- Now that we have the work-life balance conversation going, there’s no return to the way it was
- 10 ways to Maximize The Benefits of Working From Home
The COVID-19 pandemic taught us that —yes— we actually can work from home.
Those of us who didn’t want to “return to normal,” as in, “the office,” balked. We have cut our tether to commutes, cubicles, and dependence upon a location.
Those of us who are completely unhooked from the work-outside-the-home system are realizing the health benefits. In my case, my health prevented me from “returning to normal,” thanks to COVID-19, which has left me weak for nearly six months post-virus. Now, I enjoy a more balanced workday with a schedule and workload I can control. I can “clock out” for yoga breaks & naps whenever I want. I no longer have to worry about being approved for time off in order to make my doctor’s appointments.
There’s no going back.
Many companies are realizing remote teams do work, they save money on office space, and they can hire from a more diverse talent pool. Now that location no longer matters, a funny narrative keeps popping up. It seems to me that suddenly people are concerned about work-life balance.
Where was this conversation before the pandemic?
Oh, NOW we can have it simply because more of us are working from home now? That’s what it took in order to spark the dialogue about working fewer hours, wasting less of our lives on commuting, and being generally more healthy in our work lives?
Now that we have the work-life balance conversation going, there’s no return to the way life was before March 11, 2020.
I think there’s a lot of talk now of hybrid workweeks, the advantage of being able to hire the best talent regardless of location, and how most workers don’t want to return to the office full-time or at all. If your employees don’t want to return to your brick-and-mortar location, and they have options available to them, guess what? You won’t be keeping them around.
But, let’s slow down.
I think we are getting snared into a trap with too much focus on work.
I think we need to take a holistic approach and focus on living. It’s important to understand why there’s so much preference for working from home. In my case, it’s a necessity for my health. But many in my generation (X, of course) are caring for an aging parent at the same time they are raising children. Younger parents may have childcare issues. Have you seen the cost of childcare? I can’t imagine.
This is more than just being able to fit in a workout or a hobby because we’re no longer commuting. We’re changing our whole lives. Many who have begun working from home full-time are just starting to recuperate and come up for air post-pandemic. To hear some friends tell it, it’s a luxury to even be in that position.
Why the rush back to the office?
It’s not quite “post-pandemic” for all of us.
Many of us are still dealing with the fallout. I’m still owed 13 weeks of unemployment claims, grieving the loss of friends, and trying to get well myself. Many have found themselves single parents for the first time, thanks to covid. Not a place they thought they’d be.
I’m not the only person I know who left a career because of the pandemic. One friend retired from education. One wants to leave that field. A nurse friend says she feels like she’s treading water. Friends and I agree the service we are receiving even at once-great doctors’ offices is declining.
We’ve entered a phase of “post-pandemic” tension and burnout as the media attempt to push some story of a “return to normal.”
I don’t know too many living that story.
Many are dealing with burnout from juggling working through a global crisis, isolating at home, working in customer-facing jobs, and not getting to have any fun for the past 15-16 months.
Yes, “the world is opening back up.” We can go to concerts and swimming pools again. We can travel, things are opening, we can spend time with friends, and see loved ones again.
So how do we take a look at creating work-life balance while fighting burnout in a “post-pandemic” world?
First, we need to use WFH for all it’s worth.
Even nearly two months into working from home now, I still have these a-ha moments where I realize I’m not milking my WFH status for all its worth. One day, I realized I hadn’t taken any time off yet, which my bosses encourage. So I scheduled an early ending to my Friday and made plans with a friend.
It was like a weight was lifted, like I’d cracked the code. Not only can I take time off — I don’t have to fill out a form and ask permission to do it! No one told me, “Oh, you have to get that covered.” I just made sure I finished a bunch of work Thursday so I could take off early Friday. How do you “take off early” when you work from home? You close your laptop and go live your life. It’s amazing!
How can we create a conversation about the benefits to those who work from home and/or are location-independent?
1. Focus on creating more health.
I wasn’t going to be able to get the rest I needed to heal from long-Covid by returning to the old, stressful job I had. But to be able to work from home, I had to change careers. I now have a less stressful one. My two main concerns — how many days a week I was working and having too much worked dumped on me — are now gone. I work less than half the hours I was working before.
The extra time leaves me more able to manage my health. Dealing with doctors, nurses, pharmacies, and insurance has been a huge time suck this year. I needed the time to deal with it. I now have better insurance than I did before. I didn’t work for four months this year post-COVID and I needed that time to get my health under control.
Now, I focus on a healthier low carb diet that’s somewhere between full-blown keto and paleo. I don’t stress-eat or overeat because I skipped breakfast in order to get to work on time in my exhaustion. Before covid, I was living in a state of constant exhaustion because I had two chronic health issues that hadn’t been diagnosed or treated. I’d end up hitting the convenience store at work, where I’d overpay for food that wasn’t nutritious at all.
