A generation ago, those who worked from home were the envy of the office. The ability to avoid that nasty commute and work on their own hours from the comfort of their own living space seemed like a dream that was too good to be true for most employees. Fast forward to the modern day and remote work has become commonplace, with employers even recognizing it as the preferable option in many cases. Some offices are even scrapping the need for a physical space for entire departments or even their operation as a whole, opting instead to move their collaborative efforts onto the cloud.
While the dream of working from home has become a common reality, that doesn’t mean it lacks challenges. Perhaps the most naggingly consistent concern for most remote office workers is how to know when the workday is done. In fact, it’s estimated that remote employees end up working an average of four more hours per day than their office-based coworkers, accomplishing 13% more work in the process.
While it’s always been hard for a significant portion of the workforce to “leave work at the office,” the truth is, the issue becomes more poignant when you bring work right into your home with you on a regular basis. Here are a few tips and tricks to help remote employees maintain that all-important work-life balance when the two elements occupy the same space.
Own That Flexible Schedule
While the concepts of a “flexible schedule” can be alluring, often the promise of that added elasticity to the workday can actually turn out to be a bit of a two-edged sword. There’s no doubt that it enables an employee to save money and commuting time as well as give the ability to work during the hours that suit them best. However, remote work can also often have a controlling effect over an employee’s schedule, permeating every aspect of their life, rain or shine, day or night, weeks, weekends, and even holidays.
That’s why it’s important to make a conscious effort to own one’s schedule. Remote employees should take the time to set “office hours” during which they focus on work. While they don’t have to be hard and fast boundaries, having a period of time that is set aside to get work done enables a remote worker to focus on work during certain periods knowing that they have a set time to stop.
While it’s still important to incorporate things like breaks — more on that further down — it’s equally important to avoid things like chores or other distractions during that sacred work time. In addition, remote employees should make sure partners, children, family, and friends who share their space know when they’re working in order to minimize disruptions. Then, when the workday is done, they should stop working as much as possible and focus on everything else around them.
In addition to setting office hours, it can be immensely beneficial for an employee or freelancer working from home to organize their personal space with an eye towards facilitating both work and life. For instance, even within the workday, it’s important to limit communications. When someone doesn’t work in an office, it can be easy for coworkers to expect them to be continually available over the phone, email, etc. However, setting up a time to communicate, answer emails, and so on can allow one to focus on getting other work done during the rest of their work time. In addition, setting goals for the workday can be an excellent way to organize their time and give themselves a sense of direction that can directly boost productivity.
When it comes to the actual physical space one works in, organization is key. Apart from keeping a clean, neat space to help focus, organization master Marie Kondo points out that it can also be beneficial to organize things like paperwork itself. Rather than keeping papers scattered in a haphazard manner, keep them in one spot and group them into three categories:
- Anything requiring immediate attention.
- Information important for short-term projects.
- Long-term paperwork that should be stored.
Separate Your Spaces
It can be helpful to have a space specifically for work. If possible, the ideal situation is to find a dedicated office space where a remote worker can conduct business and then withdraw into the rest of the house afterward. In fact, some have even opted to create “shed offices” like this one in Seattle. The elegant little space allows the owner to physically leave their home without the need to go more than a few dozen yards from their door.
If creating a separated space like a shed office or even a room within the house isn’t going to work, there are many other ways to create a degree of separation. One option is to simply find a local coffee shop or library to retreat to when one feels the need for a change of scenery. Within a shared living space, in particular, things like hanging netting can help create a “soothing barrier” between an office and living space without having to significantly affect the atmosphere or lighting of a room, as can be the case by putting up a wall, hanging curtains, or installing a door.
Dress for the Part
It’s easy for remote employees and freelancers to take advantage of their freedom by staying in their pajamas or slipping into some sweatpants. However, that can be just as detrimental to that work-life balance as choosing to work in bed rather than finding a separate office space, as suggested above.
If an employee wants to stay productive at home, they must make sure to “dress for work” whenever they’re on the clock. That doesn’t mean they need to sit down at their home office desk in a suit and tie every morning; dressing comfortably is certainly encouraged. But making an effort to get dressed in reasonable clothes that facilitate one’s work mindset and are distinctly different than sleep or relaxation apparel can go a long way in helping a remote worker stay focused.
Give Yourself a Break
Finally, it behooves someone working from home to make sure that they give themselves regular breaks while working. As already mentioned, remote workers tend to be more productive than their office-working counterparts as it is. From there, it’s easy to get lost in a mentality of always pushing one’s self to do more, especially if they’ve wisely set office hours and feel the pressure to get work done while on the clock.
However, it’s crucial that home workers treat their remote work time the same as time in an office, where giving the brain a rest between intensive tasks isn’t just common, it’s a critical factor to productivity.
Maintaining Work-Life Balance
Remote work is a blessing, but it’s one that should be carefully curated, nonetheless. If remote employees, contractors, freelancers, etc. don’t take control of their remote work situation, they’re likely to find it controlling them before long. However, if they are proactive in looking for ways, like those suggested above, to separate their work and life, they’re likely to reap the full benefits of remote work on a regular basis.