Over the last two parts of this series, we’ve talked about how the Coronavirus pandemic has impacted the VFX industry globally, how VFX vendors are adapting, and the opportunities presented to us to manage our own time, increase productivity, and gain greater flexibility in our lives. In this third and final part, we’ll discuss some of the potential pitfalls that working from home brings, how you can make the most of the situation, and even find an opportunity for growth.
In Part 2, we touched on how it’s important to separate home and work life. Working from home brings an opportunity to manage your own time, but it’s also quite easy to slip into the trap of being always online and answering messages. It’s your responsibility to lay out some boundaries with your supervisor or coordinator so that you can maintain a healthy work/life balance.
From Day 1 of working from home, I encouraged my team to chime in in our IM group chat to say, “Good Morning” when they’re logging in and starting work, “Good Night” when they’re done for the day, and “stopping for lunch” when taking a break. This works both ways for individuals, and the company. For example, the department coordinator can catch someone quickly before they go should they need any last-minute information, without having to bug the artist in their own time. For the artist, there’s an understanding and no guilt about taking a break (as they normally would), or switching off after 8 hours, as it’s what everyone else is doing!
Working from home also makes it easier to overwork as you’re already in a place of comfort, and especially during the pandemic, you have nowhere else to be — so why not continue working, right? If you work longer hours than you should, especially in countries that don’t pay overtime, your extra efforts will likely be taken advantage of, or go unnoticed. After all, nobody is seeing you physically at the office staying late! You have a responsibility to get your work done in a set amount of time each day, and then switch off and do something completely different afterwards. It’s imperative to maintain a healthy work/life balance, otherwise you’ll quickly find yourself burning out and unable to work, and nobody wants that!
The importance of switching off is hugely understated. When you’re working in an office and leave the front door at 6pm, your mind and your body can naturally disconnect and leave work at work. Although when your workspace is in your home, especially a smaller home in expensive cities such as London or Vancouver, that separation becomes extremely difficult.
The best thing you can do is section off part of your home and designate it as a work-only space — it’s best if you can close the door and avoid distraction from others, too. However, if this isn’t an option, there’s still more you can do! Say you have a desk in your living room, where you would normally spend time playing video games, checking email, etc. after work. Try to shift as many of those tasks as you can to your phone or tablet, and do them from the couch instead. For anything else, create a new user account on your computer for “work”. This user account should only have the apps you need for work installed, and have a unique desktop background image — it’s best if this is the same background you have on your workstation in the office.
Our brains are wired to detect patterns and form habits. Setting up your home office to be as similar to your work environment as possible, and following the same routine you normally would every morning, will naturally prime your brain to be in work mode. For example, when you wake up in the morning, follow the same steps you normally would: Set your alarm for the usual time, get up and make your bed, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. When you arrive at “work”, log in, get set up, then make your coffee… You get the idea! Just because you can stay up late and sleep in a bit longer every morning doesn’t mean you should. Keeping a regular schedule goes a long way to maintaining healthy normalcy.
Your mental health will continue to be tested in isolation over the coming months, and the above strategies are just some of the ways to remain connected, and live a balanced & healthy life. Just as important as your mental health is your physical health. It’s pretty likely that your gym has closed, or your cycling group can no longer meet, so exercise can easily cease to exist in your calendar entirely. I already have a bad habit of putting my work & hobbies ahead of staying fit (thanks for keeping me honest, Caleb!), but as Miles Lauridsen mentioned in our interview, “Get more exercise. The pixels will always be waiting”. It sounds obvious, but the days where I’ve meditated in the morning, and done bodyweight exercises or yoga at lunchtime, have been the days where my mood and productivity is highest! If you’re like me and always use a flavour of excuse such as, “I’m too busy to work out today, I have to work on this thing and get that other stuff done”, I have some hard news for you — that excuse is no longer valid; your free time is as abundant as it will ever be. Even if it’s just replacing the time you would otherwise spend commuting to and from the office every day, a little bit of physical exercise will go a long way in an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.
Another opportunity I’m excited about is having more time to focus on improving myself and my skills. A great place to spend some “improvement time” could be updating your old reel, CV or website, even if you’re still currently working. How great would it be to not have to rush-update your portfolio when ending your current contract, before seeking your next gig? You could also increase your skillset by learning something you’ve wanted to for a while. Personally, I’m making an effort to write more consistently in the hopes I develop heightened communication skills, as well as dabbling in Blender on the side. BlenderGuru is a popular choice — check out my donut.
Lastly, you should be mindful of spending the remainder of your excess time to unwind and relax. We work incredibly hard in the VFX industry, and often endure extended stretches of long hours in the office. Take the opportunity, while you can, to switch off completely. It’s a rare opportunity and one that you shouldn’t be ashamed of taking advantage of!
Being stuck working & living at home for an extended period of time can be tough. But keeping yourself mentally and physically healthy, as well as employing some cognitive hacks to keep your work-brain at work, can help you not only survive, but thrive.