That’s a past life now. I focus on getting good sleep and less stress. There’s more time for yoga, meditation, and Reiki. There’s time to walk each day whenever I want. I can run errands as I need. I can clock out to take the important phone calls.
Not sitting for 40 hours a week & commuting on top of that. We don’t have to be seated that much anymore! OMG, get up! Be free!
More time for health.
More time to friends & meaningful relationships, projects, rest, and hobbies.
2. Try analog hobbies.
If you’re working from home, you’re on a computer. Clocking out of work (from home) means we can return to analog hobbies. I’m talking about offline hobbies — stuff that has nothing to do with being online, or even “on.”
I’m into knitting, kid you not. I decided I need offline, analog hobbies. You can pick from things like playing an instrument, gardening, sports, fitness, or anything that gets you away from a screen. One day I drove to an actual store to buy something rather than order it online… I know right? Groundbreaking!
“Fun” doesn’t need to have anything to do with a screen. Personally, I want a return to good posture and moving around. (Thank you, yoga!)
If you’re working from home and still spending too much time in front of a screen, not getting fresh air, not taking time off, etc — then you’re wasting this opportunity.
Find hobbies that don’t involve screens.
Learn to put the phone down. Put the tablet down. Recharge by NOT touching a screen.
3. Find a boundary — separate work from home.
Working from home won’t work for you if you’re incapable of having solid boundaries. I don’t answer Slack messages in my off time. When I’m clocked out, I’m out. Things can wait until the next day when I clock back in. I say “no” when I need to.
If you can’t have a home office separate from your living space, it’s good to be even more stronger about boundaries. I do ALL my work from the same laptop and same desk. Whether it’s coaching & Reiki for Destiny Architecture; recording for a client; writing a freelance article; doing a podcast; working for my main marketing job; or working on a side project — ALL of this happens in the same spot.
You can use Zoom backgrounds or turn video off for meetings (no matter which app you use). People don’t need to see your private space when you’re interacting with them in a professional setting.
You can create a schedule for checking and responding to your variety of messages and mail. You can turn off certain notifications so you have fewer distractions. You can put your phone on airplane mode and do not disturb — or spoiler alert — you CAN turn it to this thing called “Off.” That means there’s no power to the phone at all, so it won’t ring, ping, or vibrate.
All jokes aside, some people may have needed to read that last part. It’s OK to unplug for a while! It’s healthy.
Examine your personal boundaries with work.
Can you create an office that’s separate from the rest of your home that you can close off when not “on the job?” If not, what are some other ways you divide work from home?
4. Create new habits. Lose old ones.
My most stubborn habit is my morning routine. I love to make coffee and drink it leisurely while playing a stupid game on my phone and watching a couple of favorite videos on YouTube. There’s nothing wrong with this, I decided, because it brings me joy. It isn’t necessary anymore like it used to be. This started because I had a hard time waking up in the morning. Now that I’m getting the help I needed to better my health, this “routine” is getting shorter.
Frequent daily yoga breaks are a new habit I’ve created. I also like to take a short walk after I’m “done” working for the day. Because how do you differentiate being “done with work” when you work at home?
You work from home now — what new healthy habits will this allow you to create? What habits can you let go of?
Pick a new, healthy habit. Make it simple. Tell yourself, “This week I’ll drink more water,” or “This week, I’ll take one short walk each day.”
Think outside the confines you had while working in the same office for 40 hours a week. Think of all the life-affirming things you can do now that you couldn’t do then. Now, go do them.
5. Find a way to connect with colleagues.
No one wants to work in a silo. But no one wants Crazy Suzy popping by their desk to drop a 30-minute long conversation bomb like the time and energy vampire she is. Offices have Crazy Suzies; working from home doesn’t.
So what’s the happy medium for connecting with colleagues?
Depends on what you want/need connection-wise. Do you need to catch up with coworkers? Do you need connection and friendship there? If so, how would you prefer to facilitate that?
I sent connection requests to all my coworkers via LinkedIn on my first day of work. I also turned on my video for all meetings so they’d see my face, hear my voice, and be able to match my name to all of that. Now, I randomly hit up coworkers on Slack to see how they’re doing. I’d rather have brief — but meaningful — interactions with people now.
I feel like I have more in common with this particular group of people I work with remotely. Just because we aren’t in the same location doesn’t mean we don’t have some similar goals or interests. I think I’ve found more like minds working like this. It’s been a blessing.
Find connection across the miles by getting to know your colleagues in small ways. Find commonalities and celebrate differences.
If that doesn’t work for you, focus on making better connections with friends & family where you live.
