth Delahoussaye, RHIA, CHPS, and AnnE Rice, MS, RHIA
While some of us have worked from home before the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s a whole new ballgame for those who haven’t. Even veteran remote workers may experience unique challenges during the pandemic: Trying to focus in an otherwise quiet home that’s now bustling with activity. Dialing into a video meeting while your toddler demands attention. Sharing an office with your spouse who is also working from home. Homeschooling your teenager when you take a break for lunch. Taking care of your aging parent while trying to balance work responsibilities.
A typical workday no longer exists because nothing about our lives during COVID-19 is typical anymore.
The good news is that remote health information management (HIM) staff can take steps to address various challenges associated with working at home. Consider the following:
Challenge: There are too many disruptions.
Solution: Plan ahead. Don’t wait for the disruption to occur before you react. For example, do your kids constantly knock on your door? Create a daily schedule for them (e.g., read from 9-10, chores from 10-11, TV from 11-12, lunch from 12-1, homework from 1-4, free time from 4-5). Also, create your own daily schedule that includes brief blocks of time when you’re available. Post both schedules on the refrigerator, and let your kids know they can approach you only during your “available time.”
Another idea is to post a sign on your door or at your workstation that says “busy” on one side and “available” on the other. Flip the sign as needed to let others know whether they can interrupt you. The same is true for a lamp. If the light is on (e.g., during an important meeting), others need to keep their distance until the light goes off.
In terms of childcare or elderly care, can you split shifts with your partner? For example, can you work in the morning while your partner watches the children or family member, and then switch roles? This enables each of you to be able to focus 100 percent of your attention on work. It also enables you to be a more effective parent and caretaker because you can focus 100 percent of your attention on your children and family member when you’re with them.
However, children and family certainly aren’t the only distractions. For example, you know that the landscaper typically comes on Friday at 10am? To avoid loud background noise, don’t schedule meetings at this time. The same is true on days when you know the handyman is coming to drill holes in the wall. Let family and friends know your work hours so they don’t call or stop by to chat while you’re trying to be productive.
Challenge: It’s hard to be motivated.
Solution: Aside from the obvious (e.g., creating a dedicated workspace that isn’t in your bedroom where you’re tempted to take a nap), make sure you maintain the same routine as if you were physically going into the office. Set your alarm, get up on time, exercise, take a shower, get dressed in work attire, eat breakfast, and start working. Ignore the housework (it can wait).
More on that dedicated workspace. Remember that although this space must be private, it can be anywhere—your back deck, your garage, your sun porch, or even a large closet big enough to fit a desk and chair.
Challenge: It’s difficult to set boundaries.
Solution: For some people, working from home leads to overworking from home. They rarely take breaks, and they’re unable to turn off their job responsibilities at the end of the day. To combat this, identify your working hours, and stick to them. If your workday ends at 5pm, set an alarm so you don’t work late. Use an app on your phone that reminds you to get up and stretch every half hour. Schedule a lunch break as well as one 15-minute break in the morning and another in the afternoon. Take these opportunities to leave your office (yes, it’s important to actually leave the room), go for a walk, listen to music, or meditate.
Challenge: It’s isolating.
Solution: Make time to connect with coworkers, friends, and family virtually—even if it’s for a few minutes. Every little bit of social connection helps. If the isolation and stress feels overwhelming, consider talking with a therapist. There’s no shame in seeking help. It doesn’t mean you’re weak. It means you’re taking care of yourself, which is what we all need to do during COVID-19 and beyond.
Remember: Working from home isn’t for everyone. If the challenges start to negatively affect the quality of your work, talk with your manager to see whether it makes more sense to come onsite.
Read More: Remote HIM Operations
Elizabeth Delahoussaye (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the chief privacy office at Ciox Health, and AnnE Rice is senior director of HIM and privacy officer at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.