Up until a few months ago, just 3.6% of employed Americans worked from home 20 or more hours a week. With the onset of COVID-19, though, millions more had to abruptly shift to working remotely. Over the last several months, more than half of all American workers have transitioned to working from home.
Fortunately, the work-from-home “experiment” has been overwhelmingly successful, with 77% of employees wanting to continue remote work post-pandemic, and 65% saying their productivity has increased since working from home.
That’s all well and good, but what about your wellness when working from home? With so many people unexpectedly combining their work and home lives more than ever before, how is their emotional and mental health faring?
We’re giving some ideas for how to create better work-life balance while working from home.
Adjusting to the New Normal
Before the pandemic, remote work was largely intentional, and people who chose it generally did so knowing it would fit well into their lives. Maybe they already had home offices organized and set up in quiet spaces with limited distractions, child care lined up for their children, and older kids safely accounted for at school. After all, when you choose a job that allows you to work from home, you can build remote work around the rest of your life—and vice versa.
However, that wasn’t the case for the millions of people working remotely for the first time due to the coronavirus. For them, setting up the perfect work-from-home scenario just wasn’t an option.
Even workers who were used to remote work suddenly had to contend with all kinds of new circumstances. Whether it was kids home from school (who either needed help with online classes or just to be kept occupied), partners also working from home, or the loss of everyday routines, people everywhere have had to figure out how to navigate the new realities of work.
Add to that the potential isolation of not physically seeing coworkers, friends, and family—along with the flurry of current events—and anxiety and stress can build up before you know it.
All the disruption and uncertainty of these unprecedented times can take a very real toll on your mental health and well-being.
Mental Health and Remote Work
In one survey, 60% of employees report an improved work-life balance during the pandemic. But, despite enjoying extra time with family and not having to deal with commuting and other downsides of in-office work, some people are feeling the burn when it comes to working from home during the pandemic.
A recent survey of 7,000 professionals found that 73% of workers are burned out (compared to 61% pre-pandemic), and 27% report that it’s due to no separation between work and life. When you work from home, it can be challenging to keep your work life separate from your personal life—even more so when everyone in your household is home all the time.
And if you’re one of the fortunate ones whose company has experienced increased business during COVID-19, you may feel pressured to work even more than you would in an office, simply because your work is always there. This can lead to employee burnout, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Even in “normal” circumstances, 20% of remote workers report feeling isolated and lonely at times. Compound that with not just working from home, but having to stay at home and not see others due to coronavirus concerns, and loneliness can be a real drain on your feelings of wellness.
So, where do we go from here? Remote work is here to stay for quite a while—permanently for some companies. You still want to do a good job and be productive, but you also need to take care of yourself all along the way.
8 Steps for Achieving Work-Life Balance and Productivity
The next few months (or years) are sure to bring about many more changes. From hybrid online/in-person school schedules and blended offices to potential second waves of shutdowns, finding balance should be part of everyone’s long-term wellness strategy.
Here are some tips for staying productive, alleviating stress, and avoiding burnout on your work-from-home journey—not just for today, but for the long haul.
1. Create a Schedule and Set Boundaries
Even if your employer doesn’t follow a rigid schedule, creating (and sticking to) a regular schedule can help you maintain productivity and ease some of the stress that comes from working all the time. Set your work hours and log off at the end of your scheduled workday so you can focus on other things.
When your work hours have a beginning and an end, you can more easily set boundaries with your family, coworkers, and manager.
2. Give Yourself Breaks
Once people get the hang of working from home, they often move from task to task and lose track of time, forgetting to take breaks like they would in an office. Going from item to item with no time to reflect and regroup doesn’t allow your body or brain to work optimally. Remember to give yourself a little space between outputs.
Spend ten minutes reflecting on a meeting, take a 15-minute break with your family or a roommate, or go for a quick walk around the block. And don’t be tempted to look at your phone or answer an email during this time. You’ll feel refreshed and reconnected with the world around you.
3. Recreate the Watercooler
Schedule 10 minutes per day to chat with coworkers (via Slack, Zoom, or any other real-time communication tool) about non-work stuff.
Whether you’re talking about your latest favorite streaming show or trading healthy meal recipes, the social support and connection can help you decompress and build relationships.
4. Get Fresh Air
We all know that it feels good to get some fresh air in the middle of a workday, but did you know that it can also improve your productivity? Studies show that breathing fresh air leads to better decision making, higher test scores, and improved information processing—and it’s a wonderful way to support your wellness.
It’s easy to stay cooped up in your home office all day, but make sure to get outside for some fresh air (or open a window!) whenever you can.
5. Make Time for Yourself
Setting aside time to take care of yourself will bring balance to your day and give you the energy and focus to tackle the next task with your mind refreshed. Prioritize exercise, hobbies, or a workday meditation practice—anything that brings you joy and peace will positively impact your ability to achieve better work-life balance when you work from home.
6. Take Time Off
Even if COVID-19 derailed your summer vacation plans, it’s important to still take time off during the pandemic to recharge your batteries. On average, people are working about three hours more per day when working from home. This makes it even more important to check out for a day or two when you can to give your brain a rest. You’ll come back from your time off feeling refreshed and ready to take on work challenges.
7. Keep News to a Minimum
It’s good to stay informed on the current state of things, but try not to make each of your daily “inputs” a news update. Continuous exposure to negative news can elevate your stress and anxiety, and take your mind out of the game when you try to focus on your job.
8. Ask for Support
There may be times when taking breaks and having the best laid plans to take care of yourself are still not enough. It’s normal to be nervous about the state of things right now—like your family, your health, and the economy. Just remember that your mental health is important, too. Don’t be afraid to reach out to a family member, friend, colleague, human resources team, or an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) for support and resources.
Make Work-Life Balance a Priority While Working From Home
Remote work has its fair share of (really great) benefits, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be struggles as you adjust to this new way of working. Even if you’ve been working remotely for years, the added pressures of having kids home and a full household can make working from home more challenging than before.
Keeping your work-life balance top of mind as you continue to contribute meaningfully and productively to your job combines the best of both worlds. FlexJobs has advice and resources to help you navigate the world of remote work, whether you’re brand new to the journey or are a work-from-home pro. And, if you’re looking to work from home permanently, we can help! Explorer the platform and learn how.
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