Rediscover the joy of remote work

Early in the pandemic, many professionals got their first taste of full-time remote work. The benefits – laundry between meetings, 30-second commutes and the ability to make lunch on demand, to name a few – were a delight to many people who hadn’t had much chance to enjoy them. There was talk of a new normal for workplaces, and some people swore off suiting up for good.

More than a year later, things look a little different. Setting aside the debate about whether and how companies should require workers to return, the benefits of the remote work life remain. But the luster has worn off a bit, and we are all clearer on the downsides. I’ll pause here for a moment to advise leaders against anything that reads like putting your team on notice in a national newspaper, as some have done with some regret.

Let’s look at some of the data:

And yet …

The truth is, while it’s not for everyone, working from home can be great for your mental health. But if you are not careful, it can also be terrible for your well-being. Especially at a time when stress is running high, children may be running wild in the background, and remote work is a requirement, rather than a choice.

Here’s my best advice for staying healthy and happy.

Resist the urge to overcompensate

With remote work far more common than it was 18 months ago, I am hopeful that fewer professionals feel the need to prove themselves while working from home. But myths about productivity and performance remain (fact: many people are more productive.) Many supervisors lack confidence in their ability to manage remote employees, and their perspectives suggest trust issues are common. As some people return to offices while others stay home, some of these issues could be magnified.

All this is to say, the reflex to overcompensate – by working harder and longer than you ever would in an office – is understandable. But it is a slippery slope leading toward burnout. Instead, talk with your supervisor about clear expectations, then meet them. Prioritize transparency, but do not apologize when you need a break. Be clear with colleagues about when you are reachable (and how to reach you) and when you aren’t, then stick to it. And if you feel you are being penalized in any way for your remote status, talk with someone in HR.

Consider a flexible schedule

In most jobs, there are times you need to be at your desk, in meetings or otherwise engaged. That’s true in the office and at home. But for most people, there are also times when you work independently, drafting reports, planning presentations or doing other Deep Work. Do these things need to happen on a 9-to-5 schedule? Maybe not.

Employer permitting, consider building a schedule that works for you. It could be a split schedule, where you work for several hours, step away, and return later. Or it could be a longer-than-normal day with several generous breaks sprinkled in. Many parents of older children have made the most of the ability to work through remote school, step back into parenting in the afternoon and resume work after bedtime, but this kind of approach can be good for anyone.

One great thing about a split or otherwise flexible schedule is it allows you to work with the rhythms of your body, rather than forcing your body to adapt to what your employer expects. Some people are most productive in the morning, and some after dark. There’s no need to fight this if you don’t have to – and plenty of benefit to setting a schedule that works for you. (If you need help advocating for this kind of flexibility, check out my recommendations for difficult conversations and negotiating.)

But set a hard stop at the end of the day

Flexibility is great, but if it leaves you hitting the pillow immediately after you close your laptop, you’ve taken things too far. We all need to unplug before sleeping, and you also need a clear line between the work part of your home life and the other important parts. For parents of the youngest children, working into the wee hours has been a necessary survival mechanism. But as families are able to return to childcare centers, it will be a good idea to set a hard stop at the end of your day and walk away – even if only from your desk to your couch.

If you still haven’t set up a dedicated workspace, it’s time

I realize the space-challenged among us, such as those who live in city apartments, have a hard time with this one. But if you have the space, setting up a desk where you can spill out (and leave) all your work things is extremely normalizing. And this is another strategy for drawing a line between work and the rest of life. If you are not working at your kitchen table, eating there becomes much more pleasant.

Once you have a space, make it your own. One great thing about working from home is not having to follow the office rules. Place a pet bed by your feet, pull up a cozy chair for casual phone meetings, add festive lights, plants, candles, a mini basketball hoop or whatever else makes you happy. And revisit your videoconference background (start with this great Twitter feed for inspiration and a little snark).

Embrace the awesomeness

There are some things that simply can’t be done in an office. Remote work has its challenges, so make sure you are taking advantage of the good stuff. Such as:

  • Ice cream on demand. More difficult in an office for sure.
  • Midday power naps. Also difficult in most offices.
  • Unlimited access to the great outdoors. Feel the sun on your face, the breeze in your hair and whatever else feels good to you whenever you can. If you have the right space for it, you might even try working outside once in a while.
  • Cooking while working. Baking and slow simmering soups are perfect for your more flexible days.
  • Working in pajamas or loungewear. Not always advisable, not right for everyone and not something I do as a coach. But is there anything better on a rainy day with an early start, particularly if I’m doing that creative deep work without any client calls on my calendar?
  • Sophie the dog

    Sophie loves the remote work life.

    Bonding with pets. There’s no reason you can’t spend the whole day with your best friend. My girl Sophie (pictured) loves that I am home most days, and has taken to resting at my feet near my desk while I am working. I call her my “coaching mascot,” and she loves it!
  • Phone meetings and (weeding the garden, folding laundry, strolling around the block, etc.) – not necessarily compatible with taking notes, but just perfect for some calls. My clients often appreciate the chance to have a “walking meeting.”
  • Lunchtime errands. This is a feature of office life as well, but remote work opens some doors like midday grocery shopping. You’ll find the crowds much better than on weekends.

If you are a leader, walk the walk

None of this makes much difference to people who don’t feel supported in taking care of themselves while working remotely. Those with authority in the workplace are in a powerful position to normalize a healthy approach to remote work. If you are a leader, and you step away to deal with a home repair, take a walk or do something else that is reasonable, healthy and expected, make a point of telling your team. Share the challenge of dealing with children underfoot, welcome your pets to your Zoom calls and take sick days when you need them, so your team will do the same.

As you continue to get work done while managing real-life challenges, they will feel empowered – and trusted – to do the same. Everybody wins, in the office and at home.

Your perspective

What do you love about working from home? What do you dislike? Please share in the comments!

 

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