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With Thanksgiving just a couple of weeks away, the holidays are on everyone’s minds—in fact, I’ve already seen far too many Christmas commercials. While this holiday season is bound to be unlike anything we’ve ever experienced in our lifetime, the reality is that some things—like our careers—can’t exactly be put on hold. While many of us may have mastered the art of working from home by now, working from a family's home during the holidays is another story.
“The holidays may not feel all that festive for many people this year,” says Nina Rubin, M.A., CPCC, a professional development and leadership coach. As Rubin points out, many of us have been working remotely since March 2020 and while some of us have already been at our parents’ homes or other relatives’ places during this time of uncertainty, for those who haven’t, there’s going to be a big adjustment period when it comes to working in a house full of people.
“I know of a bunch of people who are planning to visit their families from Thanksgiving through Christmas holidays,” says Rubin, which is a whole damn month, mind you. “It's important that people carve out work and mental space for themselves, and alert their families before they get home that they have to work and have deadlines to meet.”
It may be a bit trying and will definitely require a lot of understanding on your family’s part, especially since the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has made it so many families haven’t seen each other since last year, but with proper communication, you can work remotely and still stay focused. Here’s how.
Prepare in advance
Not only should you give your family a heads up that you will be working, but already having a schedule for how you’re going to tackle this when you do arrive is a great place to start.
“Determine your working hours in advance,” says Jenn DeWall, millennial life and career coach. “Will it be a straight 8:00-5:00 with lunch, or will you block out your time? Having a schedule before you travel home will help you orient once you get into a new working environment.”
DeWall suggests, if you can, calendar block in advance before you even arrive. With that done and out of the way, you can walk into the new, and potentially distracting environment, with a major part of your organizing out of the way.
Find a workspace that’s a good fit
Although older generations, like my father, for instance, can’t seem to figure out why I can’t watch a movie with him in the living room and work at the same time, because “you have your computer right there,” those of us who are a long way from our late 60s know this is impossible. Because of this, it’s paramount to find a workspace that's not only a good fit for what you need to get done but also, ideally, will prevent your family from stopping by every couple of hours to ask if you want to watch The Godfather. Again.
“Maybe it's in the basement, or maybe it's your old bedroom,” says DeWall. “No matter where it is, make sure that you have an ample place to set up your computer and office needs that is away from other family members. Think of the best environment you could take a virtual call from and then set down your temporary office there.”
As DeWall explains, having an office space that looks and feels like a proper office will help your brain get into work mode while you’re in that space.
Be prepared to be asked questions
Again, we’re dealing with some generation gaps. Depending on who you are spending the holidays with, although the gatherings are likely to be smaller this year due to COVID-19, you could be with your 90-something great-grandmother, your 13-year-old cousin, and an 8-year-old niece. And, while you’re trying to do all this remote working, there’s a good chance you’ll get some questions.
“Your siblings and cousins may not ‘get’ what you do,” says Rubin, “so be prepared to answer questions often.”
It may come off as annoying, but remind yourself it’s just curiosity. As long as they respect that you need time to work and they shouldn’t be lingering around your workspace all day, then don’t let all the questions drive you nuts.
Realize the power of the "do not disturb" sign
As someone who’s been living at the house she grew up in with her parents’ since COVID-19 took away her 2020, I can attest to the fact that the “do not disturb” sign really works. Granted, when I moved out of my parents’ house and went to college, I never thought I’d have to write such a sign again, but there I was, back on my childhood bedroom floor with a pile of Sharpies, doing it yet again.
“Your family may have no idea what is going on at work,” says DeWall. “You could be in an important client meeting or doing routine tasks. Create a signing system that you can put on a door or wall to let them know when they can and cannot bother you will help reduce interruptions.”
I promise your family will take this sign far more seriously than they did when you were 14.
Dean Drobot/Getty Images
Although it might be tough at first to lay down the law with your parents, it is necessary if you’re going to be working remotely and doing the work—the great work—your managers expect from you.
“Have a conversation with your family about what your work schedule looks like,” says DeWall. “When are they allowed to interrupt? Are they even allowed to interrupt? Explain to them why it's important that you can not be bothered so they think twice before interrupting you.”
If you’re concerned that your family won’t adhere to these boundaries or you’re staying with older family members who just might simply forget, DeWall suggests posting your work schedule on the fridge so it’s visible to everyone. Personally, I suggest maybe posting it on your door too—next to the “do not disturb” sign.
Stick to your normal routine but also be flexible
While you may not be able to have the exact routine you have every day, it’s important to stick to it as much as possible. Human beings do love routine after all.
“Do you typically have a commute where you listen to a podcast? Maybe you go for a walk to listen to a podcast,” says DeWall. “While it might be easy to just stay in your pajamas because you're comfortable at home, you may not be sending your brain the signal that you're at work and need to be on your A-game.”
DeWall explains that sticking to your normal routine as much as possible isn’t just good for your routine-loving brain, but will make the transition easier when you go back home. On the other hand, Rubin points out that while sticking to your routine—including when you exercise, when you sleep, and when you eat—is important, you also need to be flexible. You’re in the house of, well, who knows how many people. So you need to allow yourself and your routine some flexibility—and also remind yourself it’s the holidays before you flip a table over the fact that your routine isn’t exactly on track.
Prioritize big assignments, but also find a balance
Once again: It’s the holidays! It can’t be all work, work, work! But, because you need your job, it can’t be all play, play, play either. So find an even balance and work on your most important tasks first so you can worry less throughout the workday.
“If you have bigger tasks or priorities, be sure to block time for them so they are the utmost important each day,” says DeWall. “If you don't, you may find you're not as productive and you may even fall behind in work."
For example, as DeWall explains, if you arrive on the weekend to your family’s house, focus on those bigger assignments Monday through Wednesday. That way Thursday, Friday, and into the following weekend can involve more family time.
Make light of the situation
Fun fact: We’re all human and most of us are remote working right now. Just in the time it took me to write this, my father asked me if he should wait for me to join him to watch a movie, my dog got into a fight with my slipper and ran off with it, and my mom asked me if I wanted more tea. When you’re working remotely, either in your home or someone else’s, these things happen. And, honestly, they’re kind of endearing.
“Does your old dog bark every time the doorbell rings interrupting your team meeting? Does your mom interrupt your meetings to ask if you want your favorite snack? Make light of it,” says DeWall. “Think of it as an opportunity to show a different side of you to your co-workers and team. You will not be able to control everything in a new environment, embrace the things you can't with a smile, and remember to enjoy your precious time with your family.”