Being a remote worker myself, I wish someone had told me the challenges that I’d be facing in stepping into such an exciting new professional dimension. As much as I love the flexibility and freedom it offers, I think we’d all agree in saying that it also can prove to be one of the most challenging experiences you’ll have to face in your career. Juggling the personal and professional aspects of one’s life in the same space, while managing your workload alone and without being able to bounce off ideas whenever you feel like it, isn’t something you transition into overnight.
So how can we make the most of the great opportunities remote working offers and also be mindful of the risks it can present to our wellbeing?
Remote working literally means you’re away from a place where other work is happening. You might be part of a remote team, be part of a remote company, or working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Whatever is your case, the concept of remote work remains the same, it implies being away from somewhere or someone. This element highlights the biggest challenge remote working presents to our mental health: isolation.
As many people appreciate medium to high levels of regular human interaction, working alone and remotely can prove to be quite difficult to adjust to. In order to fully embrace the positives of remote working, it is key to pay attention to how your mental health and emotional health is responding to the transition into a remote role. If you feel a sense of emptiness in not connecting to people face-to-face, act swiftly and as early as possible to create opportunities to connect to others, even if virtually.
To prevent suffering from isolation in your remote working role:
- Schedule regular breaks to interact with family and friends nearby or afar, and reach out to new people in your community in person or online
- Try out working in different places in the house and discover what works best for your productivity and wellbeing
- Choose video calls whenever possible to communicate with your colleagues
- Engage with colleagues on non-work related topics on Slack, video calls, etc.
Isolation is not the only challenge remote workers face. When you’re in the office working with colleagues or your boss, you always know when the working day is over. However when you work remotely, it’s harder to set time-boundaries and structure to how you’re going to tackle your workload. So how can we have a clear definition of done?
It’s important to remain flexible, while bearing in mind that having a clear structure to your day can really make a difference. It’s easy to check your emails in bed or let that last task drag all the way into your personal time at the end of the day. Try to avoid this from becoming a habit. Setting clear boundaries is key to managing a work/life balance when working remotely.
Here are a few useful tips that will help you have a great remote work practice:
When to work?
- While it doesn’t work for everyone, having a routine is proven to help you feel in control and grounded in yourself.
If possible decide what time of the day is best for you to work in. Ask yourself am I more productive in the morning or in the evening?
- Make a clear start and end to your working day. Consider creating a ritual that symbolically signifies that you’re starting your job and signing off.
- Create a routine for yourself so that you have clear in mind what time to wake up, start working, have lunch and log off.
- Find ways that ease you into your working day and never look at your work emails first thing in the morning.
- Always be mindful of what times of the day you’re most alert and productive when setting your routine.
- Establish routine with family and friends. For families who are not used to the concept of remote working, boundaries can be difficult to establish and maintain. When you are visibly at home, it may signal to other family members that you are accessible. Explain that while you are indeed home, you should be considered unreachable unless there’s a significant situation that would align with justifying an office interruption.
How best to work?
- Make sure you get enough exercise, make time for regular breaks and fresh air.
- Use timer apps to help you focus, especially when in busy environments or when you’re working under time pressure.
- Try different kinds of music to help you get through those intense moments just before a deadline or when you feel you need to relax or focus more. Find what kind of music or sounds work best for you.
- Always dress for success. Working from home is no excuse for working in your PJs. Getting dressed and presenting yourself as if you were going to the office can go a long way towards getting you into a working mindset.
- Dress comfy and consider trying out using a uniform to draw a distinct line between time on and time off work. This can help you, particularly if you struggle to not think of work after you close your computer and enhances the feeling of boundary between your personal and professional life.
- Whether it’s in your home office, at a coffee shop, a co-working space,or elsewhere, consider ergonomics. Pay close attention to seating and posture, as well as repetitive stress on arms and wrists. It’s worth investing in equipment designed to help you work healthier. Saving money in this area now can lead to chronic pains in the future.
- Having a door you can close can be a very helpful element to starting your working day. This is a clear signal to others about whether you can be disturbed or not.
- Avoid any distractions in your working space. This can be anything from ambient sounds, visual distractions or snacks!
Where to work?
- Especially for new remote workers, it’s important to aim to dedicate a space where only work occurs, enabling you to focus specifically on work and healthily disconnect when you exit.
- Think about where you prefer to work on a daily basis. Consider spaces in your home, co-working venue, etc. where you will be largely free from distraction. The more focused you are due to your surroundings, the more quickly you can accomplish your duties and move on to important non-work activities.
- Experiment with work environments. While working from home is an ideal scenario for many, you may find that you are happier, more fulfilled and more productive elsewhere. If you feel burdened or socially drained while working from home, consider a co-working space or an outdoor area. Preferences vary from person to person and even from season to season.
- A bespoke work area is fundamentally different than any other area in the home. It’s important to be intentional about the space where you do the bulk of your work, designing it to be comfortable and have an atmosphere where you are productive and focused.
- Working away from home can also be very helpful every now and again. A change is as good as a rest.
People adopt a remote lifestyle for many reasons. By experimenting and asking for advice from others who work remotely, you may discover a side of yourself that’s able to flourish due to newfound flexibility. Enjoy it and make the most of it!
Author: Sarah Speziali, Chief Therapist at InsideOut