Last week Twitter announced that they were giving employees the ability and option to work from home indefinitely. There are clearly positives and negatives regarding this with experts saying we shouldn't be surprised if people are starting to feel unmotivated or less productive.
For many, working from home started out positively! Extra time in bed, no reason to get dressed unless you are on video calls that day and spending more time with the children.
For others, it was more negative, as it’s natural for people to need a routine and to be able to separate personal lives from their professional one, which is hard in any normal situation, but in times like these its become almost impossible.
Burnout was already on the rise before the coronavirus, in part because the blurred professional boundaries made it more difficult to switch off. We are now in a world that is considered ‘always on’ which means we have instant, one touch access to the whole world. We have no regimented down time. Did you know that, on average, professionals check their email 15 times per day, or every 37 minutes and some people (including myself) check work emails first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
With the “new normal” now being that people work from home and organisations starting to contemplate a permanent remote working culture, we need to understand and know what that will do to our personal lives and mental health, both in a negative and positive way.
I personally enjoy working from home but only for short periods of time. Personality testing indicates that, being a extrovert, I thrive being around people, which makes times like this difficult as, like most, I enjoy human interaction. Understanding qualities in yourself like this will help you figure out and process what barriers may arise when working remotely that stop you being motivated, engaged and productive.
So, what can you be implementing or thinking about to make sure working from home isn’t a problem and how can you separate your work and professional life to reduce burnout?
- Keep your work space to a specific area in your home so your job doesn’t intrude into the lives of your family members or people you are living with (especially if two of you are working from home at the same time). Have a dedicated space that you assign as your workstation instead of checking emails, voicemails or texting in front of the TV or spreading work out all over your property. Make sure this space is as quiet as possible so you can concentrate.
- Keep the noise out. The world can seem even more noisy and chaotic when we are trying to concentrate, so try using noise cancelling headphones or ear buds to block out any sounds which may cause distractions and result in you feeling frustrated.
‘Studies show that a delicate blend of soft music combined with soothing nature sounds—such as waterfalls, raindrops, a rushing brook or ocean waves—activates the calming part of your brain, helps you concentrate and lowers heart rate and blood pressure’.
- Establish boundaries around your work space during work time that is off limits for others in the house. Explain that you need no interruptions or distractions in this space, even if you have to put up physical barriers such as locking a door etc. I know this can be futile with young children running around the house. Always try and explain why you need to focus and concentrate. If possible, only go to your designated space when you need to work, don’t go in there to rest as your brain will not be able to distinguish this as personal space, no doubt you’ll be happy to move as far away as possible anyway!
- Put the work tools away. After your agreed work time is finished, put away your electronic devices or switch off emails. Keep work reminders in the designated work space and well out of your personal space to prevent your mind from always being pulled back to work. You need time to relax and switch off to allow yourself to be able to separate yourself from always being ‘at work’.
- Make sure you stay connected! Utilise platforms like Facetime, Teams and Zoom to keep in contact with your colleagues or employees. If you start to feel lonely or disconnected with your work, consider setting up a support group of friends who are also working at home. Make plans to ‘meet’ on a regular basis and share creative ways you’ve adjusted to the new situation.
- Get out of the house when possible – spending so much time at home can cause ‘cabin fever’. Make sure you have a plan to get out of the home at least once a day, even if it’s to sit in the garden or walk around the block. There is extensive research that shows spending time in nature lowers stress, helps you relax and clears your mind.
- Make the most of your free time - After work try to enjoy other areas of your home or engage in fun activities that you enjoy, even if that’s just watching a bit of TV. Try to stay in contact with people as much as possible. Organise an online quiz via video call, or host a digital dinner party for you and your family. It’s important that we speak to and spend time with friends and family members when you can, so you feel connected to the people in your life that you care about.
For some people working from home is easy, some people even suggest they are able to concentrate more and be more productive. But for others, it’s difficult, whether that’s because you have children, feel lonely and detached or just want to be around those you work with to bounce ideas off. Its important to understand how you are feeling about your current work situation and implement steps and routines that can help improve the balance between your personal and professional lives.