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Expert working from home tips, easy home office ideas and ways to set boundaries to achieve work-life balance, master remote work and avoid burnout.
When your home office is in your living room it can be hard to switch off. As remote work continues and nine-to-five feels like it’s stretching to eight-to-six (and beyond), establishing work-life balance becomes even more essential to avoiding burnout. These working from home tips can help you set boundaries and increase productivity.
Not everyone has the luxury of a separate home study or office but no matter how little space you have, try to create a working environment that feels neat, organised and distinct from your home life. Order your space with folders and an in-tray to avoid clutter, orientate your desk to face a wall so you don’t get distracted by the washing-up or laundry that needs folding and, if you can, work in natural light. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight increases levels of serotonin, the body’s mood-boosting chemical.
If you live with family members or housemates, communication and negotiation is key. Designate a separate quiet space for voice calls and videoconferencing and plan coffee breaks or lunchtime catch-ups when you all put down your mobile phones and connect as friends rather than office mates.
When you don’t have to face your colleagues (and no-one can see your tracksuit pants on a video call) it’s easy to let your style slip. Stylist Lucy Wood found the transition to working from home harder than she expected. “Initially, I loved working all day in my comfy best, until I realised it was affecting my productivity and every day of the week started to blur into one.”
She recommends striking a balance of comfortable and chic. “I’ve resorted to wearing a new kind of working from home uniform – pyjama-style silky pants with an oversized tailored shirt (for me, in clashing prints). This makes me feel polished enough for any last-minute video calls but also comfortable. It also means that when it’s time to clock off for the day, those trackie pants are just the thing to help switch out of work mode.”
Make your workday clear to others by blocking out time in your calendar. As well as scheduling lunch breaks and social calls with colleagues (if you can), consider capping meetings at 45 minutes so you have 15 minutes to reflect, make notes and prepare for your next appointment.
Executive coach Sharyn Coughlan from Coughlan & Co says diarising work parameters not only defines your day but can lead to increased productivity if done right. “Block out the last hour of your day and use it to catch up on emails. It's an effective way to wind down before clocking off and helps avoid the extra work that can arise from late meetings."
Apart from the obvious changes to your environment, working on your own at home without direct support and collaboration with your colleagues can make a job you know well feel difficult and stressful. Coughlan says it’s important to set new, realistic goals with your manager. “Discuss expectations – yours and theirs. Why spend the days worrying? If you can’t prioritise together in person, keep in touch at least once a day by email and keep your eye on deadlines.”
Make daily to-do lists and, where possible, map out your priorities and deadlines for the week and month. If your goals are clear, achievable and tangible, you can refer to them any time you’re feeling stressed, particularly after hours when it can be hard to switch off.
Try to put away or disguise your work at the end of each day. “When your living space becomes your office it can be very easy to forget about the boundaries that are important for self-care,” says psychologist David Barracosa. “Disconnecting with work by putting away computers at the end of the day helps to make sure that we don’t lose our sense of self by letting work responsibilities be ever present.” If you can’t close the door on work, consider a big box to stow your files and laptop in, or a curtain or screen to hide your desk.