Our paradigm of work has been dramatically reshaped in recent years, with remote work becoming increasingly prevalent everywhere. For many people, this has been a dream they have reached for, and the greater flexibility it affords was almost an El Dorado. However, several years into the project, and after some of the initial hype has faded, some are left feeling this was really just fool’s gold. Working from home has frequently bought unintended challenges, in particular the difficulties of drawing clear lines between professional duties and family commitments. This overlapping of spheres has sometimes led to undue stress, diminished productivity and even domestic conflict. So, how to strike the right balance between remote work and family life? Here are some very practical ideas to ease the pain points and make much more of the opportunity to secure greater work-life balance.
Establish Clear Physical Boundaries:
It’s essential to delineate physical and temporal boundaries. Choose a specific space in your home to be your ‘office’, away from family activities. This could be a spare room, a quiet corner, or even a garden shed. This not only psychologically reinforces a work mentality but ensures family members respect your work time. When you’re in this space, you’re ‘at work’. Conversely, leaving this space signals the end of the workday. This is a very useful mental and physical signal to your body, as well. It needn’t be a large space, as seen in the example of Lucy: A freelance writer, Lucy transformed a corner of her living room into her workspace. With a desk, ergonomic chair, and potted plant, it’s clear to her (and her family) that when she’s seated there, she’s in work mode. If your work allows it, playing music may even add to the sense that this is a different space, not to be ‘broken into’ by others.
Dress for the day
Another sensible boundary is that of work attire. While it’s tempting to work in loungewear, dressing up can mentally prepare you for work. It doesn’t have to be formal, but it should be distinct from what you’d wear to lounge or sleep. James, a software developer with little need to interact with other clients online, found that it was tempting to simply lounge his way through the day, still wearing his night clothes or scruffy casual t-shirts and jeans during work hours. The challenge with this was that it was quite hard to ‘get started’ on his work in the morning, with breakfast and online ‘newspaper time’ often eating too far into his day. He took a hint from an article he’d read and decided to always change into something a little more work-focused at a set time after his breakfast. This habit, and the addition of other linked habits like washing the breakfast dishes, cleaning his teeth and combing his hair, whilst seemingly fairly trivial, all helped to create a subtle switch which prompted the transition from relaxation to productivity.
Set Time Limits
Unlike the traditional office setting where coffee breaks or casual chats act as intermittent respites, remote work can sometimes tether one to the screen for extended periods. This is frequently the case when pressures are high. Particularly in these settings, it is essential to take regular breaks to stretch, rest your eyes, or spend a few moments with family. This allows for the reality of the real world to impact the day, a breath of fresh air, a reduction in physical strains on the back and neck, and perhaps a chance to interact with others. Of equal importance, it is strongly suggested that this can help to prevent burnout. It will, coincidentally, also reduce the likelihood of unplanned family interruptions that can scupper your concentration during the day, without the clear limits mentioned above. With family, it’s the quality of time that counts, not necessarily the quantity. It can be tempting to overcompensate for working from home by being available to family all day. Instead, designate specific times for family activities to ensure that when you’re with your loved ones, you are entirely present.
Setting technology limits can also really help to allow rest and recuperation into the day, and aid in building real-life experience with loved ones. This act alone could drastically reduce the number of conflicts that take place in so many homes, where one or other of the adults simply cannot ‘switch off’. Once work hours are over, switch off work-related notifications on your devices. This will certainly help delineate ‘work time’ from ‘personal time’. Some people have found that an even more effective way to manage technology is to separate work technologies from those used for leisure. Simply leaving the work laptop in the home office and closing the door could make a real difference to your sense of switching off.
It’s paramount to keep the lines of communication open, both with your employer and your family. Discuss your work schedule with your family, making them aware of important meetings or deadlines. This way, they can be more understanding and accommodating. Similarly, be transparent with your employer about your circumstances. If, for instance, you have to pick up your children from school at a certain time, it might be possible to schedule meetings around this commitment. Mark, a busy finance correspondent, found a very practical way of dealing with conflicts that seemed to occur quite often at home over his work patterns and its demands. He provided his family with a planner of points where he expected to be under greater pressure or where meetings were likely to impact his schedule.
Balancing remote work and family life requires deliberate planning, robust communication, and a clear understanding of one’s priorities. Embracing the aforementioned strategies not only ensures productivity at work but also fosters a much more harmonious family environment. Simple techniques, easy-to-take actions and a more thoughtful and deliberate use of the work-from-home opportunity can release real benefits that can be valuable both personally, professionally and domestically.