When companies shifted to remote work, managers worried that employees were not going to be as productive. What they found, however, was the exact opposite: employees began working more.
A survey of 2,800 US workers by staffing firm Robert Half found that 45% were putting in more hours since shifting to remote, and 70% were working on weekends.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the average workday in North America, Europe and the Middle East increased 48.5 minutes following lockdown. Data from NordVPN Teams, a company that provides VPNs to businesses, suggests an even higher increase. Business VPN server traffic not only indicates that remote workers are working 2.5 hours more, but that they are also working on holidays.
Not surprisingly, many are feeling the effects of overwork. A survey of UK employees by Wildgoose showed that 74% were suffering from stress, fatigue, and burnout, while 31% felt that working from home had negatively impacted their mental health.
Why work-life balance is challenging for remote workers
While employees may be equipped with the tools for working remotely, they might not have the “skills” needed to create healthy remote work routines.
One of these crucial skills is the ability to set clear boundaries between life and work. While employees working in physical offices get to leave at the end of their shifts and transition out of work during their commute, remote workers’ work and home lives often get blurred.
Because remote work lacks the physical and temporal boundaries that are inherent to work done in physical offices, remote workers need to create boundaries artificially.
The consequences of a lack of work-life balance
Failing to set those boundaries can take a real toll on the bodies and minds of those working from home. Sitting down in front of the computer screen for too many hours every day can, at the very least, cause back and vision problems.
Ultimately, it can lead to burnout, which has a range of negative effects on physical health, including increased risk of heart attacks and coronary disease, diabetes, headaches, gastrointestinal issues, and respiratory problems, as well as on mental health, including insomnia and depression.
Work-Life Balance Tips for Remote Workers
Here are 8 simple practices employees working from home can adopt to create and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Separate work and play
Having a dedicated area for work—which could be an entire office or a corner in one’s bedroom—is essential for creating a spatial boundary between home life and work. Having one computer for work and another one for leisure (with no work apps installed) also helps remote employees disconnect after work hours and on weekends.
Create a work schedule
Although some remote jobs provide the flexibility to work at any time, not having a fixed work schedule can lead to unfocused, scattered work that is done haphazardly throughout the day. Having a set time to start work, have lunch, and end the work shift is also key for work-life balance.
Have a start-of-the-workday routine
Employees in physical offices have morning routines that include getting dressed for and commuting to work. At the office, they often get a cup of coffee and chat with their teammates before getting to work. Remote employees can, and should, create start-of-the-workday routines so that they feel grounded before tackling the day’s tasks. Taking 15-20 minutes to get one’s bearings before setting one’s Slack status to Active, checking emails etc. is highly recommended.
Have a “must-do” list
Having a list of things to accomplish in a day can help remote workers stay focused and use their time productively so that they can dedicate time to things other than work. However, it’s important that the day’s list contains only the essential things that need to be done on that day—in other words, no more than 3-5 items.
Our bodies weren’t made to sit for hours in front of the computer. Our eyes need rest from the glare of screens, and we need to stretch and move to counter the effects of prolonged sitting. Our brains aren’t wired for uninterrupted focus, either: it’s best to take a break every 50 minutes or so. Better than rely on memory to remember to take breaks is to set a timer for work sessions and take breaks between them. By taking regular breaks, employees working from home become less stressed and more productive.
Have an end-of-the-workday routine
Likewise, it helps to have a routine for transitioning out of one’s workday. An end-of-shift ritual helps remote workers inform their minds and their bodies that they’re done with work for the day. This ritual should include leaving the dedicated work area, shutting down the work computer, and can also include activities that help decompress, such as changing out of work clothes and into comfortable clothes, going for a walk, and more.
Make after-work plans
Committing to an in-person or virtual activity after work, such as a fitness class or a catch-up call with a friend, is an easy way to stick to one’s work schedule. It’s important to plan and schedule these activities in advance and make a point of not cancelling them to guarantee moments of leisure, exercise, and being in touch with friends and family.
Make weekend plans
Weekends are an opportunity to completely disconnect from work and focus on things that are just as important, such as spending time with friends and family and exploring hobbies and interests. Making weekend plans in advance can help remote workers make the most out of their free time while resisting the urge to catch up on work when they should be resting.
Set clear boundaries
Becoming more conscious of how they want to spend their time helps remote employees set better boundaries. Examples of setting boundaries include making clients or bosses aware of one’s work schedule and when and how one can be reached as well as saying no to work when one is already overburdened or when the work interferes with time one has already allocated to non-work activities, e.g. a weekend camping trip.
Working from home does not have to mean working more
Remote employees are working longer, having more meetings, and having to keep up with more communication channels. The problem isn’t remote work, but an inability to set boundaries between work and personal life. By following the tips above, employees working from home can learn to disconnect from work and improve their well-being.
For more remote work tips, check out:
- Employee Burnout: What Employers Can Do to Prevent It
- Getting Things Done in a Post-Slack World
- Sometimes It’s Great to Disconnect from Work. Here’s Why