As an inflammatory bowel disease patient, in some ways, I believe COVID-19 has changed the world for the better. For example, across the globe, people are living like they have a chronic or autoimmune disease by isolating and social distancing. Hoarding hand sanitizer is the norm. But the biggest change I hope will remain if life ever returns to normal is the business world’s acceptance of telecommuting.
As most people adjust to working remotely, I’ve been doing this since 2003. I began freelancing after I was laid off. With my health issues, I would’ve preferred to remain self-employed. However, this was before the Affordable Care Act prevented insurance companies from refusing to cover preexisting conditions. I had no choice but to find a full-time job with benefits just to have health insurance.
I continued to take on small freelance projects on the side until my liver transplant in 2017. Then, for my physical, mental, and emotional well-being, I took the plunge and decided to freelance full-time, or at least find a job that allowed me to work from home.
Telecommuting has advantages for IBD patients. We don’t have to be anxious about the number of bathroom breaks we have during the workday or using a public restroom. If we’re fatigued, we can take a nap without being reprimanded.
But working from home also has challenges. Following are two tips I’ve learned over the years to help IBD patients transition to working remotely.
Tip 1: Set up a home office or workspace.
I thrive working from home because I have a routine. This routine includes “going to the office.” The commute is short, but having a dedicated workspace makes separating my home and work life possible.
When I first started freelancing, my breakfast nook was my office. I had a proper setup with a desk, bookshelves, and computer equipment. After I began teaching at a university, I didn’t need as much space. I often worked on my laptop from the living room sofa and out of my briefcase.
After resigning from my teaching job to freelance full-time, I needed a more formal workspace to have video conferences. My office returned to the breakfast nook. Instead of a desk, my husband and I bought a bistro table that could double as an eating area.
This worked perfectly until a stay-at-home order forced my husband to telecommute. We shared the space briefly, but I couldn’t concentrate because of my chatty co-worker. I moved back to the living room to work from our love seat. My husband has returned to work, but I enjoy working from the comfort of the living room. I still use the breakfast nook when I have video conferences.
A home office is more about having a designated space rather than a separate room. The workspace should be free from distractions as much as possible. That includes informing others that when you’re in your workspace, you’re in work mode and shouldn’t be disturbed. My husband knows not to bother me if I’m on my computer in the breakfast nook or on the love seat.
Tip 2: Set a work schedule and respect it.
Having a physical space to work in is only half the equation. I’ve had to train myself to set business hours to make sure I don’t constantly work. This can be difficult when my laptop or phone is always nearby.
During the week, I work from 8:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., I take a break to exercise and eat lunch. I try not to work on Saturdays unless I must finish a project to meet a deadline. I refuse to work on Sundays.
Outside my normal work hours, I avoid reading or answering work emails and messages. Otherwise, I risk getting pulled into a conversation or a task that steals time away from my personal life. For me, this is the most difficult part of telecommuting.
Corporate America has a live-to-work mentality and competitive attitude. Some employers view not responding immediately to a message as lazy or unambitious. Leaving work “at the office” can be risky, especially when colleagues are willing to sacrifice their work-life balance to get ahead.
Finding a work-from-home job
With more companies embracing remote work, now might be a good time to start looking for a new job. A search for “work from home” or “remote jobs” on employment sites brings up local — as well as national and even international — results. I’ve also found several listings on a site called Chronically Capable, which is tailored to the disabled workforce.
Living a normal life with IBD is possible. That includes having a fulfilling career.
Note: IBD News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of IBD News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to IBD.
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