The work-from-home trend had already begun before the 2020 pandemic. In 2019, 10% of employees worked from home full-time, while 20% sometimes worked from home. However, the COVID-19 pandemic caused virtually all office-based businesses to pivot dramatically, sending almost 100% of the workforce to home-based work if at all possible.
While many businesses are starting to shift back to their pre-pandemic practices, calling office workers back to the office, some of the changes seen in 2020 are likely to be permanent. HR professionals expect that 20% of employees will work from home going forward, with another 28% working from home at least some of the time.
As many employees learned during 2020, working from home requires some adjustments. Employees working from home have to adapt to new technology and deal with having family members or roommates around during work hours. The difficulties associated with a work-from-home environment also seriously impact work-life balance, with some people unable to leave their work, well, at work.
The adjustment to working from home full-time can be tricky to handle on a long-term basis. Fortunately, you can take steps to draw the boundaries needed. Take a look at these tips for separating work from home.
1. Create an Ergonomically Comfortable Workspace
The ergonomic desk chair that keeps you perfectly poised at your work desk is probably not available at home — but lounging on the sofa with your laptop isn’t the answer if you want to be productive and protect your body. By building a home workplace with ergonomic precautions, you create a boundary that defines your work environment. If you don’t have a desk and desk chair at home, use a laptop stand or monitor riser to position your monitor or screen at a correct height, as well as an external keyboard to protect your wrists and shoulders as you type. Provide lumbar support with a rolled-up towel if necessary. Do everything you can to provide yourself with a setup that’s as close as possible to your office workstation.
2. Keep Track of Your Work Time
Many employers believe that employees working from home may slack off. In fact, the opposite appears to be the case. When work-life boundaries begin to merge, research shows that employees work more hours, averaging an extra 48 minutes of work time and a 13% increase in meetings. By tracking your work time closely, you can reassure your boss that you’re putting in your hours and protect yourself from inadvertent overwork.
3. Physically Separate Work Materials From Your Living Space
Not everyone has a spare room available to deck out as a home office. But even in a small apartment, you can create a defined workspace and keep your work life from impinging on your real life. Designate a drawer or box for all your work materials — computer accessories, files, and so on — and put your work stuff away at the end of the workday. By removing work paraphernalia, you send a message to yourself and your household that your workday is over, and you give yourself permission to relax in the same space where you’ve been working. You keep a defined space, and you should do it for working, as well.
4. Dress for Work
This doesn’t mean you have to wear a suit around the house. But you almost certainly dressed differently for work when you went to an office before the pandemic than you did for your off-hours. You should continue to do the same when working full-time from home. Sure, maybe your office has fully adopted the “work mullet” (“business on the top, party on the bottom”) for Zoom calls and other remote meetings. But you can establish a work wardrobe that lets you (and your household) know when you’re on the job, even if that means switching from work sweats to home loungewear at the end of the workday. Some people working from home find it especially helpful to put on work shoes, especially for meetings, to remind their bodies that they’re at the office.
5. Follow a Standard Routine and Schedule
Your workday in the office follows a predictable routine. One of the healthiest things you can do to separate work from home successfully is to stick to that routine. That starts with getting the same amount of sleep at roughly the same times. If you have the freedom to set your own schedule while working from home, it can be tempting to sleep in. However, sleep disturbance of all kinds, including oversleeping, can disrupt your cognitive abilities. Set a work schedule (and sleep and relaxation schedule) and stick to it.
6. Don’t Intermingle Household Members With Your Work Life
If you live on your own, you only have to think about the impact that working from home has on yourself. But if you live with family or housemates, your work-life affects them as well. Draw boundaries between your work and your household as much as possible. Don’t talk about work with your family members any more than you would if commuting, and stay separate from them during the workday. Find appropriate childcare for those hours when your children are home during the workday, and make sure you’re protecting your work materials, such as your computer, from meddling on the part of your household.
By taking deliberate steps to draw boundaries around the time you spend at work and the area in which you work, you can manage the work-from-home life in a way that keeps your mind and body healthy.
How have you been separating work from home life since shifting to a remote office? Sound off in the comments below.