Working from home is sold to us as the solution to all our problems. We can work anytime, anywhere. Or is it more like all the time, everywhere?
We’re told without the pesky interference of commutes and coffee breaks, we can have a better ‘work/life balance’ and we can achieve so much more than we are now. But is it all it’s cracked up to be?
‘Working from home’, or ‘new ways of working’ or ‘flex working’. These concepts have wound their way into the fabric of our lives over the past decade, with COVID-19 pushing a work from home lifestyle across the board. But what is flexible working?
A significant number of companies seem to be under the impression that because we’re at home, we’re available to work, even if its’s 6am or 11pm. Or that because we’re ‘just at home anyway’ we can be scheduled to out of hours meetings on a daily basis. This culture invades our personal lives, and there is pressure to be ‘always on or you’re not working hard enough’.
This ‘productivity camp’ approach to working takes away so much of the psychological benefits of working. My favourite things about going to the office are the morning coffee run and the Friday drinks. As an expat the office is where I’ve made a lot of my friends here in Sydney, and that face-to-face interaction is crucial to develop and maintain those bonds.
While working from home (I do two days a week at home) has its benefits, given how prevalent ‘flexible working’ has become, it’s critical to set boundaries. Boundaries mean we don’t burnout and lose sight of all the good things about physically going to work.
Boundaries with work might sound like:
· I’m not available at that time.
· I don’t answer emails on the weekend.
· I have plans that night so I won’t be able to work (plans may be fictional)
· I have a regular engagement at X time (outside of hours) so this doesn’t work for me
· As I worked on Saturday, I will be taking Monday in lieu
Boundaries with work might look like:
· Muting chat (teams/slack/jabber) between 6pm and 8am (you can set quiet hours on teams)
· Not checking emails (I’ve found deleting the app evenings and weekends can help with this)
· Turning off all Outlook notifications except calendar reminders
· Not picking up the phone when it rings
· Having a separate phone for work that is turned off and put in a drawer at a certain time
· Logging off when your workday officially ends e.g. 5pm
· Quitting and working somewhere else that respects your boundaries
The other side of forced working from home is that we don’t always have the ideal setup. Family members, flatmates and lack of space can all contribute to a difficult working from home environment. If the option is available to go to work (like in Australia), I would recommend going in at least 1-2 days. The social side alone is worth it, but if you’re commuting you also get some fresh air and get your steps up, win-win! Meanwhile, some boundaries for the days we are at home are crucial for mental health and productivity.
Obviously actually going to work isn’t an option for a lot of people right now. And maybe there’s flatmates/partners at home not working and not allowed to leave the house. Or kids at home not allowed to go to school. Or just, other people also working from home.
Maybe there’s an expectation (placed by us or others) that you could ‘just get dinner started’ or ‘just do a load of laundry’ because you’re ‘here all day’. Maybe it’s trying to work at the kitchen table with a horde of people cooking/making tea around you. Maybe there’s an expectation of savings on childcare cost as ‘you’re here anyway’.
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Whether it’s working from home or working in onsite, it’s still work. As such, boundaries are crucial to prevent burnout and allow us to enjoy some of the benefits of working at home.
Boundaries with home might sound like:
· I won’t be able to do X errand/household chore as although I’m at home I’m still working
· I can do X at 2pm but it will have to be my lunch break, so I will let work know I will be back online by 3pm
· I can’t hang out/watch TV/ go for a walk with you right now as I’m trying to get X finished for work
· I can’t watch the kids all day. While I’m at home, I am working so I won’t have capacity to care for them while adequately performing my work duties
· I need a dedicated space I can work in
Boundaries with home might look like:
· Leaving dirty dishes in the sink/laundry undone/beds unmade
· Scheduling time at the weekends specifically to clean/grocery shop etc
· Maintaining childcare arrangements as though you are going to the work, after all, it is a home workspace. Obviously, this is contingent on childcare being available with COVID restrictions
· Having a dedicated workspace where you can leave your laptop/notebooks etc untouched
· If your workspace is a separate room entirely (ideal), implementing a ‘traffic light’ system on the door, i.e., red sticker: do not enter, yellow sticker: knock first, green sticker: come on in
· Investing in some decent noise cancelling headphones
There is a balance to be struck with working from home, personally I believe the best of both worlds is a mix. Solid and healthy boundaries help prevent us from doing too much and burning out. Top tip: if you can organise with your team to have the same days onsite, do! We’ve done that at work and it’s been brilliant, we all get to maintain the social bonds AND have 2 days a week of ‘at home’ time. Win.
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