6. Indulge in projects.
What am I without a 40-hour workweek? A woman with time for projects! Fun projects! Learning projects! Help-a-friend projects! I’m creating things and collaborating! Woohoo!
And here I was last year just trying to survive… This year, I’m living a renaissance of choosing what projects I take on. I have time to work on my websites, podcasts, and network with others. I even offered my skills up for a charity I believed in one day. Yes — from home. I’m also racking up professional certifications I spend maybe 30 minutes a day on learning.
I wouldn’t have the energy to do all this if I were working outside the home — or working a 40-hour week. I feel like I’m no longer delaying life, even if I still can’t physically do all I want to do. My body may not be 100% yet, but I don’t feel like I’m missing out either.
You know that thing you’ve wanted to do when you have extra time? You can go do that now. You have time now that you work from home.
7. Track your time.
The only way to truly see how you’re spending your time is to track it. (I use Toggl, but mostly to track my RYT-200 hours). Figure out how much time you spend working. More importantly, figure out how much time you spend playing.
Schedule some “play” time into your week. If you literally have no idea what this is or how to do it, you need to figure out what “play” means to you. If you’re really that far out from it, get online & order some slime, colored pencils, and a coloring book. I’m dead serious. I actually did this. Re-orient yourself to having playtime.
Balance out your work time with play, rest, and time you dedicate to health, hobbies, family, and friends. Make a pie chart if you have to. It’s just as important to take a look at how you spend your time as it is to dissect how you spend your money.
9. Assess your burnout triggers.
You can get trapped into working too much at home just like you worked too much at work. Burnout, like remote workers, is also location independent.
When I first began freelancing in 2006, I felt like I had to build up clientele — so I would work 12-16 hours a day. I always took any fill shift that came along at the radio station where I worked. If my sister needed help at her office, I’d say yes. Of course, she’d let me bring my Boston University homework. Oh yeah — I was attending college online, too. That was on top of my freelance jobs, part-time job, and helping out occasionally with my sister…
But I didn’t know better, I was young, and I mistakenly thought working a lot of hours was what successful people do. It’s not.
Now, I have no choice but to clock out and nap sometimes. My post-COVID body forces me to rest. But before, I was bad at listening to the burnout cues.
Figure out what your burnout cues are. Don’t want for them to appear. Burnout cues can be sleeping late, feeling frustrated, impatience, or outright anger (for just a few examples). Try to avoid them by preemptively scheduling breaks, time off, and healthy activity into your day.
Avoid burnout by scheduling vacations, trips, meetups with friends, spa days, or whatever recharges you.
10. Change your work habits.
Do you know what makes working from home great? New work habits.
I get to focus now and block out distractions as I complete a task. Some days, I take a break once an hour. If I’m dragging, I’ll break more often. I don’t have to constantly, “keep my head in the game.” Breaks refresh me and help me focus better.
I also get to listen to music of my choosing as I work. I get the keep the temperature in my space the way I like it. I can switch to standing up if I’m in a meeting or training.
Since I work from home 100% now, I discovered that I don’t want my notes sitting around where I’ll see them when I’m off work. So I digitize my notes each day. I decide which are good enough to be kept and write them down in a Google Doc. I’m not trying to recreate a cluttered, junky office cubicle here at home.
How can you change your working habits to make the most of working from home?
What is different about being able to control your own space? How can you make it work even better for you?
11. Make your workspace more ergonomic.
Some companies invest in their workers’ ergonomic comfort, some don’t. I admit I don’t think as much about this as I should. Maybe later in the year I’ll think about a more ergonomic chair. For now, I often put a lumbar roll behind my back and call it done.
How can you make your workspace more comfortable?
Do you need to move your monitor? Invest in a better chair? Opt for a standing desk?
Here’s one I also admit to being weak on — travel. I can literally work from anywhere in the world, so why am I still at home? Because COVID almost killed me, that’s why.
Working while traveling is in the distant future for me, though I wish it were closer. I can hardly navigate a large store right now, let alone an airport.
Once I’m able, I’ll be working while traveling whenever I can. I no longer have a rule like, “You only get two weeks’ vacation a year!” I can have working vacations now. This will give me a chance to check out co-working spots in other cities and get some networking time in.
Make the most of your newfound freedom as a location-independent remote worker.
Where can you work from that you haven’t thought of yet?
What trip can you take and make it a working vacation just so you can go? (Mine is San Francisco, where I contribute to CJD research at UCSF).
Working from home (or from wherever you want to) isn’t a privilege, it’s a right. Smart companies are doing this now. Why waste time and effort on office space for creative knowledge workers who don’t want to be fenced in? Having a fully remote workforce opens up an entire world of talent so you can hire the best. It also means those of us who are stuck in places like Wichita, Kansas can get hired at progressive companies who value our talent. It works both ways!