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How to transform your home into an office or school and back again

When your home is also your office, taking small steps to create a psychological separation between work time and family time is key. (iStock)
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Over the past month, as companies scrambled to maintain operations and keep their businesses afloat, more and more employees transitioned to work in their homes instead of at an office. Similarly, more and more students at home engaged in online tutoring or virtual classrooms instead of learning at school.

Our houses are adapting to this new work/lifestyle situation as much as we are. In a time fraught with chaos, our home — our sanctuary, our break from the rest of the world — can feel more stressful and in flux as we redefine its function and struggle to set mental and physical boundaries. Where does the home end and the office space or classroom begin? There needs to be a clear and direct answer to this question in every household.

When you are sitting at a table with a computer for eight hours a day, adapting to the circumstances via school lessons — or videoconferences — in your house, closing the laptop or pushing papers to the side is not enough to detach, let go of work and enjoy being in your home again. That table already has an assigned value — enjoying meals as a family, for instance — but by using it as your workspace instead, you start to blur that line.

How to work from home like a boss

The best strategy for teaching lessons or working productively is to change your setting and identify a dedicated work zone. Some are lucky enough to have an in-home office space (which will likely be a rising trend again in residential design), but there are other ways. This could be as much effort as setting up a folding table in your guest bedroom (because you are obviously not hosting guests anytime soon) or as simple as moving into a different chair from your regular seat at the table for a new perspective. By having a dedicated zone to consistently work from, you can remove yourself from that zone to appreciate the rest of your home when your work tasks are complete. The change in scenery, even if it is just a 180-degree rotated perspective, allows you to break away and return to your natural habits, and allows your home to fulfill its everyday function as a warm, embracing shelter that offers respite from the rest of the world.

Also consider the unique advantages of this new work/lifestyle. Whether in an academic or corporate capacity, working at home allows opportunities not normally afforded by traditional work settings. For instance, whether you have a suburban apartment balcony, city front stoop or expansive backyard deck, use this as an opportunity to take advantage of outdoor space. Access to nature has been shown to improve mental clarity, worker productivity and physical health. So treat today as a special classroom day on the patio table, and relish breathing in the fresh,­ spring air during your virtual meetings instead of the stale, recirculated air of the old office conference room.

Finally, reflect on the work/home or school/home transition of your old routine. Did you listen to music on your commute, or catch up with friends on the bus? Even a long walk out to your car or changing from business-professional to casual clothes counts. Identifying old habits that naturally signified the end to one part of your day or beginning of another can help you adapt those habits to your newly consistent setting. Dressing up a little only so you can dress down after work or taking a walk around the block to bring a close to the workday can further help mentally separate work-mode from relaxation-mode within your home.

As offices maintain a full-time teleworking workforce and schools across the country continue to announce long-term closures, we look to our homes for stability. Whether it needs to be part classroom, part office, or an entirely new space, your home can still provide for you and your family in these changing times. Small shifts in your habits can help prepare you mentally, and your home spatially, now and for the future.

Read more:

Everything you need to know to set up a home office fast

How to actually do this remote-learning thing while also working from home

How to make it work when your apartment is also your office