March 20, 2020
Working remotely has been a growing trend in recent years, yet a large percentage of the world suddenly found themselves forced to figure it out, when they previously never considered it an option. While there are plenty of articles circulating on the best ways to set up your space and manage your time while working from home, one specific area easily overlooked is how to really separate the two.
Even for people who don’t consider themselves homebodies, there’s hardly a better feeling than being able to leave work after a stressful day and come home to relax. One of the things that harms remote workers the most is the loss of that “coming home” feeling. If you aren’t careful, it begins to feel as if you just never leave the office. As someone who has done a large portion of my work remotely over the last several years, I want to share some ideas on how to keep the balance between work and home life.
As tempting as it is to sleep in a few hours late, roll out of bed straight onto the couch and stay in sweats or yoga pants, I recommend not falling into this bad habit. There is no faster way to lose your sense of time and space than to quit your morning routine. Sure, maybe now you get an extra 30 minutes of sleep or a long coffee time because there’s no commute (and that’s something to be thankful for), but follow that up with your usual shower or workout and at least change your gym shorts to your “nice gym shorts.”
Speaking from experience, catching your reflection in the mirror after four days of taking-it-easy will bring your morale to a whole new low. The same goes for when your co-workers randomly decide to turn on video in your daily check-in and you have to make up some lame excuse about your camera not working. Nothing makes you feel less like a human being than not taking care of yourself and keeping a routine. Don’t quit it.
The same is true for your evening routine. Don’t stay up four hours past your usual weeknight bedtime just because there’s nothing to get up early for. There is: you have to work. Thinking of remote work as not-really-work is the first step in a slippery slope. You still have to get a good night’s rest. If you usually do yoga or take your dogs for a walk after dinner, keep it up. Even if you consider yourself a spontaneous person, humans need some type of routine to stay sane. Don’t quit it.
This is obviously a little difficult for people who never expected to work from home because you probably don’t have a space set up for it. Take a few hours — not during the workday(more on that next) — to set up an office space. Clear off a section of the kitchen table, pull out that old desk you kept for no reason and create a space strictly for work. Set it up the same way you would your office desk. Put everything you need in that space to do your job. Don’t put anything in that space that doesn’t relate to your job. I’m not talking about funny posters and Funko figures — I’m saying don’t keep a stack of bills or that note from your kids’ school that really needs to be addressed in that space. The space should be for work and only work.
This is probably the most important and also most difficult thing to accomplish. Do not mix work and home activities. You need to “go to work” and only work. Then you need to “go home” and only be home. It’s really tempting to take a morning break and fold some laundry or plan your summer vacation during a boring Zoom meeting, but mixing activities is what causes that “coming home” feeling to quickly disappear. Obviously, even in an office, you take little breaks and check social media or text friends, but keep your remote breaks the same as you would in the office.
When you’re done with your work for the day, shut down the computer, Slack, and emails, and don’t open them back up. This is good advice even when you aren’t working remotely, but it becomes even more important when you are. Checking emails during dinner or doing a little work before bed can seem extra productive, but after a little while, everything will slide into an awful amorphous blob that causes you to forget what day and time it is, and you will feel like you never leave work and, at the same time, never leave home (like we need more of that right now). Make it feel like you leave for work every morning and come home every night.
As an aside, be sure and make it clear to family and friends that you are actually working during the day. For people who don’t or can’t work remotely, they can unknowingly assume you aren’t “really working” and ask you to run errands or meet them for a long lunch. Set boundaries and tell them they will still have to see you outside work hours. This also applies to your pet who, I assure you, will assume remote work means unlimited playtime.
One of the things that initially seems appealing about remote work is the ability to set your own work schedule. It feels like a dream come true to be able to accomplish all your home errands when you need to and then squeeze your work in when it’s convenient. Unfortunately, that does not always happen the way you imagine it might.
Working from 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. might seem like a reasonable use of your time, but you quickly lose your sense of being in the “real world.” A lot of employers won’t even allow that, simply because you need to have more overlap with your teammates. Trying to catch someone who works a totally different shift than you can be near impossible and cause a lot of unnecessary down time. Working remotely can also make you feel socially disconnected, and not working the same hours as everyone else only adds to that.
Obviously working from home does give you some flexibility. For example, taking a long lunch to handle some other business and working a little later than usual can sometimes be super helpful, but try to keep your workday somewhere within that 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. range. It allows you to be able to connect with your team and makes it easier to set time apart for “work” and “home” life.
Take 15 minutes before logging in to gear up for the day and listen to a podcast while you make a to-do list. After logging out, take 15 minutes to walk around, listen to music and have afternoon coffee. You don’t realize how much you need that little bit of time to mentally transition between work and home until it’s gone.
As I mentioned before, there’s a lot of great information out there about how to best set up your workspace, and there are a ton of fantastic tools you can use to keep teams connected. On a personal level, though, don’t forget that you still have a home and a job. Even though they may now share a space, they aren’t the same thing.