Before the pandemic, working from home was seen as a perk, something that enhanced work-life balance. But now that organisations have had remote working thrust upon them, many people struggle to delineate work and play.
October is Mental Health Month, so it is timely to acknowledge that remote working can cause overwhelm, isolation, anxiety and depression without a structured approach. Our experts provide their tips for making working from home productive and enjoyable.
Jamal Cassim, Co-Founder, Untangld
“Working from home is magic – or hell. It depends how you treat it. As a business born in Covid, we’ve always tried to find the joy in it.
“Culturally, trust in your team is everything – clock-watching is toxic. Work hours expand, so scheduling personal time like work time is important: own your day and make the space to replenish, whether free time, family time, or exercise. Treat collaboration software as a friend, letting you contribute when you’re at your best, rather than as a means for endless video calls – because the Zoom fatigue is real.
“Space matters. A sofa isn’t an office, so it’s worth investing in a setup that’s clearer, brighter and more inspiring: fresh air and good light work miracles. If you can’t, grab your phone, go 1980s and make that meeting a walk-and-talk.
“Finally, work life has so much to offer, from great friends to great goss. So just because you’re working from home it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make time for the softer stuff, too. Remember, you’re in charge of when to lean in, and when to have a little more space. That’s the real secret to working from home: a mute button, and a door you can shut.”
David Curry, Chief Operating Officer, WLTH’
“When working from home it’s a good idea to continue with your same routine that would be maintained when you went into the office. This includes getting up and out of bed, showering, getting dressed (and avoiding the temptation to live in PJ’s all day!), eating breakfast and being mentally prepared for the day.
“If you can, try your best to set aside a dedicated workspace, as it’s a good mental reminder that you were working when in that space and you’re at home and on a break when you are not.
“Self-imposed structure and routine, in my opinion, are super critical. We all know that routine is somewhat imposed on you in the office – the commute, start and end times, lunch breaks and meeting times. At home, it can be much harder to maintain boundaries, especially when work and home life start to blend into each other. Try to be fully present, rather than attempting to do both at the same time.
“Communication is key when it comes to partners, family and work colleagues. A good idea to help manage communication between each party is to set up a shared family diary and use it to block out times when you are working and ‘unavailable’ for home duties and vice versa. This helps to avoid the juggle of both home and work feeling like you’re not ‘really present’.
“Finally, don’t forget to take a break every once and a while. Go outside for a walk, meditate, stretch, grab a coffee…no matter what it is, just make sure that it’s a priority every single day.”
Dos and Don’ts for Achieving Work/Life Balance WFH
“The world is ever-changing and with COVID restrictions beginning to lift, some will return to the office but for some, WFH is here to stay. Here’s are a few strategies to set up some sustainable habits.
- Set boundaries and demarcate the start and end of each day
- As many walk n talk meetings as you can and get regular doses of nature
- Try and schedule 60 to 90 mins each day for non-distracted work
- Turn off all pop-up alerts and email notifications
- Make an effort to stay connected to family, friends and loved ones
- Be kind to yourself
- Schedule constant back-to-back meetings
- Sit for hours at a time, aim to stand up out of your chair 30 to 50 times a day
- Reach for processed and high-sugar foods when energy levels drop
- Get into the habit of using alcohol to wind down every night
- Look at your digital devices 30 mins before bedtime
- Forget to prioritise self-care and put your oxygen mask on first”
“To strike the right work-life balance, it’s important to prioritise making time for activities that keep you busy and away from your desk outside of work hours. I’m extremely passionate about cricket and badminton, as is my whole family, and my hobbies allow me to switch off at the end of the day and forget about the stresses of work. When you have a rich and fulfilling personal life, you’re also far more likely to be productive, energised and a high performer.
“In my experience, the biggest no-no is working from your bed or your couch. As tempting as it is, resist the urge to work in the same place where you normally spend your downtime. Having a designated workspace, such as the kitchen table or a separate home office, allows you to easily make that mental distinction between work and play when it’s time to log off for the day.”
Jennifer Warr, HR Director, Reckitt Hygiene
“As the future of work progresses, it’s clear that businesses have to adapt to attract and retain talent. Living the bold, innovative values of the brands we represent is a priority – emerging from the pandemic we want employees to retain flexibility and craft their own new ‘work normal’.
“The future of work is hybrid – an approach we’ve taken at Reckitt. A model in which hours at a desk don’t reflect output or impact, and the needs of employees inside and outside of work is of paramount importance. This will see increased productivity and accountability by continuing to give flexibility that supports people’s lives. Corporate goals should be to create a people-centric workplace, focussed on the human experience, performance, and inclusivity. As we move away from traditional office time, businesses must focus on creating key moments around connection, collaboration, creativity and coaching in person; with ongoing hybrid work supported by innovative technologies and office design.”
Rolf Howard, Managing Partner, Owen Hodge Lawyers
“We all know the perks of working from home – more flexibility to fit work around family and other commitments, no commute and greater control over our time. However, when employers assume that working from home automatically brings work/life balance, they couldn’t be more wrong.
“Working from home can easily snowball into an expectation to always be “on”. When employers expect employees to be contactable outside of business hours or on weekends, or when they underestimate the importance of breaks when working from home, it can be damaging and demoralising. Of course, this is further exacerbated in the current environment where employees may be home-schooling or juggling additional childcare as well.
