Is it possible to enjoy the flexibility of remote working and strike a healthy work-life balance?
The recent shift to remote working has several up-sides for employees. It eliminates commute time, enables greater flexibility and autonomy, and can boost wellbeing, productivity, and motivation.
At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, 32% of Australians were working remotely, and research suggests that a lot of employees want things to stay this way. A recent PwC study, for example, found that 90% of Australians want to continue working from home in some capacity post-pandemic.
If remote working is here to stay, it’s important to consider the downsides. To assume the positives of working from home always correlate with an improved work-life balance is to ignore three crucial factors:
Always-on: It’s harder to separate work life from home life, which can lead to an “always-on” workplace culture and employee burnout.
Loneliness: In the 2020 State of Remote Work report, 20% of employees named loneliness as their biggest struggle with working remotely. Workplace isolation can have a significant impact on wellbeing and mental health.
Home environments: Employees’ individual circumstances can make it very difficult to work from home effectively. Noisy house-shares, juggling parenting and work, and limited space are all likely to impact employee productivity.
If you are working remotely and struggling with some of these challenges, here are five tips to help redress your work-life balance.
5 tips for getting work-life balance right when working remotely
1. Set boundaries
Achieving a healthy work-life balance when working remotely requires you to establish clear boundaries.
The flexibility that comes with remote working is great, but only if everyone understands and respects your specific requirements. Perhaps you need to block out 45 minutes in your calendar at 3 pm every afternoon to collect the kids from school. You might have scheduled a lunchtime walk with a friend to ensure you get out of the house at least once a day. Or you might enjoy working from your local coffee shop two mornings each week.
Whatever the circumstances, be sure to communicate openly and clearly with your manager and teammates. It’s important to manage their expectations and find ways to make your routine work alongside theirs. In doing so, you’re far less likely to be overwhelmed with unfeasible demands at times that simply don’t work for you.
2. Address Zoom fatigue
Zoom fatigue refers to the tiredness, anxiety or burnout experienced as a result of overusing virtual communication platforms.
Symptoms arise due to constant close-up eye contact, reduced mobility, the strain of watching yourself on video, and increased cognitive demands. Your brain has to work harder to follow and engage with conversations and pick up on your colleagues’ non-verbal cues. At the same time, you’re exerting additional effort to ensure your viewpoint is clearly communicated.
After a day of back-to-back video meetings, you might feel headachy, irritable, distant, and exhausted, but it is possible to reduce the impact of Zoom fatigue. Try:
Turning off “self-view” to avoid seeing yourself for hours on end.
Taking regular breaks, especially if meetings are longer than 30 minutes.
Cancelling meetings if/when they’re not essential.
Not multitasking during meetings.
Engaging in some kind of physical activity between meetings.
Switching to phone calls, instead of video calls, when possible.
3. Delineate work time and personal time
It’s easy to slip into a chaotic routine when you work from home. For starters, without a commute to bookend your day, it’s harder to decipher when your morning routine ends and the working day begins. Before you know it, you’re replying to emails at 6 am, answering calls from needy colleagues in the middle of your lunch break, and adding the finishing touches to a presentation while you get your evening fix of reality television.
You might feel like you’re functioning just fine this way, but it means you’re never switching off or fully unwinding.
You’ll probably notice that your productivity improves if you:
Start and finish work on time, and at the same time, every day.
Take some time for yourself every morning to make breakfast, read a book, go for a walk, or listen to a podcast.
Don’t answer emails from your bed.
Give your day some structure with to-do lists, set working hours, and scheduled breaks.
Shut down your laptop and turn off email notifications on your phone at the end of each day.
4. Take regular breaks
In workplaces, the day is peppered with dozens of social interactions – whether it’s water cooler chats, staff lunches, strolling to the local coffee shop, Friday happy hour drinks, or pre-meeting team catch-ups.
But these experiences won’t occur organically when you work from home, which means you’ll have to make them happen by scheduling regular breaks throughout the day and really making the most of them. This can help break up the monotony of waking up in the same place you’re going to spend the entire day, evening, and following night.
Use the free time you’ve allocated to yourself to start a new hobby, take an exercise class, join a sports team, try a new recipe, go for a walk, read your book, or call your mum.
5. Establish a home office space
Whether it’s a purpose-built home office, your kitchen countertop, or a corner of the dining room table, make sure you establish a dedicated work area. Not only will this serve to reduce distractions and procrastination, but it’s also the most tangible way of separating your work life from your home life.
When you’re sitting in your home office space, commit to focussing solely on work. That means no checking your social media accounts, no eating at your desk, and no watching YouTube. When you take a break or finish work for the day, you’ll find it easier to leave behind the stresses and pressures of your job and be present in your personal life.