There are a lot of great perks to remote work. You can work from anywhere, you are less likely to get sick (during a global pandemic and generally), and you technically don't have to wear pants if you don't want to. But that doesn't mean working from home is always better than being in the office. People who work from home report a variety of struggles, like loneliness and trouble focusing. But coping with them isn't impossible, and if you can do it, you just might like being at home better than the office — or you can at least make it work temporarily.
According to a 2019 report on remote work by software company Buffer, some of the most common work-from-home struggles people report are:
- Feeling like you can't unplug
- Collaborating and/or communication
- Distractions at home
- Staying motivated
Two psychologists who specialize in helping people have healthier relationships with work tell Woman's Day that their clients have also struggled with:
- Feeling like they can't separate their work life and home life
- Not having a home office
- Enforcing boundaries related to how much they work
They laid out what people can do to cope so that they can work more effectively at home in a healthy way.
Start a routine that includes a "commute."
Getting into a mindset that allows you to feel motivated starts with a solid routine. You don't have to wake up early, Dr. Emma Taylor, a clinical psychologist at City Psychology Group, tells Woman's Day. Just try to keep a regular pattern of sleeping, waking, some form of physical activity, mental effort (like work), and relaxation.
Lee Chambers, an environmental psychologist and wellbeing consultant, suggests starting your day with a walk outside, or letting the sun shine on your face. "Imagine that going to a place to work, and then coming back, unlocking that door and walking into work," he tells Woman's Day. "That kind of psychological shift that's almost like a simulated commute really helps people." You can also put on work clothes (or at least clothing that is different than what you slept in).
Don't just take your commute at the beginning of the day, either. If possible, repeat it at the end of the day, too. That can help create a psychological and physical division between work and the rest of your life, which can help prevent you from working longer hours unnecessarily or feeling like you can never log off.
Use time, activity, and surroundings to create a work space.
Ideally, everyone who was working from home would have a home office, but that's not a possibility for everyone. "If you can’t physically differentiate home from work, you can still use time and activity to create psychological boundaries between them," Taylor says. If you don't even space to set up a desk, then work at your kitchen table. If have trouble focusing because you eat there, Chambers and Taylor have a trick for that too: Change what's in your line of sight. Put away or hide all the work stuff while you're eating, and then anything not work-related while you're working to create a psychological boundary, Taylor says.
"This can literally be just throwing a sheet over the things that aren’t relevant right now, or putting them in a box, or facing in a different direction," Taylor explains. If you have to work in your bedroom, try to face a different direction on the bed than you would when you're sleeping. "Anything that differentiates 'work mode' from 'home mode,'" Taylor adds.
Changing where you work or what you see around you will help you create a mental boundary that can help you stay focused. "If you've got your children's toy in your direct eye line, you're going to be thinking, 'Hmm, I need to tidy up,'" Chambers says. In addition to helping your focus, using different visual cues can help you feel less like your work and home life are blurring together.
Create physical and verbal boundaries with people you live with.
To maximize productivity, try to filter out distractions created by the people you live with. Taylor recommends using noise-canceling headphones, closing doors between you and others, and using a "do not disturb" sign on the door, if necessary.
Also, communicate boundaries to the people you live with. Let them know when it is and isn't OK to check in during the day. Also keep in mind when you would usually interact with someone during the work day. For example, Chambers notes that you wouldn't go to someone's office in the middle of the day to tell them something face to face. You would wait until they got home, or maybe until dinnertime.
Step away from social media (don't worry, there's an app for that).
Obviously social media is incredibly distracting, especially if you're someone who closely follows the news. There's no magical cure for this, unfortunately. You just have to be disciplined and mindful of your social media use, Chambers says. If you need to, try using apps that block social media temporarily, like Offtime, Moment, and Flipd.
Focus on one thing for a shorter amount of time, then switch to something else.
I have some news: You've been working the wrong way for most of your life. Research has found that people are more productive when they take regular breaks while working. Other research has found that taking breaks also helps fight "decision fatigue."
You can build new working habits by trying something like the Pomodoro Technique, which was invented by an entrepreneur and developer named Francesco Cirillo. The technique requires working for 25 minute intervals and taking between five and 30 minute breaks between.
This might be good news for parents, Taylors says, because "rather than trying to work while halfheartedly playing with your child, you might get more done if you give the child full attention for 10 minutes, then park them in front of the TV for the [next] 10 minutes while you focus on a single work task," she says. But if you feel like you need to send emails while cooking dinner, "do what you have to do," she says. "You’ll probably feel more stressed and disorganized, but if it’s a choice of that or not getting essential things done, only you can make the call about which is the better option."
Schedule time to connect with people.
Try to meet with friends and family regularly in small groups (socially distanced, and in accordance with the CDC COVID-19 guidelines, of course), schedule regular phone calls, and talk to coworkers about life outside of work. During the pandemic and ongoing racial injustices in the U.S., Taylor says it's also good to "think in terms of the ways we feel connected to other people, to our identities, and to wider groups and society."
"Think about which people, which groups, which activities and environments help you to feel really connected to other people, whether it’s a brief text to that friend who really gets you, or chatting online with people who are passionate about something that matters to you," Taylor says.
You can also feel connected to people through books, movies, religious or spiritual practices, or by acting through your own values, which could mean raising money for a cause you care about or volunteering your time.
Lastly, don't forget about your hobbies, Chambers says. Having a hobby you invest time in almost daily or on weekends can help foster a healthier work-life balance
Go easy on yourself.
Dedicate time to self care — and that doesn't necessarily mean face masks and bubble baths. "Letting things drop is one of my favorite forms of self-care: this is really the time to let yourself off the hook, to lower your standards, to give up all those optional things that stress you more than they feed you," Taylor says. "This is a good opportunity to spend less time with those people who exhaust you (unless you happen to live with them!), to let yourself take shortcuts, to postpone some plans."
One of the biggest takeaways: If you're struggling with the transition to working from home, cut yourself some slack, and do what you can. "It's really important that people are compassionate with themselves and realize that, actually, you're doing really well in such a challenging time," Chambers says.
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