For many first-time remote workers, the ability to work from home has had some serious advantages.
Remote work means no long commute, fewer workplace distractions, and more free time to spend with friends and family. For others, learning how to unplug when working from home has been a major challenge.
Although working from home brings lots of positive lifestyle benefits, it can also be more difficult to disconnect from work when your office is your home.
In Buffer’s 2021 State of Remote Work, at least 27% of the more than 2,600 remote workers surveyed said not being able to unplug was their biggest struggle with remote work. It was the most common response by more than 10%.
Struggling to unplug at the end of the workday can result in working longer hours and ultimately lead to burnout. Remote employees facing burnout often report physical and mental health issues that can negatively affect both work life and personal life.
Luckily, there are some proven methods to help remote workers unplug, avoid burnout, and maintain a healthy work-life balance.
The first thing you have to do is clearly define the time and task-related expectations related to your role.
When working from home, your work tools are always within reach, blurring the lines between work time and personal time. What was once nine-to-five can feel like all the time when you work where you live.
This is especially true in remote roles where there’s a culture of sending and responding to emails or Slack messages after traditional work hours.
Without clearly defining expectations, remote workers can fall into the habit of being “on” at all times. This can quickly lead to consistently working more than 50 or 60 hours a week without you even realizing it.
To combat this slide into overwork, those working from home should start by defining a clear expectation of what a workday and week should look like.
Decide if you’re comfortable with 50 hours per week, need to stick to 40, or can accomplish all your tasks in as little as 30. This might even involve speaking with your boss to make sure that your expectations are aligned with theirs.
Clearly defining your expectations for a typical work week will give you a defined boundary to work within, making it easier to stick to what works best for you.
Set a start and end time
Once you’re clear on what’s expected, schedule a firm start and end time to work within.
Remote work doesn’t have the same strict, built-in schedule as working from the office. It’s one of the big benefits of working from home. The flexibility of remote work makes room for things like starting late after dropping the kids off at school or finishing up early to go to the gym.
The problem is that not having a consistent schedule can lead to disjointed workdays that start early, end late, and aren’t productive, making it more difficult to unplug. Working in spurts at irregular hours can prevent you from getting into a groove and tends to elongate the workday.
Master the art of scheduling your workday activities within a specific window of time. Find the timeframe that consistently works best for you, put it on your calendar, and stick to it. Try to treat it as the only time that you’re able to work.
Combine this with time blocking or another time management strategy to ensure you stay productive. That way you’ll be more likely to complete your workload within the expected time frame and can avoid letting your workday creep into your non-work hours.
Find your virtual commute
Now that you know when to start and end your workday, implementing a virtual commute can help you get geared up for, and then unwind from, your work time.
Working from home effectively eliminates the need for a long and arduous commute to work. This can give some remote workers an additional two to four hours per day that would otherwise have been spent traveling to and from the office.
That’s a big win for work-life balance and has been shown to have many positive benefits.
Unfortunately, many newly remote workers make the mistake of spending that time gained working. Although it might stand to reason that there’s nothing wrong with using commute time to get ahead on work, it’s not a fair trade.
Replacing a one-hour-each-way commute with work equates to an additional 10 hours of work per week.
As arduous and aggravating as the typical work commute can be, it does have the benefit of providing a psychological barrier between work and home.
Leaving the house and traveling to work can put you in a work mode mindset, and leaving work to travel home helps you leave the workday behind and prepare for downtime. Without a commute, it can be difficult to make the mental transition from work life to home life.
This dilemma has sparked the trendy concept of implementing a “fake” or “virtual” commute. The idea is to take up a task, activity, or ritual that you perform each day before and after work that can provide that mental transition period.
Remote workers can create a daily routine of going for a walk, reading a book, or meditating before or after work to create a new mental signal that separates work time from personal time. Getting outside can be especially effective since it can psychologically break the physical barrier of being in the same space that you work in around the clock.
Leave the office (or put it away)
You can take the concept of separating your work time from your living time even further by physically leaving the “office” behind at the end of your workday.
When your work tools are always within arms reach, the temptation to complete one more task, make one more call, or send one more email can be hard to resist. If you consistently struggle to resist the urge to work after hours, you may need to try an “out of sight, out of mind” strategy for work.
If you have a separate room or workspace, try locking the door when you leave each day. This will add a layer between a restorative evening and those stressful late-night emails. If you can make it difficult for you to access your work, you’ll have a much easier time disconnecting from it.
If you don’t have a home office, try packing away your laptop at the end of the day. Put it in a bag or box, store it in a closet, and leave it there until the next day. Again, any barriers that you can create between you and your work will help you unplug.
Don’t worry, your work will be there waiting for you in the morning.
What you do during your workday is just as important to your well-being as what you do before and after work. Remote workers often find themselves skipping breaks, and sometimes even missing lunch, in favor of working for extended periods of time.
While this can be a good thing in the short term, it can lead to reduced productivity and burnout when taken to extremes.
Studies show that taking short breaks during the workday is proven to help reduce stress, restore motivation, and boost productivity. The best way to make sure that you’re getting the workday rest that you need to avoid burnout and stay productive is to schedule short breaks throughout the day.
By putting break times on your calendar, you’ll ensure that you don’t lose track of time and end up spending long hours locked into your work.
Get up, stretch, and don’t forget to take a lunch break.
Finally, make an effort to protect your personal evening hours after work by silencing devices and creating a digital failsafe.
Even if you take all the measures discussed above, work can still find a way to invade your personal time and prevent you from unplugging. One ping from a client, coworker, or boss can disrupt your evening and bring work rushing into your living room.
Safeguard your evenings from work stress by turning off notifications for your work emails, setting your Slack status to away, and putting your work phone on airplane mode. You can even go as far as to create an automatic reply for your work email account that will notify others that you’re not available in the evenings.
Unplugging from work isn’t always easy when you work from home. While working remotely can be one of the most rewarding work styles, it can also be detrimental if you’re not careful. It’s crucial to your well-being that you maintain a healthy work-life balance and avoid letting your work take over your home.
Ryan Plank is a content marketer with a degree in Journalism and a background in technology. He lives in Orlando, Florida, and is an avid golfer.