Careers advice

How to retain a good work-life balance when working remotely

How do you leave work at work when home is your office?

For many New Zealanders never have personal and professional lives been so closely intertwined.

Who could have imagined at the start of 2020 that so many of us would be working from our homes, juggling kids, flatmates and less than ideal internet connections? Even as the country adapts to life post lockdown, there’s a good chance many Kiwis will choose to continue with a degree of remote working as we move forwards.

Because work-life balance is crucial to good mental health, we need to prioritise this equilibrium during these unsettling times. Here are some suggestions.

How to achieve a good work-life balance when working from home

1. Assign and communicate your working hours

While many businesses will continue standard hours while staff are working remotely, you’ll probably have a degree of flexibility – especially if you’re looking after kids.

One of the most important things you can do with regards to maintaining your work-life balance is deciding when you’re going to be online, and when you’re going to have to make time for other things. We advise talking this through with your manager first, and then communicating it to your immediate team, so they’ll know when to expect delays in communications.

Bonus tip: if you use digital calendars, block out the times you won’t be available so it’s easy for people to check. If your organisation uses instant messaging systems like Slack it’s also possible to update your status to let colleagues know you’re away from your desk.

Doing this should stop teammates contacting you when you’re busy, keeping the pressure off for a bit.

Communicate your working hours to your team so they know when to reach you.

2. Designate a workstation

This won’t be possible for everyone, but if you can choose somewhere to work that isn’t somewhere you’ll later be chilling with family or flatties.

While few of us miss the commute to work (*cough, Aucklanders), the process of getting up and leaving a desk before heading home helps us dissociate these two environments. While you can’t do this right now, you can at least choose different areas of your home for work and for play.

3. Have a plan

Rocking up to your workstation with no clue what you’re going to do for the day is a recipe for unproductivity, which can then lead to working late when you suddenly remember that thing you were meant to do.

We recommend starting every Monday by overviewing what you want to achieve that week, and mapping out your priorities. Even if this changes, and nothing is standing still for long at the moment, at least you have a framework for adapting to new challenges as they arise.

4. Don’t work late

It’s very tempting, especially if you’re under the pump, to go back to your laptop after dinner, or before bed.

“I’ll just check my emails”, you’ll tell yourself, and an hour later you’ll still be neck-deep in your ongoing projects. This can quickly lead to burn-out, which is the last thing you need.

Part of the importance of work-life balance, is giving yourself time to enjoy yourself and, crucially, get a good night’s sleep. You can guarantee the second of those things won’t happen if your brain is still whirring and your eyes are glued to a laptop screen.

Nope, when your work hours are over, it’s me-time. Close that email, turn off your work phone, and relax.

If you’re consistently struggling to get everything done, have a chat with your manager. This is much better than suffering in silence, and they should be able to help you find ways to manage or reduce your workload.

When work's over, turn that laptop off.

5. Take your breaks

Unless you’ve signed a new employment agreement to change your hours, you’re still entitled to the same breaks you always have been while working from home.

It can be easy to dismiss taking a break as pointless when you’re at home anyway, but trying to work through without isn’t smart, and will probably dent your productivity in the long run.

6. Get out of the house

We all need to stick to the Government’s rules about what is and isn’t allowed during the Covid-19 pandemic. However, even at Alert Level 4 we were allowed to get out of the house for exercise, and the scope of what’s permitted is only likely to increase from here.

We’re not saying you need to take up running or cycling if you don’t want to. However, there’s heaps of evidence that even a small amount of exercise is great for both mental and physical health. A simple stroll around your neighbourhood or local park can help you clear your head if you’re finding work stressful.

7. Keep socialising (safely)

There’s no denying that our social lives have taken a big hit over the last few weeks. However, your friends and family are still there, thanks to the wonders of the internet.

If you’re finding work tough it’s more important than ever that you talk to people you’re close to. Not only can they offer advice on what you might be able to do to improve things, just talking to loved ones can help take your mind off work and the weirdness of life at the moment.