What’s the reality of working from home (WFH)?
Moreover, what’s the impact?
I know that we have been wanting this, FOREVER! Working from home, no commute, less structure, more time with family…flexibility in the day…the list of benefits goes on. And the media is presenting it as just that: Video podcasts in a dress shirt and boxers, cuddling up to your toddler while you summarize that report or having a conference call from your car on your way to the beach.
While there are definite benefits to working from home, unfortunately, the images that portray this, artificially glamorize the situation. In reality, for some WFH has been awesome while for others, full-time remote work has been more of a nonstop monsoon of tasks, emails and Zooms. The question remains: Is WFH contributing to an increased lack of balance between home and work life?
Before the pandemic, remote work was mostly intentional, with people choosing this option because they knew it would fit well into their lives. Perhaps they already had a home office, an organized workspace that was quiet and free of distractions, child care lined up for their children, or older kids safely away at school.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for the millions of people working remotely for the first time due to the coronavirus. For them, setting up the perfect work-from-home scenario just wasn’t an option. Even those workers who were accustomed to remote work suddenly had to contend with all kinds of new circumstances. Whether it was kids home from school, partners also working from home, or the loss of everyday routines… people everywhere have had to figure out how to navigate the new realities of work.
And all the disruption and uncertainty of these unprecedented times can take a very real toll on our mental health and well-being.
Mental Health and Remote Work
When you work from home, it can be challenging to keep your work life separate from your personal life—even more so when everyone in your household is home all the time. The temptation is to check your phone, send that email and quickly go over the new plan…ALWAYS being available for your work. This can lead to burnout, exhaustion and overwhelm.
If you’re one of the fortunate ones whose company has experienced increased business during COVID-19, you may feel pressured to work even more than before, simply because your work is always there. This can also lead to burnout, mental exhaustion, anxiety and other mental health issues.
Even in “normal” circumstances, many remote workers feel isolated and lonely at times. Compound that with not just working from home, but having to stay at home and not see others due to coronavirus concerns, and loneliness can be a real drain on your feelings of wellness.
Steps for Achieving Work-Life Balance
The next few months (or years) are sure to bring about many more changes. The issue lies in creating boundaries around our work.
Here are some tips for staying productive, alleviating stress, and avoiding burnout on your work-from-home journey—not just for today, but for the long haul.
Develop a ritual in how you start your day
When you used to go to the office, you probably had a system on how you started your day: shower, breakfast, workout, commute…any combination of variables when into the ‘beginning’ of your day. Now it’s endless cups of coffee mixed with the demands of parenting and household.
Less structure means blurred lines between work and home. Start your day like you used to: Develop a habit of doing those things that set you up for your workday, just like those things that you do at the end of the day.
Create a dedicated workspace.
Your workspace can be a room, but it doesn’t have to be. It can even be a desk in the corner of a room that has all your work supplies on it. It doesn’t matter what it looks like or how big it is, as long as it’s a place you use only for work.
Having this space helps your brain get into work mode. When you sit at your desk or go into your dedicated workroom, your brain makes the switch between, “I’m relaxing at home” and “Time to get to work.”
Keep your workspace uncluttered.
Your workspace needs to be organized and tidy so you have the ability to work productively. Clutter and disorganization impacts our ability to process information quickly and effectively which will impact not only your desire to work but your productivity when you do.
Set regular hours for yourself.
It can be tempting to operate on a crazy schedule, especially if you’re setting your own hours. Resist this temptation, as it makes it difficult for your brain and body to develop a routine.
Whether you choose to work on a 9-to-5 schedule, or 8-to-4, or even 12-to-8 doesn’t matter. What’s important is that you stick to it. When you do, your brain expects to work during those hours and will be more prepared to relax during your off-hours.
Get ready for the day.
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get up at a decent hour and get yourself ready for the day. In fact, doing so is an enormous help. It tells your body and brain that the day is starting and it’s time to get to work. If you attempt to start your work while still in your pajamas, it blurs the line between working and relaxing and makes balance harder to achieve. Then change at the end of the day.
Get rid of distractions.
Your home is full of distractions. There’s the TV, family members, and, of course, your phone. Do your best to minimize these distractions during work hours. Retreat into your workspace so you can be alone. Turn off any technology you can, and leave your phone in the other room if possible.
Creating specific work hours will help delineate what your day looks like. If other family members are at home during your work hours, talk to them to help establish some boundaries for your work life. Let them know that you will be unavailable during the working hours you’ve created.
Take a break.
Think of it like this: if you were working in an office, you wouldn’t realistically work for eight hours straight, would you? Instead, you’d take a lunch break. You’d stop to chat with coworkers. You’d visit the water fountain, and you might even go for a quick walk outside to clear your head.
Working from home is no different. Recognize that you need short breaks to refresh yourself and return to your work with a renewed focus. We all know that it feels good to get some fresh air in the middle of a workday – it’s a wonderful way to support your wellness and you’ll feel refreshed and reconnected with the world around you.
Stop work at the end of the day.
This is the most crucial step you need to take to maintain the balance between life and work. When the appointed hour for the end of the workday arrives, it’s time to stop working. Completely. Shut down your computer, leave your workspace, and don’t return until it’s time to work again tomorrow. The switch helps your brain realize when work time is done and it’s time to relax.
Make time for yourself.
Setting aside time to take care of yourself will bring balance to your day and give you the energy and focus to tackle the next task with your mind refreshed. Prioritize yourself: exercise, hobbies, or a workday meditation practice—anything that brings you joy and peace will positively impact your ability to achieve a better work-life balance when you work from home.
Balance information and overwhelm.
The reality of the pandemic cannot be escaped. It’s on every news channel bombarding our senses with thoughts of uncertainty and anxiety. While it’s important to stay informed, we must avoid the overwhelm of the situation.
This means limiting negative social channels and turning off that news broadcast. Stay informed, but walk away when it’s too much.
Working from home has serious benefits, IF and only if we can structure boundaries around when and how we work.
The goal is to create separation between life and work…and stick to that. These boundaries not only serve to strengthen the balance between work and home, but also protect and preserve our mental health.
If you’re struggling or simply wanting change, I can help.