Personal Development: Maintaining Boundaries And Balance While Working Remotely
While working remotely isn’t for everyone, it does come with some significant perks for both employers and employees. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, about half of American workers were working from home in the month of April, which is more than double the 4.3 million people who worked from home (at least occasionally) in 2017-18. Even before the pandemic, the number of people who work from home increased by 140 percent over the past 15 years. Many sources are speculating that this trend will continue at an accelerated rate even after social distancing policies are set aside.
For those employers on the fence, companies that allow remote working report a 25-percent lower turnover rate than those that don’t, and 76 percent of workers would be more willing to stay with their current employer if they could work flexible hours. A significant majority (69 percent) of Millennials, who comprise half of the American workforce, would give up other work benefits for a more flexible working space. The cherry on top is that telecommuting has been shown to save in operating costs. For example, in 2015, employers with home-based workers saved a total of $44 billion nationwide, according to a study by Global Workplace Analytics.
Workers who telecommute for just half their workdays can save an average of 11 days per year in travel time alone—an added bonus. That’s 264 hours, or a little over an hour per workday. Current telecommuters report having more time to devote to their children, hobbies, physical health and mental wellbeing. Not only is this great for the employee’s state of mind, but it also helps the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. We saw evidence of this early in the pandemic crisis response, with cleaner air in several major cities across the globe.
For all the perks that come with working remotely, the biggest difficulty reported amongst telecommuters is finding a balance between work and home life. When your office is just a few feet away, it can be difficult to unplug. Here are some tips on how to draw and maintain the line between work and home.
Most importantly, establish a space to work. Conditioning yourself to adapt to specific surroundings that signify it’s time to work will help fill the absence of your morning commute. Try to mirror the setup that you had at your office, including the placement of your monitor and keyboard. If you were able to grab a few things off your desk before relocating at home, keep those in view for a familiar note. Clear your work area of anything that isn’t work-related, tidy it regularly and don’t use that space for anything else.
Communicate with your cohabitants and draw boundaries for your workspace and the hours you’ll be keeping. If more than one person in your household is working from home, do your best to have a distinct workspace for everyone. For example, my husband works upstairs while I’m downstairs. A coworker works in the kitchen while her kids do their schoolwork in the dining room. Give everyone advance warning for any conference calls, especially those that may involve your webcam, and invest in noise-cancelling headphones, if possible.
It’s important to establish ground rules and a routine. Discuss with your manager what hours you’re expected to keep and put together a plan of action for how to communicate when you’re working. Communicate these times to any direct reports or teammates who depend on you and stick to them as best you can.
Wake up in the mornings at the same time you would if you were going to the office, maintain your typical morning routine, and when it comes time to begin work, dress for the occasion. It’s easy to argue against this when nobody will see you (except on videoconferences), but when you look good, you feel good, and that confidence will carry over into your work. There’s also a significant benefit to your mental outlook when you change out of your pajamas—and you’ll never be caught in a hoodie for a surprise video call.
It can be tempting to skip breaks or skimp on your lunch hour when you’re in the zone. The advice varies on whether you should or shouldn’t clean house during your breaks, but in my opinion, do what works for you. I find that taking 10 minutes to vacuum downstairs or do the dishes makes me feel better than zoning out on social media for the same amount of time. If you find yourself struggling to get back to work once you’ve finished a chore, save it for after work hours instead.
Make sure to stand up and get outdoors every now and then as well. As best you can while respecting any remaining social-distancing measures, take a walk around the block, let yourself out with the dogs for a few minutes or eat lunch on your patio. Taking a minute to just be outside and breathe in the fresh air can reset your whole day. I keep the front window beside my workspace open throughout the day so I can see neighbors walking by and feel a refreshing breeze.
When you sit down to work, do your best to focus, even if the kitchen is only 10 feet away. Surprisingly, working remotely comes with fewer distractions, since your coworkers can’t be tempted to drop by your desk and lose track of time talking about their most recent Netflix binge, nor will you be tempted to eavesdrop on their phone calls.
At the same time, this is a new experience for so many of us, and there may be additional distractions or demands on your time than you would experience under the best of circumstances. Do your best to remain focused throughout the day and give your best effort to your work, but don’t begrudge yourself a few minutes spent playing referee for your children or answering a personal call. On top of being newly minted telecommuters, we’re also cut off from much of our usual contact with friends, family and coworkers, and that can be extremely taxing on your mental health. Beating yourself up over it won’t help.
Video conference meetings and chat services might not feel the same as in-person, but they’re everyone’s new normal for now. Get comfortable with whichever service provider your company is using and make an extra effort to touch base individually with your team as often as you can. It may seem like overkill to reach out daily but remember that’s how often you would see them in the office. For keeping in touch with your industry peers, there’s PromoConnect, Facebook groups, virtual trade shows, video conference happy hours and more.
At the end of the workday, make sure to actually end your day. Turn off any chat services, put away the laptop, turn off email notifications and set work aside as best you can once you leave your workspace. Dedicate some extra time after work to connecting with friends and family instead of coworkers. Committing regular time to personal phone and video calls will help combat the loneliness of working from home as well.
Overall, it’s important to remember that everyone is dealing with a unique situation. Give yourself time to adjust and adapt. Stay positive and take things one day at a time, and we’ll all get through this together.
Working remotely means that maintaining a connection with peers is more important than ever. This month, PPAI will be launching a SPARK Video Chat Session for young industry professionals to connect virtually with their peers. Participants will be placed in breakout rooms for small group discussions on the topic of their choosing. Plus, a free SPARK Virtual Conference is planned for July 16, which will be an engaging and interactive innovation workshop providing participants with actionable content that can be applied to their companies and future collaboration. For more information on both of these virtual events, check out ppai.org/spark.
Kacie Brinner is the information services project supervisor and Prop 65 SME at industry business services provider SAGE and a volunteer leader with SPARK, the industry network for young professionals.