I have worked from home 1-2 days a week for the last 6 years, back when it was seen to be a luxury, rather than a necessity. It was one of the boundaries I put in place with my last employer, right from the start. At interview, I explained how I had previously burnt out and had a chronic illness to manage, which didn’t affect my productivity – as long as I didn’t work late every night and I had a couple of quiet days a week at home.
As a seasoned working from homer I am acutely aware that it isn’t always all its cracked up to be. So, when the first lockdown happened last year, it immediately rang alarm bells. It’s one thing to choose to WFH here and there but to have it enforced and en masse, is an entirely different thing.
As we head into the depths of the third UK national lockdown, I am witnessing more and more stress caused by enforced home working. I have a spectrum of clients and colleagues that are juggling home schooling to those that are isolated, living alone and no longer getting the company they used to have in the office. For people like me who are setting up their own business it can be extremely isolating without being able to meet up for a cuppa with people.
Video Call Fatigue
I can see that many organisations, in a bid to make sure everyone ‘feels connected’ are putting in video call after video call – diaries are chocca with no time for anyone to come up for air. Conversations that might once have been had whilst making a cuppa or a quick catch up are being scheduled as hour long Teams meeting. There’s a culture of needing to be seen to be on these calls but when, then, does the work get done, not to mention the downtime to reflect and recharge?
Next time you go to schedule a Teams or Zoom meeting, ask yourself if it could be a quick phonecall or an email instead…
It feels like working from home burnout is a real-life thing that is just around the corner for a whole host of people and for some people, its already here.
Creating working from home boundaries
Here are some of my learnings and tips for creating boundaries with yourself and others that prevent home working burnout
Get more strict with your time
- Resist the temptation to check your emails as soon as you wake up and last thing before bed. If you have a work phone, put it on do not disturb or put in another room entirely to avoid temptation
- Block out time in your diary for essential things – like lunch and exercise some time outside. If you have something blocked in, try not to move it but if you do have to, don’t move it altogether.
- Time block as best you can. Question whether you need to be at every video call if your time could be used more constructively. Blocking tasks in your diary can also help stop other people over booking your diary.
- If you are finding that every time you are getting into flow, you are getting interrupted by calls, put your phone on do not disturb
- Resist the urge to work late into the evening regularly, it will reduce your productivity in the long term
Create physical separation where you can
- Not everyone has this luxury but if you can find a way to carve out a working space that’s not the kitchen room table, then do. At the start of lockdown 1.0 I invested in a desk etc which now takes up a corner of the bedroom (not ideal but doing the best with the space I have)
- Tidy up / tidy away your workspace every night – you don’t need that constant reminder in the evenings
- Losing the commute felt like a good thing to start with didn’t it? But now it just means no wind down / mental boundary between work and home life. If you can, create another routine which creates that break – be it a walk round the block, a dance around the kitchen (my preferred option), just something that tells your brain work has ended. Don’t be tempted just to dig straight into whatever home task needs completing next!
Prioritise your needs and learn to say No
- This is about conserving your emotional, mental and physical energy. If you say ‘yes’ when you mean ‘no’ this can lead to anger, resentment and apathy. So, think about that when you agree to take on more work
- Think about how you treat yourself and the messages you give to others around you about how you want to be treated.
- Make your needs known – my example of being up front with my employer about what I needed to keep myself productive is true for everyone. It is not weak to ask for help, it shows a strength to recognise where you need support.
- Hydrate – I used to be terrible at remembering to hydrate when I worked from home, ending in headaches and lethargy. With no one to make you the odd cuppa, it can be easy to neglect yourself. Now I use a water bottle, just as a would in the office and I make sure I take regular breaks to get a hot drink.
- Prep lunch the night before – its easy to think ‘oh I will just rustle something up’ because you’re at home and then the day runs away and you end up stuffing yourself with sugary snacks or cheese on toast because you’re starving and have no time. Prep ahead to avoid this.
When it comes to combining working from home with home schooling, that is a whole new juggling act that so many are now having to cope with. I am lucky in that my daughter is too young for lessons at home but from what I hear from other parents, Lockdown 3.0 is much harder as the pressure on children’s learning now has increased vs last year.
I wish I had a magic wand and advice for this scenario but I don’t. What I can say is that looking after your own wellbeing by putting some boundaries in place, will create a less frazzled feeling. I would also remind you of the mantra – “you can do anything, but you cannot do everything”. Be kind to yourself and accept that not everything will be perfect right now. What things can you drop, what things are essential? – and always, always rest when you can.
I work with busy people to help them find their way to a better balance in life. If that’s you and you would like to know more then send me an email email@example.com