A recent article in The Atlantic claims that America’s fever of workaholism is finally breaking for the rich, who are buying more free time. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for the average American worker. Now that remote and hybrid work are becoming the new normal, employees face new challenges along with the advantages. Chronic work stress no longer exists solely in the office. In one study, 48% of remote workers said they were struggling to disconnect from work, burning the midnight oil. This trend has led to nearly half of the workforce feeling burned out—conditions detrimental to productivity and job satisfaction.
If you work at home, you’re in your personal space, not your usual professional environment, with your personal and professional worlds under one roof. The upside is you have greater flexibility, but the downside is your personal life can bleed into your workday. Laundry needs to be done, dishes washed and the house cleaned. Plus, maybe you want to see The View since you’re always at the office when it’s on, or there’s a good movie on Netflix you’ve been longing to watch. Your pooch needs to go for a walk or you want to snuggle with him. And a family member keeps yelling questions from another room, causing you to keep losing your train of thought. Or on the flip side, maybe when you’re working from home 24/7, you find yourself toiling overtime on the job long after you would have called it quits at the office. On top of it all, cabin fever could be sneaking up on you.
10 Tips To Find Remote Work-Life Balance
For these reasons, remote workers encounter challenges not ordinarily faced in the office. So if you work from home, there are ten points to keep top of mind to maximize your work productivity and balance personal demands.
- Defined workspace. Have a space you designate as your workstation and confine it to a specific area in your home so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of other household members, and you can concentrate. Avoid checking emails, voicemails or texting in front of TV or spreading work out on the kitchen table.
- Boundaries. Establish water-tight boundaries so you’re not constantly reminded of temptations around you (there’s chocolate cake in the fridge). Treat your work space as if it’s five miles across town, and only go there when you need to work. Ask house members to consider it as such (e.g., no interruptions from another room when you’re engrossed in a project unless an emergency).
- Structure. Have a defined schedule and stick to it. Avoid sleeping-in or lingering over breakfast and get to work just as if you’re driving across town to an office—even though you might be stepping into the next room. Try to maintain the same hours you log in at the office, and avoid burning the midnight oil, so you don’t get swallowed up by the workload. Complete personal activities such as laundry or vacuuming outside of work hours. If you work with colleagues in different time zones, let them know the best times to contact you.
- Mindful eating. If you’re like many job-stressed Americans—even if you work from home—you hit the ground running, grab and gobble a Danish and gulp and slosh coffee as you scurry to your workstation. You skip lunch altogether or eat a taco, digging through piles of work. During lunch it’s important to practice mindful eating: sit down and give food your full attention, eating slowly and deliberately. You will taste your food in a different way, reset your focus and return refreshed to your workstation.
- Stress-free zone. Create a stress-free work zone of quiet and solitude where you can concentrate. If you don’t have a separate room, find an area with minimum traffic flow or a corner of a room off from the main area. Block the neighbor’s barking mutt, excess noise from household members or ambient traffic with noise cancelling head phones or ear buds.
- Intrusions. If you’re a teacher or doctor, friends don’t just pop in the office to chat or hang-out. Drop-ins can cause you to lose your focus, procrastinate or get behind on a deadline. Inform others that your job requires privacy and concentration like other professions. Let everyone know the work hours you’re unavailable and the after hours when you’re free to connect.
- Isolation. When you spend a disproportionate amount of time at home, you could be at risk for cabin fever. Take advantage of your video communications, now that you’re more isolated. If you start to feel lonely, consider setting up a Zoom support group of friends and colleagues also working at home. Make plans to meet on a regular basis and share creative ways of adjusting to the new situation. Use Facetime, Zoom, Facebook or Skype with friends and family members to stay connected to the important people in your life.
- Electronics. Make sure you have your company’s telecommuting devices—such as Zoom—hooked up and ready to go so you can stay connected with team members and you’re available for video calls and teleconferencing. Publicize the times when you’re available on your electronic devices. Beware, too, that research shows the shift from in-person to virtual meetings can lead to Zoom fatigue.
- Microbreaks. The human body wasn’t designed to stay desk bound for hours on end. Science has shown the value of “Microchillers” or taking what researchers call “Microbreaks” throughout the workday. These short breaks—five minutes or less—are effective energy management strategies as simple as stretching, walking up and down stairs, gazing out a window at nature, snacking or having a five minute mindful meditation. Get outside with gardening or walking around the block during the day. Or run errands, go to a doctor’s appointment or to a child’s parent/school conference.
- After work. After work hours, put away your electronic devices and other work tools just as you would store carpentry tools after building shelves or baking ingredients after making a cake. Keeping work reminders out of sight keeps them out of mind and helps you relax and recharge your batteries. Enjoy other areas of your home: watching a good movie, reading a book or cooking a fun meal.
A Wrap-Up On Remote Work-Life Balance
Chronic job stress doesn’t exist solely in an office environment. It’s present when you’re working remotely, too. Watch your mind and notice where it goes from moment-to-moment. Notice the difference in your concentration, energy level and productivity after a five-minute Microchiller. “Create a different space outside of work and home that’s yours only—book club, painting studio, dance class, whatever it is that you enjoy,” advises Dr. Zelana Montminy, author of 21 Days to Resilience, “Make sure it’s a place or activity that you love so much that you forget where you are, so that you’re in the flow of that moment and that it’s not related to your career or your family.” As you blend self-care, structure and remote work, you’ll prevent job stress from diminishing your personal life and find balance in the new hybrid work world.