The Benefits and Challenges of Working from Home. PART 1 – Your Work Environment

The Benefits and Challenges of Working from Home. 

PART 1 – Your Work Environment

Even prior to the COVID-19 outbreak and subsequent quarantine(s), there was already a segment of the workforce who worked remotely full or part time.  While the benefits of working in your pajama bottoms and avoiding a frustrating commute are real, there are also some drawbacks which include: working too much, lack of real socialization, falling into, or back into, poor health habits and more.  Below are some observations from long-time remote workers, along with some helpful strategies for yourself and your team.

Maintaining a Work-Life Balance

While the knee-jerk reaction of many managers and business owners may be that working from home leads to reduced productivity without constant managerial oversight, however, the contrary is actually true.  Individuals who work from home tend to work far more and far longer hours, especially if they’re managers or business owners.  While this may appear as a great boon for employers it can actually lead to burn out and job dissatisfaction, if not identified and managed properly.  To help mitigate this phenomenon it’s important to set concrete hours and stick to them.  If in your average office environment a work day would typically start at 9 AM and end at 6 PM, then an at-home work day should begin and end likewise.  At home there will always be a temptation to just “do that one last thing”, whether that be respond to an email or something else.  Once you start with “just that one last thing” you’ll find yourself two hours later with a whole new task list, or worse pulling an all-nighter trying to get ahead on a project. When the day is done, you’re done: turn off your laptop and turn off notifications. Walk away.

While setting time boundaries for yourself and your employees is important. E.g. I will be unavailable after 7PM.  It’s equally important to set boundaries for your house-mates, family and friends.  Explain that if they (family, etc) had a similar problem (e.g. I can’t find the duct tape) would they just show up at your office? Then while you’re working at home, unless it’s an emergency, you are not to be disturbed.  This is particularly important if a big portion of your day is on video or conference calls.   If there are young children at home, then someone must be tasked with managing their needs, whether that be a spouse, a hired sitter, or another family member. If both you and your partner are in a similar situation, with no outside support for the children – set a schedule to trade off days where one is responsible and works around the others schedule and vice-versa, but keep it fair. It’s critical to have boundaries established and set expectations from the onset – both for your employees, your colleagues and for your family.  Additionally, allocating a space that creates a physical boundary will help you and others get in the habit of respecting work and personal time.  Consider working in a separate room or a section of a room that is solely for the purpose of your job. Resist the temptation of entering that room or space when the day is over.

A great way to break the habit of working longer than you should is to set appointments for the end of the day.  This forces you to have things wrapped up accordingly.  Additionally, it’s important to take breaks.  Set break reminders on your watch or computer – that’s a great time to get up, get some fresh air, stretch your back and take your dog out for a walk.  Even a 15 minute break and a bit of movement will give you some renewed energy and will clear your head.

Prioritize Your Work

Procrastination can sabotage productivity.  We all have that one or two things in our job that we just put off.  Whether it’s because they’re tedious or require some extra effort, you can find yourself doing a myriad of other things around your home rather than just knocking that annoying or tedious thing out.  Don’t set out to do too much in any given day. Set a reasonable goal to just do that one, most important thing, get it out of the way first.  Not only will you enjoy a feeling of accomplishment, but you’ll also be better focused for the rest of your workday.   Additionally, don’t try and tackle all the hard things at once.  There’s a 1-3-5 rule managers, owners and employees should follow; do one big thing, 3 medium things and 5 small things each day. If everyone works off this plan, you’ll find that everyone manages to get through their task list.

Minimize Distractions

Technology and internet driven distractions can be a time-killer and productivity sucker.  Alerts from a phone or computer can set you down any number of unintended worm holes.  There are a number of apps (10 Apps to Help You Focus and Block Distractions: available that can help minimize distractions.  Which apps to use is largely dependent on how strict your organizations wants to be.  But, internet distractions are very real and can range from being a mild bad habit to downright destructive and can also waste money (remember the Facebook ad compelled you to by that item you didn’t need?).  According to researcher Matt Killingsworth, distractions also make us less happy *.  Individuals who can focus on one thing at a time are much more satisfied than those who aren’t.  In short, distractions can be destructive.

Stay Social

If you’re single and live alone then start working from home, the lack of socialization can really become an issue.  While many introverts thrive in a work-from-home environment, humans are naturally wired to seek companionship, so it’s still important to encourage employees to get out of the house.  Recommend taking lunch at an alternative location, like a park, or encourage them to make it a point to meet with someone (from a safe social distance) like a friend, colleague or even a neighbor once a week.   If nothing else, order some take out and pick it up versus having it delivered.  Just the time chatting with fellow patrons or the counter person can be enough to offer some much needed social interaction, even if everyone is wearing a mask.  If the quarantine situation permits encourage employees to make an effort to join a networking group, Meet Up club or similar to get out of the house.

Staying Healthy

Keeping and maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be a challenge with the pantry and refrigerator only 50’ away from your work space.  Putting off exercising in favor of getting that last bit of the project done is also very real.  Encourage your employees to keep their refrigerator full of healthy ready-to-grab snacks, like sliced cucumber chips, to keep them away from that very real bag of potato chips.   When it’s break time, go for a walk rather than getting a snack.  During lunch break take the dog out and play fetch. Do some stretches.  In other words move and get active.   Learn to recognize when eating is from stress or boredom versus eating for hunger otherwise the pounds will start adding up quickly.  If you enjoy alcohol, limit it to after work hours only. Not only will this keep you from drinking during the day, but it will also help you to end your work day at a reasonable time if you assign yourself a “7PM Happy Hour.”  Try to get outside daily. If you have a dog, take it for a walk or a run.  Go for a bike ride or putter around your yard if you have one. Humans need some sunshine and vitamin D to stay healthy, especially if they’re stressed and in front of a computer screen all day.

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Stay tuned for Part 2: “Working From Home & Managing Your Technology”