“A flexible work arrangement (even if it’s been forced upon us due to COVID-19 related stay at home orders) should be treated as a formal, enforceable employment contract. Rights and responsibilities should be negotiated, carefully drafted, memorialised in writing and executed.”
Andy Hurt, ANZ MD, Poly
“With many of us continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, finding the right work/life balance is essential for mental health and wellbeing.
“As the boundaries between our work lives and personal lives blur, we need to proactively implement measures to help us achieve better and healthier remote work experiences:
- DO: Work smart – create a structured work schedule; have a to-do list to prioritise tasks and projects; allocate a certain time to answer all the emails you need to for the day, so you can switch off without having a list of action items hanging over your head.
- DO: Exercise and be mindful – meditation and exercise help achieve mental wellness and reduce stress, anxiety, and sleep problems. Being in nature, sitting in the garden or walking through the bush, or even just spending time outdoors, will boost your overall wellbeing.
- DON’T: Burnout – stop taking calls and emails after working hours. Instead, dedicate time to switch off, power down your computer and mobile, and put a firm stop to your workday.
Practising these habits will help us recharge, avoid burnout and improve productivity. With more people expected to continue hybrid working post-pandemic, it’s important to get into these habits now.”
“Without the ‘on-off switch’ that comes with physically arriving or leaving the office, it’s easy to let work seep into your downtime. I recommend maximising the positive lifestyle remote work offers. Try to get outside when possible with a morning or mid-afternoon walk, and enjoy the occasional picnic with family and friends.
“I also find it helps to create boundaries with an activity barrier by spending 30 minutes before and after work doing something you love. I use the meditation app Smiling Mind for some ‘me time’ to bookend my day. Introducing an activity can replace your commute and is a great way to wind down.
“If possible, keep your workspace a work-only zone. I’ve converted my garage into a workspace so there is a barrier between work and home. It helps to shut down your computer and leave your workspace too. This is a symbolic way of signing off.”
Stuart Taylor, CEO, Springfox
“The mass shift to remote working has had a drastic impact on our sense of work-life balance, with repercussions on productivity, performance, and both personal and professional resilience.
If your work-life balance feels skewed, start by re-establishing a routine to bring structure back into your day and set boundaries between work and home. If possible, keep your workspace separate from your living space, and commit to 2-3 daily non-negotiables such as a morning and evening walk in lieu of your daily commute, a lunch-time yoga session, or a nourishing meal away from your desk.
“Take breaks at regular intervals and ensure you step away from your workspace when you do so. Remote working has afforded us more hours in the day, but it’s important we avoid falling into the trap of working around the clock. Aim to log off no later than 6pm and avoid checking emails throughout the evening. Importantly, re-establish a consistent bedtime and wake up time to ensure 8 hours sleep.
“With remote working here to stay, establishing and maintaining a healthy work-life balance will go a long way in strengthening resilience, boosting performance, and enhancing well-being now and in the long run.”
Monica Watt, CHRO, ELMO Software
“When working from home it’s very easy to have the blinkers on and ignore your own wellbeing. Getting up to move around or even switching off the laptop are harder to do when you’re in your own home. However, there are some things you can do to have greater work life harmony.
“You must respect that you have work and you have a life, and while they do merge at times a definite ‘do’ is to set clear boundaries for your workspace. If you work from a spare room, kitchen table or an office make sure to keep work in that space and don’t let the laptop creep into the living room or bedroom. Keeping work and recreation spaces separate makes it easier to switch off.
“Don’t let your usual routine fall by the wayside just because you’re working remotely. This means if you usually get up early to go for a run or to walk the dog make sure you don’t let it slip. Keeping to a consistent time helps you get into a routine and to separate work and home, using a timer through the day as a prompt to move, take breaks and end the day is essential. Exercise is key as the benefits of exercise will keep you focused during the day and the balance of doing something for your own wellbeing will help keep you in a better frame of mind.”
Mark Brown, general manager, marketing, Konica Minolta Australia
“The sudden closure of many offices ushered in a new era of remote working and signalled the beginning of a significant shift in the way the workforce operates. With a now blurry line between work and home life, it’s important to set boundaries to avoid burnout.
- Find your rhythm: It’s okay to fluctuate between work, exercise, hobbies, and family throughout the day.
- Focus on productivity over time: Set a reasonable time for tasks to be completed and don’t be too hard on yourself.
- Take regular breaks: Go outside or grab a coffee.
- Over-structure your day: Putting in too many self-imposed boundaries can set you up for failure. It’s important to be flexible.
- Sit for extended periods: Make sure you break up the day by getting up and moving about regularly.
- Overdress: It’s a chance to be comfortable.”
Jessica McKenzie, global marketing manager, OnePlace Solutions
“For remote teams, effective collaboration is a key challenge that must be addressed. When working in an office, employees can easily call out to others to check the status of tasks or find out where project documents have been saved. When working from home, utilising document sharing and team collaboration tools such as Microsoft Teams or SharePoint can help employees to communicate easily and have greater visibility into current projects.
“Some helpful tips to achieve work/life balance include:
- Establish a morning routine that includes social interactions with others where possible
- Have a dedicated workspace that you can leave or pack away easily when your workday ends
- Exercise in nature regularly
- Connect daily with your team
- Let others know if you need help
- Stay online 24/7
- Keep interactions with team members strictly business as building a community at work has many benefits.”