Honestly, did you think you’d still be working from home in September? Many believed we'd be back to breakroom chatter and boardroom meetings before summer. However, we’re six months in and still working out of garages, kitchens, makeshift offices, and modified closets. With COVID still looming and state mandates remaining in place, we’re coming to terms that work from home is indeed the new normal.
Even though many organizations were forced to develop a work from home strategy on the fly, many realize that working remotely is there to stay. With that being said, to stay sane, it’s worth taking another look at your work for me (WFM) strategy. If you’re finding the line between work and life getting thinner, here are some tips you can use to establish boundaries at home to maintain a healthy balance and keep your home your sanctuary.
Designate a workspace
Try finding one primary location to work from in your home. Finding a dedicated space to get your work done will keep you centralized and focused. You may not have an extra room to convert into an office, but there are other home office alternatives. It’s essential to define what is your home and what is your workspace. This will help you to separate your home life from your work life. Traditionally, your home is your relaxation space after a long day at work. If you decide to work in bed or on your couch, it can make those spaces less of a getaway to decompress when you clock out for family or personal time.
Stick to a schedule
Giving your full attention to a project, whether it's work or home-related, can be difficult considering your office is now in your home. To avoid getting off task, set aside specific times on your schedule for professional AND personal tasks. Before you start work, designate time to take care of any housekeeping items to prevent them from distracting you throughout the workday. Whether you create your schedule in a planner or google calendar, blocking out time for each task (big or small) will help keep you focused. Set time for your various priorities and stick to them as much as possible.
Give yourself a break
Pencil in ten minutes every few hours to check the news, social media, or simply breathe. Allow yourself to get distracted, but put a timer on your phone, so when the alarm chimes, you know to drop what you’re doing and go back to work. It's important to remember to take breaks if you find yourself working nonstop for an extended period. Keep your break schedule consistent, so it becomes a routine. Also, take a proper lunch! Try not to use lunch and other breaks for household chores (if possible) to maintain the line between home and work life.
Communicate with your team
Coming up with a plan for effective communication with your team while working remotely is vital to maintaining job performance. Try setting up a regular daily call, even if it’s for a few minutes to touch base, stay on track, and stay connected. If you have to step away unexpectedly or just change your availability for the day, keep your team in the loop. If you’re feeling particularly disconnected, you can even make a video call to a coworker during a designated break to have human interaction.
Set a schedule with partner/family/roommate(s)
Just as work teams host daily status updates, households should have daily or weekly morning meetings to set expectations and prepare for the day. Who has important calls and needs the space to be quiet at a specific time? What personal items need to be done throughout the day? Whose monitoring the children's E-Learning? Who is responsible for dinner or taking the dog on a walk? Plan, so it doesn’t become an unexpected burden in the middle of the day or add unneeded tension in the home.
Be patient with yourself
It’s a stressful and challenging time no matter who you are, so this is time for empathy. In an attempt to stay focused, people are trying to go on with business as usual. However, we are living through a pandemic, so be a little more patient with yourself. It is ok to prioritize your personal lives and wellbeing during this state of emergency. Slow down a little bit and forgive yourself if you feel like you are coming up short. This is uncharted territory that your CEO, manager, and coworkers are learning to navigate right along with you.
If you don’t establish clear boundaries when you work from home, you’ll find yourself working and accessible 24/7. Of course, there are times when you unexpectedly have to work overtime to meet a deadline, but this shouldn't be an everyday occurrence. When you’re off, you should be OFF. If you’re using your laptop in the morning at your kitchen table, put it out of sight in the evening, this will prevent the temptation to scan your work emails or respond to chats while baking your chicken. Make every effort to be present in your home life after you’ve logged off.
Get out the house
Another obstacle to work-life balance is the feeling of being "trapped" in your own home. If you don't have any urgent errands to run, you could find yourself stuck at home for days at a time. Working from home during a pandemic like COVID-19 can be incredibly isolating. Instead of having your morning coffee inside, enjoy your cup on your balcony or porch. Take in the fresh air. If you had to get up at 6 a.m. for your commute, consider using that time to do something you never had time to do before, like taking a morning stroll.
Even if you implement these tips, you may still fall short. This is a challenging and unprecedented time. Turn to any company-sponsored employee assistance programs to help manage stress, whether financial, physical, mental or otherwise. Speak up about what isn’t working. You can’t assume that leadership knows what you're going through. Your feedback on making things better for you can benefit other employees who may be in the same boat. There’s probably a flock of other people who echo your sentiment.