In the first two parts of this three-part article, we’ve been discussing the concept of doing your job from a location other than a traditional workplace. Whether that’s a coffee shop, remote office, or your own bedroom, working from home and working remotely has become a big part of today’s job culture. And so we’ve been examining the various ways Americans are working outside the office–telecommuting, working remotely, and truly working from home. We’ve also outlined some of the upsides and downsides of doing so.
Now we’ll turn to pointers for working from home. Most of these tips are directed at those who are newly working from home and those who are working from home most of the time.
Many employers and managers have been resistant to permitting their workers to work from home. Why is this? It’s most likely that bosses are fearful that they’ll lose control of their teams, and productivity will suffer. In an article in Forbes, reporter and podcaster Laura Vanderkam says, “Push managers for an explanation and you’ll eventually get some version of this: How do I know people won’t watch Netflix all day?” In her article, Vanderkam says before the COVID-19 pandemic, this “fear of slacking” was one of the most common reasons that requests to work from home was denied by corporate America.
But Vanderkam asserts that employees binge-watching Netflix on company time isn’t the real risk here. “The real danger is that without a physical separation between work and the rest of life, people won’t ever stop working,” says Vanderkam, “risking burnout, which has huge costs for employees and their organizations.” She cites a poll that shows burned-out employees are 2.6 times as likely to go hunt for a new job and 63 percent are more likely to take sick days. Those are real statistics that could lead to real losses of productivity, and they have nothing to do with slacking off.
Other experts also list burnout as a major risk of working at home. So, if there is one all-encompassing tip, pointer, or hack for working at home, it would be to arrange every aspect of your work-at-home experience to avoid allowing your job to take over your entire life.
However, burn-out is not the only pitfall you’ll encounter while working on your couch or at your kitchen table. Loneliness, isolation, depression, anxiety, a lack of comfortable places to work, and even complications with workplace regulations (such as OSHA and Workers Compensation Insurance) are some of the others. And so we’ll finish up this three-part article with a list of tips to avoid, mitigate, and prevent the bad stuff and create a safe, productive, and healthy work-from-home experience.
- Establish clear divisions between working and not working.Many articles and studies show that when workers abandon traditional workplaces and work at home, the divisions between life and work break down. “When do I start working?” “When do I stop?” Some people may be tempted to simply continue working at all hours, or at least be available to do so. Others reach a stage where they don’t want to work at all. One way to counteract this blurring of the lines between working and resting is to divide your time, of course. Setting your hours of work and strictly preventing them from encroaching upon leisure time is important. However, this issue also has to do with physical space–if possible, work only in one part of your living space. If you must share your living space with your job, at least use discrete arrangements of your workspace to repurpose it for leisure when the workday is finished. (e.g., put away your laptop and work phone when you’re done working for the day). Dividing work spaces from leisure spaces and work time from rest will help you prevent your home from becoming a 24-hour work site.
- Set boundaries (and then defend them!).Within the new paradigm of working from home, many workers are choosing to work non-traditional hours, such as nights and weekends. This may give workers and managers the mistaken impression that work can occur at any hour of any day. It’s true that working from home may provide some extra flexibility to emergencies or unexpected tasks. However, enforcing your work-from-home boundaries will help avoid burn-out and work-time encroachment. Make sure your boss and workmates know when you’re available–and when you’re not. Then, even more importantly, defend those boundaries vigorously.
- Acquire satisfactory work accommodations.Working from your bed or couch may seem kind of cozy and fun, but they’re not long-term work solutions. Sitting in a wooden-back chair at a kitchen table is likewise not great for your ergonomic well-being. Sub-par accommodations can erode your productivity and lead to health problems such as back pain and repetitive stress injury. Employers are required by law to provide workers with comfortable and safe workplace conditions, and this includes things like desks and office chairs no matter where they perform their job. So, if you’re working from home with the approval of your company, insist on satisfactory accommodations. If you’re working from home and working for yourself, invest in a comfortable workplace.
- Carefully track and document your time.While it is always an employer’s responsibility to account for employee time and productivity, this matter is probably more likely to be called into question if you’re working from home and out of the direct view of bosses and coworkers. If your employer does not utilize time-tracking technology (and perhaps even if they do), consider finding your own way to efficiently and clearly document your efforts and hours. Solid record-keeping will prevent conflict, but it may also ease the work-from-home anxiety experienced by both boss and worker.
- Educate yourself about workplace safety regulations (e.g., OSHA and Workers Compensation Insurance) and do what you must to comply with them.The vast majority of work-from-home jobs involve office work, which does not often result in injuries. Other types of work may be more prone to injuries. injuries are not common. In any case, if you are injured while acting in the interest of your employer, you must be familiar with how to file a claim and prove that the injury was on the job.
- Evaluate and adjust the other aspects of your life.The COVID-19 shift to working at home was for many a massive change that was not necessarily accompanied by other mitigating changes. In other words, many people in the United States made a dramatic change in their job without changing anything else. And so this final tip is to make sure that you’re monitoring and evaluating how the rest of your life is unfolding now that you’re working at home. This can take the form of simply asking yourself if you are better off or worse off now that you no longer go to your office every day. Is your social life better, worse, or the same? Are you getting more sleep, less, or the same amount? Has your mental state improved, stayed the same, or worsened? Once you have a clear picture of the evolving impacts of working at home, take discrete and sincere steps to addressing any shortcomings or problems.