It seems like the past eight months have redefined “work-life balance.”
Remember those days when we worried about how much time we spent at the office? It feels like a million years ago. Up until March, a mere 3.6 percent of employed adults worked 20 or more hours per week at home. Since COVID-19, however, more than half of all American workers have transitioned to working remotely.
Fortunately, for the most part, the experiment has been a resounding success. Surveys indicate that more than three-quarters of employees want to continue working from home to some extent when the pandemic subsides, and 65 percent say they have actually been more productive not being in the office.
At first glance, the new work-from-home culture seemingly has solved one of the biggest problems cited by American workers: spending too much time at the office, away from family. Yet this has also introduced countless new problems, especially with millions of children still unable to attend in-person classes at school. What we used to call work life balance is now something like work–childcare–life balance. Prior to the pandemic, working from home was a very intentional exercise. You could prepare for it by setting up a quiet home office with limited distractions and child care scheduled well in advance. But now we’re conducting Zoom meetings from crowded living rooms, bedrooms, garages—or wherever the Wi-Fi signal is strongest.
All of this means that while working from home might seem to be more relaxing, it can also be every bit as stressful as schlepping to the office—if not more so. Indeed, one recent survey of 7,000 professionals found that 73% of workers feel burned out, compared to 61% before the pandemic, with a large portion blaming a lack of separation between work and life. The good news is that we’re all in this together, and slowly but surely we’re adapting to the new normal. Here are some tips to help maintain that precious work-life balance when traditional barriers have all but crumbled.
Top 5 Tips To Maintain Work-Life Balance
- Create a Schedule and Set Boundaries
You wake up in the morning, reach for your phone, and respond to your first email of the day. You pour a cup of coffee while responding to your boss’s slack. You organize a Zoom conference while making breakfast for the family. You speak on the phone with a client while supervising the kids’ virtual learning. At what point does the work day actually begin? When does it end?
One of the biggest problems with working remotely is the blurred boundary between home life and work life. This wasn’t a problem previously since you arrived at the office in the morning and left in the afternoon. This created physical and psychological boundaries for work time. These days, however, creating such distinctions takes a bit more effort. You must establish a schedule for when and where you work. Try to contain all of your work hours to your dedicated home office, whatever form it takes. Create a special routine for “logging off” from your day, so you aren’t tempted to check work emails when you are with the kids or making dinner. Establishing these firm boundaries can also make it easier for your coworkers to know when (and when not) to get in touch with you.
- Take Breaks
In the office, we turned breaks into rituals. Taking the long way to the printer to get some extra steps in. Walking across the building to chat with a coworker instead of calling her on the phone. Taking the steps instead of the elevator. Walking downstairs to buy your salad. All of these rituals represented natural breaking points that allowed us to leave our workstations to reflect and regroup between tasks.
It’s not as easy when working from home. The bathroom is across the hall. The kitchen is two doors down. Your coworker’s desk is thirty miles away. Taking breaks has to be more intentional nowadays. Whenever you can, take a ten or fifteen-minute walk to decompress. Spend some time chatting with a family member or roommate. Take the dog for a walk.
- Reimagine the Water Cooler
The office wasn’t just about getting work done. It was a place to socialize, to make new friends, and to enjoy basic human interaction. Many find they are more productive while working remotely, but not even the most tricked-out home office can replace the comradery found in a traditional conference room.
We might not be able to hang out with our coworkers in person, but even a simple after-work Zoom call can work wonders for morale. Schedule some time each week to discuss that latest Netflix show, book, or football game—anything non-work related to help recreate the proverbial water cooler. Remember, it’s all about nurturing social support to help you decompress and build lasting relationships.
- Get Those Steps In
Before the pandemic, the average American walked some 5,800 steps per day. For many folks, commuting and roaming office corridors represented a large chunk of their daily movement. Without a commute, your step count can drop off a cliff—which means bad things for your physical and psychological wellbeing.
Whenever you can, take a stroll outside to enjoy the great outdoors. Studies show that simply breathing fresh can lead to better decision-making and higher information processing. So do your body and mind a favor by trying to walk for at least thirty minutes every day, which will also help keep work/life balance in harmony.
- Don’t Neglect That Vacation Time
Burnout is every bit as likely while working remotely. Everyone needs some extended time off, so don’t forget to use your vacation time. Yes, it’s still there, even though you’re working from home! One study found that Americans put in nearly three more hours per day working from home, so if you aren’t careful, exhaustion can sneak up on you fast.
You’ve earned that vacation time, so don’t be afraid to use it—even if you spend it at home sleeping! Tilt that work life balance needle towards some relaxation time. Your body and brain need time to recharge, and after such a stressful year, you deserve some quality time to yourself.
It’s a brave new world out there with all sorts of new challenges. Working from home can be a fulfilling experience that positively redefines that elusive work life balance. But without a little planning and intention, you risk burning out from the comfort of your own home. So remember, be sure to set boundaries, take frequent breaks, maintain your social life, keep up an exercise routine, and use your vacation time!