Before the pandemic hit, many of us had dreams of working from home. How wonderful not to have to rush to get ready, get the kids to school and sit in traffic for an hour to get to the office! We would wake up at leisure, have a cup of coffee in bed while scrolling through Instagram, bake artisanal bread every day and spend quality time with the family.
The reality, though, is quite different from the rose-tinted fantasy.
Expectations vs reality
Lockdown had most of us scrambling frantically to set up makeshift home offices while taking on the role of teacher to our children and still trying to deliver 110% at work. And while restrictions have eased and life seems to be moving back to some sort of normality, many are still working from home – and likely to be for some time.
Things will never go back to the way they were, and in many ways that is a good thing. But with the good comes the bad. While working from home undoubtedly has many benefits, it can also create various challenges. Technology means we are always accessible, fear surrounding job security compels us to work longer hours and the stress from the never-ending workday impacts on us mentally, physically and emotionally.
Work-life balance 2.0
So how do we navigate this new way of working? Read on for a few practical tips to help you find that ever-elusive work-life balance when working remotely.
Routine, routine, routine
Humans are creatures of habit; we feel safe and calm when we have regular routines. Without steady schedules, the lines between work and personal time can get blurred and cause stress and burnout. So keep to a schedule: set your alarm for the same time every day, get dressed, have a cup of coffee and get to your desk by 8. When your workday ends, close your laptop and leave your ‘office’. Sure, there might be times when you have to work late, but this should be the exception rather than the rule.
Not everyone has space for a separate office at home but find an area that you can make your own workspace, whether it’s a spare room or a corner of the lounge. Make it as quiet as you can, with as few distractions as possible. And finally, get comfortable. Sit at a desk or table rather than on the couch and get yourself a decent chair if you can – this will help you to avoid trips to the chiropractor down the line. If you don’t have an adjustable chair, use cushions to prop yourself up or a box as a footrest.
Give me a break!
Make sure you take a proper lunch break and take regular screen breaks – even 5-minute breaks allow you to concentrate on something else for a bit so that you feel more focused when you get back to your desk. Get up, have a stretch and make a cup of tea. Or better still, spend some time outside: take a walk around the block, play with the dog in the garden or just sit in the sun for a few minutes.
Working from home can be very lonely and isolating, so be sure to keep in touch with people. Rather than emailing or sending text messages to colleagues, pick up the phone or schedule video chats. Regular company or department Teams or Zoom catchups are really beneficial, even if they are just to chat about what happened over the weekend. When possible, arrange face-to-face meetings or even get together with colleagues for lunch or a drink now and again.
When you work from home, you may feel torn in 20 different directions: your boss is waiting for the sales figures, your toddler is demanding you read her favourite story right now and dishes are piling up in the sink. To preserve your sanity, setting boundaries is essential. Sit down with your family and have an open conversation. Remind them that you need to work and that there are certain times that you cannot be interrupted. Set firm work boundaries too – make it clear that you should not be contacted after hours or on weekends unless absolutely necessary.
Eat, drink and be healthy
This one is straightforward: don’t skip meals, don’t eat rubbish, drink enough water – you know the drill. Keeping a supply of healthy snacks like nuts, fruit or biltong in your kitchen will prevent you from eating a jumbo bag of chips because you have a deadline and don’t have time to make lunch. Make a bit of time for exercise every day – how about using the time you would have spent commuting to ride your bike, do an exercise class or go jogging? If you want an extra challenge, wear your step counter and get your 10 000 steps a day or do 50 push-ups every hour. Change it up and make it fun and challenging.
The future is flexible
The pandemic showed us that alternative ways of working are not just possible, but essential, and can have a positive effect on our productivity and wellbeing. The future workplace is flexible, and although the office is by no means dead, it must evolve. Many businesses have turned to the hybrid work model, which allows employees to split their time between working at the office and working from home.
In the past there was some resistance to hybrid working, with many believing that if staff were allowed to work from home, they would slack off. But it turns out that the exact opposite is true. Why? Because when given flexibility and responsibility to make their own choices, people tend to use their time far more effectively and are more productive. When employees are happier and less stressed, they do better work, which is a win-win any way you look at it.