There was a joke that went viral some weeks ago where people who have had to transition to remote work say that this is not ‘working at home’ but ‘living at work.’
The point was to highlight the imbalance that remote work has created in their personal lives. For many of them, there is no longer a defined time when the workday ends (or starts). In a study by Jericho Chambers, 31% of respondents had a slightly worse work-life balance post-COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought discussions about work-life balance to the fore. One of the major challenges that full-time workers have faced transitioning to remote work is maintaining a work-life balance. Responsibilities from work (with deadlines) show up while you are making breakfast or spending nighttime with family.
The problems for remote workers
The unique problem for remote workers is that they work and live at home. For office workers, there is an open time and a close time. The office opens at 9 am and closes at 5 pm.
In that kind of structure, it seems easier (ceteris paribus) to achieve a work-life balance. It sounds simple- do everything you need to do by 5 pm, go home and do other things (except in extreme circumstances when you have to spend some hours on work-related responsibilities).
Of course, it is not that easy. However, office workers have a structure they can use.
Remote workers (generally) do not have that structure; they have to create it. Creating such an arrangement is often a difficult task for many remote workers. In those cases, remote work (that should improve work-life balance) can worsen work-life balance.
However, this need not be the case. I believe strongly that remote work offers the best possibilities for work-life balance; it only takes some useful strategies.
Create schedule and stick to it
A daily schedule is a map of how you will fit your daily work hours into your day. For example, should Freelancer A work 9 am to 1 pm and stop for the day? Alternatively, should he work for two hours in the morning and another two hours in the evening? Should he leave everything until night?
This is where your unique situation will factor into your decision. Below are some of the factors you should consider:
- When do I work best: Are you a morning, afternoon, evening, or night person? Commit all or the large part of your work hours to your most productive time of the day.
- What portion of my days do I lack control over: For remote employees, you may not have control over the meeting times. Therefore, those will be fixed in your schedule regardless of which part of the day the call comes in.
- What activities in my day are tied to particular hours: An example is a scheduled time for breakfast or dinner that you cannot modify. Your morning jogging time may be non-negotiable. Perhaps the first two hours from when your children get back home from school are fixed for family time. Identify those activities that are set in stone (so to say).
- Do I perform better working at a stretch or breaking it up: Some people (like me) work better doing all the work at a go rather than breaking them up. Identify what works best for you.
Once you have thought about these questions, you are ready to design your work schedule.
When you design your schedule, ensure you stick with it for maximum results.
Have a closed and dedicated workspace
Your workspace can make or break your efforts to achieve work-life balance.
The best way you can ensure that your work hours will not spill over to other essential times in your day is to avoid distraction during the work hours. Works you do not finish during your work hours will spill to dinner preparation. Work you do not finish during dinner preparation will spill to family time.
Once there is slack, you will have to sacrifice something else to make up.
One way to avoid those distractions is to have a dedicated workspace that no one can access without your permission. It is best if your workspace is a separate room in your house where there is a door. The locked door is a reminder to everyone that mummy (or daddy) is busy.
However, if your workspace is just a corner in the living room, distractions can easily set in.
When setting up your workspace, ensure you have ergonomic chairs, a smart desk, a filing cabinet, and any of these seven most important features for your home office. When your workspace is comfortable, you have fewer reasons to leave during work hours.
The more you stay faithful to your work schedule, the more you achieve a work-life balance; a closed and dedicated (and comfortable) workspace will help you achieve that.
Eliminate digital distractions
The other types of distractions are digital – notifications from social media and e-mail. Eliminating these digital distractions will help you stay focused, accomplish your goals during work hours, and achieve work-life balance.
How do you eliminate digital distractions? Here are five steps to eliminating digital distractions from Hilda Munjuri:
- Become self-aware: Identify the digital channels that tempt you.
- Turn off your notifications: When you disable notifications from your social media apps, you have won 50% of the battle.
- Take technology breaks: Technology breaks help overcome your addiction to social media.
- Use 'do not disturb' mode: The 'do not disturb' mode turns off all notifications and helps you concentrate on the task.
- Less is more: You do not need to be on every social media platform. The less, the better.
Create routines and rhythms
When you do not create a concrete plan to do something, the chances are you won’t do it.
A work-life balance does not end with creating a schedule for your work hours and saving the time you would have spent working without that schedule.
You also need a plan and a schedule for the other activities that are important to your life. If the only thing you plan is work, you will still not be happy. Do not save time from your job only to waste it in idleness and restlessness because you don't have a plan.
You need to ask why you want a work-life balance. Do you need more time with your family and friends? Then you need to plan for it. Do you need to pay more attention to your health? Create a plan for it.
Routines and rhythms help us build habits that lead to success and happiness in every area of life.
Work-life balance is a scarce commodity in our modern world. The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated this problem. While learning to integrate various aspects of our lives is essential, it is not a replacement for work-life balance.
Remote workers have unique opportunities (and problems) to achieve work-life balance. By planning ahead, creating a schedule, limiting non-digital and digital distractions, saying no to some requests, and creating routines and rhythms, remote workers will achieve a better work-life balance.
Which of these tips and strategies do you plan to implement? Let us know in the comments.
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