Nearly a year and a half into the pandemic, the ‘new normal’ isn’t looking so new anymore. We’ve all had a crash course in remote work and all its ups and downs. We’ve adjusted our working styles to suit the new reality and have learned new strategies for being productive while working from home.
Organisations and their employees are both embracing virtual work and hybrid models for the future. But despite the widespread support for workplace flexibility, remote work introduces new challenges of its own.
When home is also the office (and, in many cases, the kids’ classroom), the separation between the professional and the personal becomes blurred. Without appropriate boundaries, we can find it difficult to switch off from work and our mental health can suffer. Drawing a line between home and work is essential for effective stress management.
A survey by PwC recently found that only 37% of Australians feel that they can disconnect from work outside of working hours. Here’s how you can lighten the load, both for yourself and your employees.
Start and end the work day deliberately
When you reach for your phone in the morning to stop your alarm, it can be tempting to check your email before even getting out of bed.
It might seem like a small thing, but letting work take over your brain before the day has even begun is a shortcut to work-life imbalance. Resist the urge to open your email and give yourself some time to start the day before you ‘arrive’ at work. Eat a healthy breakfast, exercise and get dressed for the day ahead. Some people swear by the ‘fake commute’ – a short, brisk walk that gets the blood flowing and marks the start of the work day.
Likewise, try to end the work day at the same time each day. Let your team know that you’re signing off – and then do it. Again, it can help to have a routine that gets you out of the house so you can feel like you’re coming home.
Keep a separate work space at home
If you work all day at the dining table or on the sofa, pretty soon you’ll start to associate those spaces with work rather than family, home and leisure.
Designate a space in your home that is just for work, whether that’s a separate office or a specific desk or table. Using that space strictly for work will help you focus when you’re on the clock and switch off when you’re not.
The same principle can be applied to your devices. You might want to consider using a separate laptop or tablet for personal use, or separate work and personal phones. If that isn’t feasible, simply keeping your work apps on a separate screen in your phone can help keep work out of sight, out of mind after hours.
Set clear rules around communication
Leaders face a double bind – the need to maintain work-life boundaries for stress relief, and the need to be available in case of an emergency.
Setting clear expectations around when you are available is the first step. The next is to determine what exactly constitutes an emergency and how your team should contact you in that instance.
If you are practicing healthy boundaries by not checking work messages after hours, you will need to designate another contact method for extenuating circumstances. For example, you might instruct your team to call you directly if you are urgently needed after hours.
The important thing is to make sure your team knows which communication channels to use and when, and for you to resist the urge to quickly check messages in your time off.
Schedule in your down time
The best way to protect your weekends and after hours from work-related stress is to schedule activities that take your mind off it.
If you find it difficult to drag yourself from the laptop at the end of the day, put something in your calendar that forces you to sign off. Even if it’s just buying groceries, walking the dog or doing a fitness class, switching context will help your mind switch off from work.
Make plans for the weekends that get you away from technology. Give your eyes and brain a break from staring at screens, get some fresh air and physical activity, and make your time off feel genuinely different to your working life.
Model best practice for your team
As a leader, your behaviour sets the tone for your team. If you are answering email at all hours and on the weekends, they will think that is also expected of them.
On the other hand, if you maintain regular working hours and check in with your team in the mornings and before shutting off at the end of the day, they will pick up on your cues. Encouraging your team to look after their own wellbeing will ultimately benefit everyone.
It’s all about boundaries
Healthy boundaries are the most important stress management strategy when it comes to working from home. If switching off at the end of the day or week is something you struggle with, chances are your boundaries could use some work.
Setting and maintaining those boundaries can be difficult, and sometimes our own habits are the biggest barrier. But switching off is a skill that you can learn. It just takes a little practice.