Work From Home in Public Health - Is It Your Cup of Tea?Jan 31, 2023
The COVID-19 Pandemic redefined the work environment, particularly for the field of public health. What began like a way to social distance, rapidly became the norm to get work done. From contact tracing to managing project and wellness coaching by phone, public health remote jobs have entered the field and are here to stay. Over the past three years, more companies have transitioned fully to work from home life, but what about those of us that don’t thrive at home? As it is, many of us used to spend a sizable portion of our lives at work, and now we spend an additional significant portion of our lives…at home?
Can the workforce be more productive taking meetings in the comfiest pajamas and more focused by avoiding traffic with a morning commute? Absolutely, and we must admit that there’s also many challenges that come with this kind of life. Here’s what you need to know if working from home your cup of tea or if you would prefer a hybrid work option or office job:
- Overworking. I remember when the two-week stay at home mandate came into effect. I was an essential worker, but I was also pregnant. Things were scary and I did not know what to expect. I remember my supervisor looking at me and telling me “Go home. Go find work and work from home.” What!? How am I going to leave the rest of my team at the office working front lines while I get to work from home? It just did not sit well with me. Yet, I found some work. I went to the busiest department I could think of because I knew they were going to be in high demand navigating lots of dark waters: Employee Health. Employee Health was doing COVID contact tracing for employees, and I was able to implant myself with a team that needed a lot of support. As I began work from home, I began finding myself shutting down my lap top way past my regular hours. And well, for someone who used to claim control over work-life integration, I was not doing a whole lot of that.
- Staying still all day and lack of movement. I am an advocate for movement. In a way, movement is part of my lifestyle and my personal wellness. Along with the fact that I was overworking, I also found myself staying still and not moving from my home office, the couch (Ergonomics, what?). Staying still all-day lead to additional problems due to poor posture and overall lack of movement. I developed uncomfortable sciatica and back pain. Eventually, I began to incorporate walking meetings whenever I didn’t need to be on camera or taking a quick walk around the block just to get some fresh air.
- Feeling isolated. For a big time introvert like myself, social distance made me feel completely isolated and disconnected. Now isn’t that ironic? The isolation did not settle well with my mental health. After all, I would spend more time in the office with my coworkers than at home. The lack of human interaction and lack of ability to discuss projects and deadlines in real time became frustrating With the bad, there’s also plenty of lessons to be learned and since work from home is not going anywhere, I had to adjust to something that best suits my needs.
Overworking myself lead to burnout and job dissatisfaction. I was in desperate need for some strong boundaries in order to separate work from my personal life, particularly if I wanted to continue creating my own advancement in the public health field. Some of the boundaries that helped me improve my work from home performance include:
- Setting up a dedicated workspace. Sadly for my laziness, but happily for my back and hips I ditched the couch and designated an area in my home to work. An ergonomically friendly area allowed me to focus more and increase my productivity.
- Shut down ritual. To prevent burnout and respect my work hours I developed a ritual that involved physically packing my laptop away and placing my work bag in the closet as an indication to end the day.
- Connection with coworkers. Just like I would go to other cubicles to say hello, I began to carve 5-10 minute “coffee breaks” with my coworkers to simply have a conversation and connect. This took place via Zoom/Teams.
- Staying motivated. The pandemic allowed me to see that there are various ways to approach my career and put into perspective the life I wanted. In a way, the pandemic highlighted that I wanted to honor that the work I was doing was worthwhile. At the time, that wasn’t the case, so I pivoted public health roles and seek fulfillment towards something that contributed to the bigger picture in a different public health field. Once you find your motivation, think big and think ahead. What’s the next move? What’s the next job that will allow you to also work on that side hustle? What’s the next job that will give you room to spend more time with loved ones?
At this point, the public health field is seeing more hybrid schedules and positions being developed, and this perhaps is the magical answer for people, like me, that are not thrilled about the idea of working from home all the time. Additionally, remote jobs, or “remote first” are some of the main googled words when searching for new jobs. It is important to note, working from home is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself, enjoy the privilege of working from home, and make the best of the situation. Try to avoid distractions. If you are a workaholic, set your limits. If you suffer from lack of concentration, set timers to work on task and keep you on target.
Comfortable perks also come with a certain level of responsibility and maturity for the various available jobs. As you continue your job search, keep in mind that the grass is not always greener on the other side and that a work from home position might not be everyone’s cup of tea.
If you’re looking for public health job options including remote jobs or need a community of support, visit https://www.instagram.com/publichealthhired/. Free job alerts are posted weekly and you can connect to others who have successfully been hired in public health jobs.
Contributor: Norma Mendoza, MPH, CEAS is an experienced Public Health professional enthusiast with over 12 years of experience in the areas of Health Education, Health Communication, Community Outreach and Corporate Wellness. Norma is a graduate of Loma Linda University School of Public Health receiving a Masters of Public Health with a concentration in Health Education and a Bachelor’s in Arts in Spanish and Journalism with concentration in Media Studies from San Diego State University. Outside of her professional life, Norma is a lover of dance, wellness and all things family.
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