Remember when people were concerned that remote workers wouldn’t actually be working? If anything, the last year has proven the opposite: people working from home struggle to stop working.
I recently surveyed 2,000 of my readers and the data was clear on this issue. While 68 percent of remote workers want to continue working from home all or most of the time post-pandemic, over half reported that they’ve found themselves working constantly, neglecting to take breaks and working well into the evening. This is from a survey group of CEOs, executives, managers and individual contributors—a wide range of employees.
Many remote workers enjoy working from home, even despite this pain-point. But if we can fix this overworking issue, we can get better results for ourselves, and our teams. Here are three strategies to create better and healthier boundaries for remote work.
Separate your workspace
In Atomic Habits, author James Clear writes that, when he was starting out as an entrepreneur and working from his kitchen table, he found himself falling into work even during off-hours. Once Clear moved to a home with a designated office, it was easier to unplug from work—his office was a work environment, and the rest of the home was not.
Remote workers can surely relate, especially those working out of cramped apartments. If you work in your living space, carrying your laptop to the sofa, the kitchen table, even to your bedroom to answer emails before bed, you will find yourself working more. You’ll also feel as though you are living at the office, rather than working from home.
It helps to physically separate your workspace. Even if you don’t have a home office, you can designate a desk in the corner of your living room as a workspace, or even reserve an “office chair” at your kitchen table that is exclusively for work. Then, commit to only working in that space if at all possible—don’t take a Zoom call in the armchair where you relax, or skim email in bed. This will help you avoid falling into work during off-hours, and help you step out of “work mode” when your workday ends.
Set a schedule…and stick to it
We all have demands on our time, especially as we climb the professional ladder. In remote work, virtual meetings and digital communications are especially prevalent.
It’s crucial to structure the time we can control by setting a clear, consistent schedule with clear start and stop times for our day, similar to how an office might have standard hours for employees.
If you jump on email when before have gotten out of bed, it’s like you stepped into the office in your PJ’s. If you don’t pick a time to “leave work,” you’ll keep tackling your to-do list until you’ve worked past 9pm. The only way to avoid these traps is to set boundaries for yourself.
Before your turn on your phone or computer in the morning, start with a consistent morning routine that gets you started on the right foot. Then, decide when you’ll end your workday and stick to it. You can even create a virtual commute to unwind, rather than jumping right from work into dinner. These small changes will help you avoid overworking.
A final way to avoid overworking, and the burnout it causes, is to prioritize your well-being. We often feel an urge to go above and beyond the call of duty by working more, but doing this at the expense of our health will only hurt us in the long run. We must intentionally plan self-care to avoid this.
A great start is prioritizing sleep. The tips described above will help by preventing you from bringing work to bed, but it also helps to set a bedtime for yourself and commit to putting electronics away for 30 to 60 minutes before that set time.
It’s also helpful to prioritize exercise. Setting a 30-to-60-minute exercise break is a great way to break up your workday. You don’t have to train for a marathon or become a bodybuilder—even a brisk walk or a yoga video during your lunch break can do wonders for your focus and energy.
You may even want to ask a colleague to help you in this area. Consider asking a teammate to be an accountability partner who helps you remember to make time for wellness each day. Often, these partnerships are what keep us on track.
Remote work offers many rewards, and we can reap those benefits even more if we prevent work from spilling into our home life. These strategies won’t just make you happier and more effective, but they will set a good example for the people you lead as well.
- Robert Glazer, author of How To Thrive in the Virtual Workplace