Are you working from home—or are you living at work? The shift to remote working is celebrated as the new era of business, but it can sometimes feel like you’re navigating unchartered territory.
At the heart of this revolution is the new breed of worker, confronting questions on how to stay healthy, safe, and productive in the face of rapid change. Disruption in their everyday lives has left some experiencing overwork and grappling with increased physical, emotional, and mental stress levels.
How does one engage in work while juggling responsibilities in the domestic space? How does one delineate between the professional and the personal? Without a proper distinction between the two, one area will begin to dominate the other. But there are practical ways that workers can set healthy boundaries while working from home.
From setting up your home office to balancing your work schedule, these remote work tips are designed to help you find success in the new era of work:
Set up your own zone
It’s vital to choose a work environment where you can close the door, hunker down, and focus. If you don’t have a dedicated home office just yet, you can set up an office desk in the bedroom or living room corner. However, you may need to put up a partition and set it off from the rest of the space.
This set-up signals to other household members that you are in a different zone, speaking to important people, and may not be readily available to take on the demands of the household.
The constant need to switch between professional and house work can cause your stress levels to rise. But you can manage different responsibilities and achieve work-life balance by setting these physical boundaries in your home.
Working from just any corner of the house won’t only hamper your creativity, productivity, and efficiency at work; it can also impact both your physical and psychological health. Imagine staying in bed with a laptop overheating in your hands or with work emails pinging while you’re asleep.
Find little knick-knacks to use in your office
Select items for use or display in your home office only—not in any other area of the home—whether it’s your favorite pen, coffee mug, or office plant. By assigning these little knick-knacks for use in official tasks, you’ll be able to train your brain into associating them with the joys of work.
Then, at the end of the day, you can leave those items at your desk. When you switch off from work, use a different set for your home instead. This will trigger your brain into thinking the workday is complete and you are finally “home.”
Dress up for work!
It’s tempting to join a video call sporting the notorious WFH mullet. That is, wearing formal or business attire for your top, such as a collared shirt and blazer, and wearing something overly casual for your bottoms, such as board or short shorts.
While you can cheat your boss into thinking you are power-dressing for that all-important client meeting on Zoom, you yourself won’t ultimately be convinced that you’re giving it your best shot.
You don’t need to put on designer suits at home, but it does help to dress your best all the way through. This puts your mind in the proper headspace for staying productive and speaks volumes of your integrity and professionalism even when no one else can see how you look beyond what appears in the four corners of their computer screen. “After work” is when you can lounge around wearing casual wear.
Follow a (timeboxing) schedule
Depending on your line of work, you can either work flexibly or follow a rigid schedule when you’re at home. The important thing is to allot a specific period for one activity, not juggling too many tasks all at once. This process is called timeboxing, and it’s believed to be the antidote to the “constant interruptions [that] make us less happy and less productive,” according to the Harvard Business Review.
Tip #1: Know what you need to accomplish and for how long. You can identify which tasks are urgent and how much time they each need, then schedule that activity within a time frame.
For example, you work from home while homeschooling your children for four hours in the morning. But an important project for your company has come up. The project is set to take up a total of five hours of your workday every day for the next two weeks: two hours will be allocated to research and three hours to testing. These are your timeboxes.
Tip #2: Plot your schedule. Once you’ve determined how much time you’ll need overall, you can plot your timeboxes at periods of the day when they are least likely to clash or overlap. For instance, some will need to be done in the morning; others in the afternoon.
Tip #3: Learn when to stop. When one timebox is done, put work away until it’s time to tackle it again, then move on to your next goal. One thing to remember is that it may be difficult to pull away from one big task when your mind is at its peak productivity, so be sure to space out timeboxes with enough time in between.
Tip #4: Schedule breaks. Squeeze in smaller timeboxes that allow you to debrief. For instance, when homeschooling is done, schedule a 20-minute break with your kids before you jump into your next task.
Learn to push back
Not everything we do in a 24-hour cycle is as important as we think. When work and other commitments begin to pile up, you’ll have to re-assess which ones truly deserve your attention and give value to your life and which ones don’t. You can politely turn down extra assignments or invitations to (virtual) gatherings that you believe won’t really matter in the long run.
These decisions will be based on your values more so than on your actual daily schedule. Steer clear of activities that will drain your energy instead of recharging your mind and body. Learning how and when to say no will keep you from being exhausted.
Take a breather
To keep firing up your brain cells in the most crucial times, you’ll also need to rest. Go for a walk and take in some fresh air, even for just 10 minutes. If this isn’t possible in your set-up, make time to stand up from your desk, do some stretching, and keep your mind off work.
“Taking regular breaks helps us to be more resilient when stressors arise,” says Dr. Charlotte Fritz, an associate professor in industrial-organizational psychology at Portland State University. “They function as an intervention to help us deal with the daily grind.”
Shut down work devices when you’re done
The most powerful way to set boundaries when telecommuting is by unplugging once your shift ends. Modern technology can sometimes lead us to keep checking on work 24/7. This “always-on” hustle culture can be dangerous to your health since it causes burnout.
To cap off your day, turn off push notifications on devices where you receive up-to-the-minute FYIs from work. If anyone has an urgent matter to resolve, ask him/her to call you directly. This arrangement ensures you won’t miss a beat. However, it should be reserved only for important happenings.
The abrupt and massive shift to working from home may have caught the world by surprise, but the change will likely remain beyond the exigencies of 2020.
Organizations have done their best to put the health, safety, and productivity of staff first, but it will take concerted efforts from employers, employees, and health experts to redefine the future of work.
Jo-Anneis an Online PR Specialist for Spiralytics. She aspires to contribute something good to Digital Media someday. During her free time, Jo likes to watch films & series about anything; as long as it’s not a horror movie, she’s good. She also likes to clean all the time; no wonder Monica Geller is her favorite in Friends.