When I think about work-life balance, I don't imagine it as a perfect day where I got to spend the exact right amount of time having an impact at work and snuggling with my kids at home. I never achieve that. But over the course of a month, or a quarter, or a year, I try to make time for the people and experiences I value.
- JANE PARK
Working from home can be amazing (can you say “zero commute?”). But when your home is also your office, separating your work life and your personal life can be a challenge. And without that separation, it can be easy for work to start spreading throughout your home and invading the rest of your life, making it hard to disengage and spend time on other things that really matter (like your family, friends, hobbies, and life).
I speak from experience. I’ve been working from home for almost ten years, and while I wouldn’t change it for the world, finding the balance between getting work done and devoting a healthy amount of time and energy to my personal life has been tough. In the battle between work and home life, there have been many, many times when work has emerged victorious.
Adjusting to the New Normal
Before the pandemic, remote work was largely intentional, and people who chose it generally did so knowing it would fit well into their lives. Maybe they already had home offices organized and set up in quiet spaces with limited distractions, child care lined up for their children, and older kids safely accounted for at school. After all, when you choose a job that allows you to work from home, you can build remote work around the rest of your life—and vice versa.
However, that wasn’t the case for the millions of people working remotely for the first time due to the coronavirus. For them, setting up the perfect work-from-home scenario just wasn’t an option.
Even workers who were used to remote work suddenly had to contend with all kinds of new circumstances. Whether it was kids home from school (who either needed help with online classes or just to be kept occupied), partners also working from home, or the loss of everyday routines, people everywhere have had to figure out how to navigate the new realities of work.
Why Is Work-Life Balance Important?
Poor work-life balance negatively impacts workers' health and happiness. They become more stressed and feel less in control at work and in their personal lives. Those who have a good work-life balance are often happier and less stressed. When you're happier you're more likely to be more motivated, productive, and do better work.
Remote workers cite better work-life balance as the top reason they work remotely. They have the autonomy to structure their workday so they can be their most productive, get their tasks done efficiently, and make time for activities outside of work.
Do longer hours mean higher productivity?
I asked my more than 30-person team where they felt more productive: in the office or at home. The results showed that more than half 58.3% felt more productive working from home, while 41.7% said they are better off when working from the office.
If you think about it, the results are kind of logical. If at home you dedicate more hours to your work tasks, you may get more done and that can give you the sense of being more productive. The problem, however, is that in the long term, long working hours aren't the road to higher productivity. Study after study has shown that regular after-hours work eventually leads to job burnout and decreased productivity.
The last thing we want is for people to come back to the office burnt out and tired. So, we started to encourage our colleagues to set boundaries and take care of their well-being.
Here are our 5 tips to achieve work-life balance when working remotely:
Clearly, keeping your work life from infringing on your personal life is a must if you want to feel happy, healthy, and balanced. But how, exactly, do you do that?
1. Set a structured work schedule.
To maximize your productivity and your workday while working remotely, it’s imperative to set a
cohesive schedule for yourself to guide you through the day. Given that working from home can be more comfortable and a bit relaxing compared to being in the office, imposing a structure on your day will limit the distractions and keep you focused on the tasks at hand.
2. Work Parallel Schedules
When you work from home—and do so around the clock—it can feel like you and your family are ships passing in the night. The best way to combat that? Keeping similar schedules.
If you live with a partner or children, it’s important to spend some dedicated time with them rather than always splitting your attention between family and work obligations. Scheduling parallel hours (for example, cranking out work while your kids are at school or during the same hours your spouse or significant other is at their job) will allow you to get things done but still have time to connect with your family members when they get home.
That kind of alignment shows your spouse [or family members] that you care about them.
3. Designate a workspace.
Establish a dedicated workspace within your home to help you create a consistent routine for when it’s time to work. When it’s time to clock in, you’ll know to go to a specific area within your home, similar to being in the office.
4. Set an end Point to your day
It can be easy to lose track of time when you’re working from home. And when you finally take a breather and look at the clock, somehow hours have passed—and you’ve worked far longer than you intended. It’s so easy to tell yourself “just five more minutes” or “just one more email.” But working crazy hours can throw your body out of whack.
Your body is used to operating on a schedule. Kids get up at the same time, they go to school at the same time, and this builds these rhythms and habits—and it’s very easy to know what you’re supposed to be doing and when you’re supposed to be doing it. Even as adults, we need that for a sense of consistency—because otherwise it just takes too long to figure out where we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.
5. Shut the Office Door
Ever heard the saying “out of sight, out of mind?” Well, that also applies to your work space.
“[One] of the tricks I use to separate my personal from professional life while I work from home is to shut my office door during weekends. It’s my way of telling myself: “The Office Is Closed!”
If you use a dedicated room as your home office, step away at the end of the day and leave all your work gear, like your laptop and work phone, behind. In other words, literally and figuratively shut the door on work so that you can pursue personal projects, family time, or just good, old-fashioned relaxing without feeling the pull of the office.
When you work from home, it’s so easy to be tuned into work 24/7. But remember, your home is your home first—and your office second. And if you want to have the work-life balance you crave (and deserve!), you need to treat it that way.