Working from home is often one of life’s little luxuries when it’s a once-weekly occurrence. But it’s a whole different ball game now that we are practically living out our day-to-day lives on a Zoom camera. These days we’re ‘dialling in’ as opposed to commuting, and logging into the virtual coffee break. But when your home space becomes your work space, it becomes much harder to separate the two. Here we share some tips on how to create and maintain a healthy work-life balance, with comments from Steve Brown, Branch Manager at Winkworth Blackheath, about his working routine during lockdown.
Stick to your routine
However boring “routine” sounds, we’re all creatures of habits. Any prolonged stint outside of what’s typically normal in our day-to-day lives, is bound to take its toll. Not least affect productivity to some extent. Adapting to a brand new schedule – working from home, only leaving the house for all but necessities and staying two metres away from people outside our household – is tricky. Obviously the commute is long gone for most, but think about all the other habits and rituals you perform throughout the day. Most of them can be slotted into this new way of working. Steve says, “I have found it hugely beneficial to treat the week the same as I would a normal working week. That means waking up at 6/6.30am, having breakfast, showering, shaving and putting a shirt on ready to “go to work.” Putting distinct “brackets” around the working day with routine habits should help to mentally segue between work mode and home life. It also helps to bring a tiny shred of normality to this unpredictable situation.
Have a designated work space
It doesn’t matter whether you walk, drive or take the Tube, most people will underestimate the commute and its power to distinctly divide work and home. Now, flicking on the computer and activating the video is the sudden start to the virtual working day. Likewise, without that ‘leaving the office’ moment, it’s all too easy to open up your laptop after the working day is done, either to send a quick email or check up on something. But doing so isn’t conducive to a healthy work-life balance. It’s an obvious one but perhaps the most important - where possible, have a designated space for work that completely separates the corporate world from the rest of the house. Having a work space you physically need to leave, or shut the door on, is one of the easiest ways of separating it from your personal life.
Adding to this, is the notion that the “Zoom room” is the new norm. “Communication between my team, colleagues and clients is key, and regular conversations and video calls have been great,” says Steve. Having a space set up ready for meetings, away from the rest of the house, feels far less invasive than giving your colleagues the home tour!
Create ground rules
Building some lines and boundaries around work is essential for creating a sense of balance for everyone in the household. Not only will it set realistic expectations for what you can and cannot do in a workday, but it will help mitigate distractions. Family members, social media, and the news can all distract during office hours. But on the other hand, emails, calls and Slack chats can all interrupt family life. Where possible, set boundaries with your colleagues so that they clearly know when they can - and perhaps cannot - expect an immediate reply. Likewise, use a sign on the door or block out your time in chunks and share with the rest of the household, so that they know when they can and can’t interrupt. For Steve, that means working solidly for 90 minutes with 20/30 minute break intervals. He says, “The past couple of weeks have been interesting and trying to balance work and home life can be tricky, especially while trying to home school an energetic 4 year old son. My partner and I have been alternating these to ensure our son gets the time he needs.”
When you work at home, career and family can blend in such a seamless way that it seems like there's no time for yourself. Especially at a time like this, with full households locked-in together. For your own physical and mental wellbeing, it’s important that you make time for what’s important for you. Exercise, creative hobbies, getting outside for a walk, reading and rituals of self care often get abandoned because we are too busy with our family and work obligations. Prioritise a couple of hours throughout the week that are solely for you. If needs be, put them in your diary and stick to them as if they were a business meeting. This could be a daily exercise routine or a couple of hours at the weekend for creative outlets.
Make time for socialising
Maintaining a social life, albeit from a distance, will play a big role in striking a healthy work-life balance. Currently, more than a third of the world’s population sits under some form of coronavirus lockdown, yet staying social has never been easier thanks to an endless array of online chat and gaming apps that can help keep you connected while in isolation. If a Thursday catchup in the pub after work is the typical norm, keep it going over Facetime. If you’re missing your weekly gym class with a friend, set up an online workout you can do together. Build it into your routine and you’ll be surprised at how quickly the world of virtual socialising becomes normal.
The effectiveness of your systems of organisation and routines will likely change over time. Especially as we get ever more into the swing of this locked-down situation. Both your home life and work life will benefit if you allow yourself to adapt quickly to the ever-changing circumstances. It’s important to remember that everyone is in the same boat, so you shouldn’t put pressure on yourself if things perhaps don’t work out the way they normally would, or your productivity isn’t as high. It truly is an unprecedented time and the more you can go with the flow, the less overwhelmed you will feel.