Remote working is here to stay. Here are some of my top tips to improve your work life balance
Updated: Nov 7
Welcome to the second in the series of my career and life coaching blog. This episode is a nod to #WorldMentalHealthDay. It reveals the prolonged impact of working from home on mental health and wellbeing and the imbalance between when the working day starts and ends.
According to WHO one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. This needs to be addressed and one major area to explore is the workplace given we spend the majority of our working lives there.
We spend on average 1,768 hours a year working.. that's likely to be more time than anything else in your life.
Fay Phillips-Jones, a qualified HR & Recruitment professional who founded Coaching with Fay, provides her professional insight and advice on the topic below:
At the height of the Coronavirus lockdown 60% of the UK’s adult population were working from home according to Finder UK. Since then, 26% of Brits plan to continue to work from home permanently, or occasionally post lockdown.
At first we did it because we had to.
It was a way of keeping you and your loved ones safe. During this time there was an unsettling period where many couples and families wondered: 'how will we cope with living in each others pockets?' and many single people questioned how long they would remain sane looking at the same four walls with only a zoom chat for company.
Then we baked our way through it.
We embraced it. We picked up new hobbies, we learnt to bake (at least until the flour ran out..). We created virtual pub quizzes, with names like 'Quarantina Turner',. We got to be there for bath times with the kids. We took the dog out more. We did virtual yoga. Heck, we even felt more productive. We certainly didn't miss the grimy commute.
Then our Victoria sponges began to deflate.
We started to feel trapped and chained to our desks. Life pre-covid (seems like forever ago now) meant you could easily grab a coffee chat, or an extended lunch with a colleague, (or even a sneaky visit to the local on a Friday). This all seemed very acceptable, noone questioned your commitment to your job, your boss knew where you were and it was even justifiable from a networking, bonding, or information sharing perspective and well part of every day working life. Now we just feel guilt:
'What if my boss calls when I am out of the house?'. 'What if people don't believe I am working hard enough?'. 'What if I am in the next wave of redundancies'.
According to Bloomberg, the 9-to-5 workday, or any semblance of it, seems like a relic of a bygone era. Long gone are the regretful formalities for calling or emailing at inappropriate times. Burnt-out employees feel like they have even less free time than when they wasted hours commuting.
Huda Idrees, Chief Executive Officer of Dot Health, a Toronto-based technology start-up, confirms her employees are working, on average, 12-hour days, up from 9 hours pre-pandemic.
“We’re at our computers very early because there’s no commute time,” she said. “And because no one is going out in the evenings, we’re also always there.”
The problem is there's no escape. With nothing much to do and nowhere to go, people feel like they have no legitimate excuse for being unavailable. One JPMorgan employee interrupted his morning shower to join an impromptu meeting after seeing a message from a colleague on his Apple Watch. By the time he dried off and logged back on, he was five minutes late.
By early April 2020, about 45% of workers said they were burned out, according to a survey of 1,001 U.S. employees by Eagle Hill Consulting. Almost half attributed the mental toll to an increased workload, the challenge of juggling personal and professional life, and a lack of communication and support from their employer.
Here are my Top Tips for re-balancing work and life whilst working remotely:
1) Learn to set boundaries (& stick to them).
Set a hard time to end your work day and turn off notifications. Define your boundaries with your team, your manager and avoid defaulting to a culture of 24/7 communication.
Tell people they can still contact you if it is urgent, else you will get back to them as soon as you can.
2) Establish a routine.
Follow your normal sleep and work patterns if you can, and stay consistent. Get up at the same time, eat breakfast, make the bed and get out of those pyjamas!
Swap your "commute time" to instead exercise, read, meditate or listen to music before logging in.
And at the end of the day, try to get to bed at your usual time.
3) Give yourself permission to take breaks.
Just being "present" doesn't mean you are being productive. You will be no use to anyone if your mental health is suffering.
Try to take lunch and regular screen breaks. Give yourself time to concentrate on something else so you feel more focused when you return. Even just 5 to 10 minutes of short breaks each hour can really help your productivity too.
If possible, set a time to go for a walk, run or bike ride for some fresh air, or a coffee. Working from home means you might be spending a lot more time without moving your body. If you're feeling stiff or tense, try doing some light stretching or exercise with our 10-minute home.
4) Get started early.
When working in an office, your morning commute can help you wake up and feel ready to work by the time you get to your desk. At home, however, the transition from duvet to computer can be a little tricky.
Sounds strange, but one way to work from home productively is to dive into your to-do list as soon as you wake up. Simply getting a project started first thing in the morning can be the key to making progress on it gradually throughout the day. Otherwise, you'll prolong breakfast and let the morning sluggishness wear away your motivation.
5) Structure your day like you would in the office.
When working from home, you're your own personal manager. Without things like an in-person meeting schedule to break up your day, you can be quick to lose focus or burn out.
If you have an online calendar, create personal events and reminders that tell you when to shift gears and start on new tasks. Google Calendar makes this easy.
6) Make it harder for yourself to keep looking at your social media.
As tempting as that little 'READ ME' notification from FaceBook, or Instagram is that wants your undivided attention - have a go at turning off notifications from your phone during working hours.
You can do this by going to settings on most smart phones. This may help keep you focused on one thing at a time and enable you to log off having completed your to do list for the day.
If you don't believe me try watching The Social Dilemma on Netflix. You'll thank me.
When you are available all the time, your workday never ends. You need those times when you shut off.
Give yourself a chance to separate from work. It can be as simple as not checking email in the evening or on the weekend. Allow yourself moments of calm instead of rushing to complete every task.
8) Excuse yourself from 'time wasters'.
If it doesn’t reflect your true priorities, put it on your not-to-do list. Draw boundaries.
Politely excuse yourself from conference calls you don’t need to be part of. It is not selfish to devote your attention to activities that are the best use of your company's time and yours.
If you feel low or are struggling to cope with work-life balance or experiencing feelings of isolation, there is support and advice available. The first person to approach is your family doctor. He or she should be able to give advice about treatment, and may refer you to another local professional.
There are a number of services available:
Samaritans - The Samaritans offer emotional support 24 hours a day, in full confidence. Call 116 123 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mind Infoline - Mind provides information on a range of mental health topics to support people in their own area from 9.00am to 6.00pm, Monday to Friday. Call 0300 123 3393 or email email@example.com.
Rethink Advice and Information Service - Rethink provide specific solution-based guidance: 0300 5000927
Worklife balance is also a great topic to explore with a career or life coach.
Reach out for a free 30-minute
consultation with an established HR & Recruitment professional to discuss your job search and keep working towards your career or life goals here;
Tel: +44 7970 772 809
Visit my website for more information; www.coachingwithfay.com
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