By now, many of us who have been lucky to continue working through the COVID-19 pandemic have transitioned to working from home. Those of us who aren’t frontline workers have had to make the quick transition to what was and continues to be a relatively uncertain work life.
Nobody was sure back in March 2020 how long this “new normal” would last. And now, ten months later, it’s not clear whether our temporary workspaces will become permanent. According to Statistics Canada, “Nearly three-quarters of the 3.4 million Canadians who began working from home at the start of the crisis were still working remotely in August.” So, how can we manage a work-life balance when our work and home lives have been upended?
According to a 2019 report by RescueTime, employees do 26 percent of their work outside of regular working hours. While this isn’t surprising, letting your working hours bleed into your personal time can lead to fatigue, poor health, and lost time with loved ones. It can be easy for the lines between work and home to blur, so making the effort to establish defined working hours – including communicating that to your colleagues and members of your household – and avoiding working later than we normally would is a great first step toward maintaining a balance.
If you have the opportunity, carve out a clear workspace at home. Whether that’s a home office or the corner of a room, having a space that is specifically for getting work done will go a long way toward creating a separation between your work and home lives. Even if you set up your laptop and notebook on the dining room table, be sure to clear that table of clutter before you begin work and put away the laptop and files at the end of each day. Even this kind of visual separation will help to mentally delineate working hours from relaxing hours.
Working from home means that we’re all a lot less active than we once were – even the commute to work and around the office had us up and about far more often. Sitting for long periods of time can lead to increased health risks like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels. Set a timer to ensure that you get up once every hour and move around for 5-10 minutes. Take your next phone call while you walk around the house, stand up and do a few light stretches, or go outside and take three deep breaths of fresh air. It will do your body and your mind a wealth of good.
According to a 2019 survey, 82 percent of employees check their work emails outside of work hours. While it’s tempting to wander over to our laptops or workstations to see what to expect tomorrow or clear that email notification on our phones, this seemingly innocuous habit can lead to blurring the lines between work and home even more. Keep your work to your work hours. If you aren’t able to get everything done during your scheduled work hours, that’s a sign that you need to talk with your team or supervisor about your workload.
Working from home does not and cannot replicate our work lives pre-pandemic. While many of us are able to effectively work remotely, our expectations around what work looks like now needs to shift to adapt to this new world. Perhaps things are a little slower from home when we aren’t able to meet and chat with colleagues so easily. Perhaps you can get more intensive projects done because you have fewer distractions at home. Or maybe you have kids or a spouse also working from home and distractions are increased. Talk with your team to ensure that expectations are realistic so that you don’t face miscommunications and burnout. When everything we know changes virtually overnight, that means our work life changes along with it.
Once you’ve done what you can to help distinguish your work time from your personal time, what you do with that personal time should not be left without consideration. After spending the day at home working, try to give your mind and body the presence and movement it deserves and pick activities that will get you out of the house, connecting with loved ones, and enjoying some fresh air. A family walk, a drive outside the city, crafts with the kids, or even some simple home improvements will keep your mind and body active and give you the energy you’ll need to maintain this new work–life balance.
While the transition to working from home has been a challenge for many of us, there are small changes you can make in order to ensure that your overall well-being is supported. Whether you’re anxious to get back to the office or are one of the 80 percent of Canadians who want to continue working from home once the pandemic passes, being mindful of how you approach your work will help keep you healthy, happy, and productive.