Telecommuting has been growing in the last 10 years, but the COVID-19 has pushed most of the working population to work from home.
Working at home, however, can bring different kinds of stress than working at the office: telecommuters can have a hard time setting boundaries, balancing work and family life, and overcoming feelings of isolation.
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Here are some ways to avoid those stresses:
1. Set up a comfortable and separate workspace:
A qualitative study on remote workers found that working full time at home encourages overwork by employees. It also found that work infringed on family roles. Work-life balance may be more challenging when both home and work projects compete for your time.
Try creating an optimal workspace by dedicating a spot in your home for telework, making an effort to keep work and personal space separate. Having a place where you can shut the door when you’re done with work may help (it will also close off your view to any dirty dishes or laundry waiting to be done during the workday).
2. Curb the constant communication:
Communication technology is great, and it allows more flexibility to work from home. It can also produce stress when the communication gets overwhelming. What about those weeks when you have double booked phone conferences with multiple instant messages needing attention, plus you are falling behind on emails? When you’re trying to be in the moment, these distractions can be a headache, and they can also cause you to work longer hours than you would at the office.
Multitasking sounds impressive, but research has found focusing on one task at a time is more productive. Try designating a specific time to respond to emails rather than checking emails constantly throughout the day (and night). This is, of course, easier said than done. Block time off on your calendar to get project work done and turn off the instant messages at that time. Make a commitment not to check work emails after hours.
3. Set boundaries on social time:
People may mistakenly think you are available to talk or go out during the day just because you are at home. These interruptions, wanted or unwanted, can be very distracting.
Limit time during the workday with family and friends, making arrangements to talk and spend time together after work. It may be stressful to say, “No”, but the extra stress of getting behind at work isn’t worth it.
4. Make time for exercise and healthy snacks:
When you work in an office building, you get exercise walking from your car or the train, to your office and back again. When you work at home, it’s just a few steps to your computer (and the refrigerator).
Make exercise a priority. Schedule time to move by starting your day with a walk, or take a break to do calisthenics for a few minutes each hour. Some activity trackers have hourly reminders to encourage you to get 250 steps in per hour. It will help clear your mind, get your blood moving and help reduce stress. Keep the kitchen stocked with healthy options, like fruit and nuts, so you’re not tempted by indulgence all day.
5. Take a break:
There are times when you keep reading the same sentence over and over or your attempts to make progress on a report are going slowly. You can feel your stress level rising, but you want to muscle through to complete the project and get it off your to-do list.
When you are stuck on a specific project, take a break and work on another project for a while. Sometimes just letting your mind work on something else will bring new energy when you return to the original project. Or, go back to #4 and go out for a jog.
6. Maintain connections with co-workers:
Office relationships take extra effort to keep up when you are working from home. It can be stressful to be out of the loop with co-workers or to feel isolated from human interaction.
Make that phone call to talk and stay connected with co-workers, keep up with what is going on and offer to help with new projects. Networking is also important when you are at home. Schedule time to get out and meet new people.
Working from home has many benefits—keep it a positive experience by holding stress at bay.
Originally published on June 18, 2018. Updated on April 12, 2020.
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