My employer recently shared that our company's work-from-home policy, which started during the pandemic, is extended indefinitely. While I do enjoy a great many aspects of working remotely, namely the flexibility it allows for, I have noticed that I work more hours at home than I did in the office, and I'm worried about normalizing that behavior. What can I do to make sure that I don’t spend all my time working (or at least more time than I used to)?
For many people who did not work remotely before the pandemic, the working structure has since become the norm. And many folks, like yourself, have grown accustomed to its benefits, which, in addition to flexibility, may include a reduction in stress (thanks to working in a comfortable space like your own home), money savings (on not needing to commute or even really dress), and safety from certain workplace microaggressions. That said, remote work is it is not without challenges. There are issues of isolation and loneliness, accessibility for certain workers with disabilities, and a compromised workplace culture. Another big drawback? Longer working hours.
Growing amounts of research provide evidence that remote workers work more hours and even worked through the weekend in increasing amounts since the onset of the pandemic. A recent study also found that that while WFH frees up an average of six hours per week for folks (thanks to no commute, no small talk, and fewer distractions), half of those "extra" hours are used for—you guessed it—doing more work. Even at home, the hustle never seems to stop. So, how do you avoid falling victim to the invisible trap of WFH and set healthy boundaries so that you work from home rather live at work? I have some tips to help save remote workers, like yourself, from more work hours than necessary.
4 strategies to keep your free time legitimately free (rather than dedicated to extra work)
1. Pay attention to how you spend your time
While this may sound easy on the surface, it often takes something like the onset of burnout to highlight that there may be room for improvement. To get you on the right track, you might conduct a time audit to gauge how you're spending your time. This exercise will highlight whether is consuming more hours of your day than you realize or intend it to. Since your schedule changes over time, I recommend doing this exercise monthly.
2. Block time to do your work
Meetings are important for facilitating teamwork but they can quickly get in the way of completing your individual work and can ultimately extend your workday. With this in mind, create a daily, recurring meeting on your calendar to help you focus on your tasks. Even if it’s only an hour, proactively blocking this time on your calendar is an efficient way to check items off your to-do list and prevent last-minute meetings from compromising your workflow.
3. Commit to doing something outside of work
How often do you have something else to look forward to—anything else? This is a perfect reason to pick up that hobby, take that class, or even talk to your best friends more regularly. Create a routine that helps you unplug and do something you’re excited about every day.
4. Communicate and create shared expectations
Decide on your work schedule and be sure to communicate it with your team members. What hours will you be online each day? What are the response-time expectations? Communicating your boundaries can help avoid miscommunication and eliminate unnecessary pressure (and if your boundaries aren't respected, that might be a red flag that your job isn't optimum for your mental health). Reasonable working hours should be a shared goal between you and your employer, and your actions could help set the tone for a more open team culture.
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