The fact that more and more companies are revising their policies on remote work, allowing employees to work from someplace other than a traditional communal office, is welcome news for many people — especially, for some cancer patients and survivors who experience challenges from treatment that make it difficult to endure a long commute, be in a crowded and potentially germ-filled work space or stay focused in a distracting environment.
Whether you are new to remote work or have been working remotely for a while, it’s important to be intentional about where you work. The location of and setup of your work area can impact both your physical and mental health, and working remotely can provide a unique opportunity to have more control over your work environment, helping to ensure your success on the job, wherever you are.
Below are some key things to keep in mind.
The way you set up your desk can help you stay focused while you work, which can be particularly helpful for patients and survivors experiencing “chemo brain.” Decluttering your work surface helps to minimize distractions, and organizing your files can help you stay on task. Similarly, making sure that supplies and equipment are easily accessible can eliminate undue exertion if you are experiencing fatigue. Also, you want to be sure that your setup isn’t merely comfortable in the moment but also supports your physical health in the long run. This can be especially important if you don’t have a desk and instead are sitting in bed or on the couch with your laptop.
Consider whether certain supplies and equipment might help you work better and more efficiently when you’re remote. For example, would an ergonomic keyboard alleviate some discomfort from neuropathy? Do you need more supportive seating? Would a rolling chair make it easier for you to step away from your desk to take a break? Maybe a second monitor or an external keyboard and mouse for your laptop would be useful. If you are experiencing light sensitivity or limited vision, you might try reducing the brightness of your screen or increasing the font size of your operating system.
Keep in mind that you may be able to request specific pieces of equipment from your employer as a reasonable accommodation, if you are entitled to receive reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Even if the remote-work arrangement itself was approved as a reasonable accommodation, you still might be eligible for additional accommodations, such as equipment. You would follow the same process you did when requesting the original accommodation and work with your employer to identify other modifications that would address the side effects you are experiencing. It’s also possible that some employers will simply provide you with certain supplies to enhance your work-from-home setup.
The environment you choose to work in is also very important. If you must share your “office” space, try to limit interruptions. And if you’re working from home, try to establish clear boundaries with others. If you find there are too many audio or visual distractions, you might want to consider using noise-cancelling headphones or a room divider.
Even if you’re able to create a work area that suits your needs perfectly, it’s still important to leave it once in a while. Physically removing yourself from the space in which you work (both during and at end of your workday) is critical. If you’re able to take a break — whether that means meditating, stretching, flipping through a magazine or taking a brief walk — be sure to do it somewhere else. Immersing yourself in a different physical location is as important as giving your brain a rest. Both are critical to maintaining psychological well-being on the job — and in life.
For some people, one of the challenges of working remotely is that they end up putting in more hours than when they’re on-site. Not having to commute means that some people sit down at their desks earlier and work later than they would if they had to leave the office to catch a train home, for example. Also, because there is often no real physical separation between home and work, the official end of the workday becomes fuzzy. For instance, if your desk is in your kitchen or den, you might feel as though you’re always at the “office” and need to respond to emails and texts at any hour. While you may believe you’re more productive in this environment, being on call to address anything work related at any time can lead to increased stress and the potential for burnout — especially for those who are also dealing with side effects from treatment.
To avoid getting sucked into work beyond what is necessary, it’s important to implement boundaries — both personal and physical (again, if possible). Setting clear boundaries helps define time, roles, work relationships, responsibilities and expectations. That, in turn, can enable you to work efficiently and sustainably, leading to greater productivity and less stress — which is in the best interest of both you and your employer.
If you share your remote-work area with others — whether family or friends/roommates — communicating with them is going to be equally important. For example, if you need to use a common area in your home to take an important call or host a virtual meeting, be sure the people you live with are aware ahead of time of that need/schedule and when it’s ok (or not) to disturb you.
Being thoughtful about your remote-work setup and carefully considering what you need — physically, practically, emotionally and equipment-wise — will help you do your best work, regardless of where you are.