The ability to work remotely had been a dream for countless Americans before the pandemic-driven shift to remote work for companies across the country. But that shift was more sudden and under much more stressful conditions than most newly remote employees likely envisioned when they dreamed of setting up shop in a home office. Moreover, many working parents were further strained by the simultaneous closure of in-person schools and had to balance work in a new environment with childcare and even education responsibilities.
These dramatic changes over the past year have significantly blurred the lines between work and home life and scrambled the well-established work/life balance of many workers.
Here are a few tips for reestablishing and maintaining a healthy (remote) work/life balance.
Designate a Home Office Space
It’s tempting to take advantage of the 0-minute commute to work by logging on to that laptop from bed or to set up a makeshift work space on the coffee table in the living room in front of the TV, but that can be a big mistake. Not only is it easier to get distracted in these casual environments, but they are also generally not places people are going to be at their most productive.
Instead, set up a home office or at least an office space if setting aside a spare room isn’t an option. This space should have ample table or desk space and allow the use of the tools relied on in the office before shifting to remote work. For example, if a dual-monitor setup was a key part of the in-office experience, make sure that can be accommodated in the home office.
Set Regular Work Hours—And Stick to Them
Another problem with working from the bed or couch is that it really starts to blur the lines between work hours and nonwork hours. It’s much easier to send one last e-mail at 9 p.m. before going to sleep or to get a head start on a report by working through a family movie night.
Work/life balance means creating boundaries, including boundaries between work and nonwork hours.
That doesn’t mean remote workers need to be working nonstop from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. There should be no guilt in taking breaks during the day as a remote worker just as one would when working in the office. Go for a 15-minute walk outside; make something healthy for lunch; or spend the lunch hour getting a quick workout in. Breaks help recharge people so they’re more productive the rest of the workday.
Consider Going Back to the Office When Safe
Most experts agree that we’re seeing the last few months of the pandemic. Soon enough, most employees who’ve been forced to work remotely are going to have the opportunity to head back to the office. Those who have had a real problem maintaining work/life balance or just being productive at home should give legitimate and objective consideration to getting back into the office when safe to do so. While remote work may have been a dream for many pre-pandemic, the reality simply isn’t for everyone.
It’s understandable that the lines between work and personal life can start to blur when working remotely from home. That’s why it’s important to establish clear temporal and spatial boundaries between the two and even consider if an eventual return to the old office makes sense.