60 Minutes recently aired an interview on the rise of telework. During this interview, Karin Kimbrough, LinkedIn’s chief economist, provided a startling statistic: one in seven jobs is now remote. Even more startling? This ratio was 1 in 67 pre-COVID pandemic.
In case there was any doubt, telework is here to stay.
I’ve worked exclusively from a home office for almost 25 years. When I began back in 1997, it felt very risky. The internet was just taking off, and technology was nowhere near what it is today. I didn’t even have a cell phone. On top of that, I was leaving my very secure, very traditional job at the Department of Justice in Washington D.C. to work for a company with no office space and a landline as my primary form of communication. Part of me wondered what I was thinking.
Yet here I am almost a quarter of a century later. Zoom has replaced the landline, and my home office has been in three different locations between two houses (not to mention in countless hotels, coffee shops, waiting rooms, vacation rentals, etc.). With all the challenges and ups and downs of working remotely, I can say for sure that there’s no place like home (or the beach). You may feel the same.
But I didn’t always feel this way. When I first transitioned to the home office, I missed the in-person interaction. Yes, I could stay up late and watch David Letterman without sacrificing sleep. I was able to get a dog because I would be there to care for it. And I certainly saved money on commuting, lunches out, and the professional wardrobe.
But I missed popping my head into Joe’s office to say hello. I missed watching the owner of the Libyan deli down the street work his magic. I missed the laughter in my 6 AM carpool. I missed the view out my window (believe it or not, my view was of the U.S. Capitol). I missed seeing others, and I missed the energy of human connection.
The transition to feeling truly happy, well, and productive working from home took about 8 months. It wasn’t just that I had to learn the ropes of my new company. The biggest hurdle was the four walls closing in on me and the lack of socialization. I had to put systems into place to make the home office work for me, and to feel healthy and well while working from home. I’ve now got it pretty much down pat.
Through the years, I’ve seen people who crashed and burned when they tried to work from home, and others who took to it like a duck to water. But most people fall somewhere in the middle, where they go through a period of adjustment and struggle to find their work-life balance. Remote work – and staying healthy and well when working from home – will only be as successful as the systems you put in place to support your new work lifestyle.
Here are five tips that will help shorten the learning curve for you if you are struggling to keep all the work and home balls in the air. You must figure out the systems that will work for you in each of these five areas if you are going to be productive, healthy, and whole when working from a home office.
First and foremost, your environment must be conducive to work. You need a dedicated space to work productively and without significant distractions. The space must be set up in an organized way with separate zones for work and home. Your environment should be comfortable and inspiring, with the right furnishings, technology, and equipment.
Family members or roommates (as applicable) must understand and respect boundaries. When you are working, you are working. During work hours, you are not there to do household chores, run errands, or chat about the state of the world’s affairs. Of course, this does not mean that you cannot tend to important household issues as needed. There is flexibility as long as work requirements are being met. But the overall message needs to be understood: you are on the company’s clock and can only be disturbed when necessary. A dedicated space devoted to your work helps keep your home and work life separate.
If you work from home on a regular basis, I will go out on a limb and say that propping yourself up at your kitchen island isn’t going to cut it long term. On occasion? Sure. But the kitchen tends to be the hub of activity in the house and is not the best place to get work done. It also blurs the boundaries between work and home, which is not healthy. Trust me on this. (Plus, that’s where the food is – more on this later.) Find a dedicated space that is your work zone and keep work and home materials separate. It’s one of the most important secrets to long-term success in the home office.
A regular work schedule is also vitally important when working from a home office. It protects you, it protects your company, and it protects those who may be in your home.
What do I mean by this?
The people in your company need to know they can rely on you. If you are supposed to work 9-5, work 9-5. Many businesses require regular working hours, not to micromanage you but to ensure that communication and collaboration can take place during standard business hours. Be reliable. Your boss and coworkers can no longer stop by your office, but they should be able to reach you without delay when you are needed.
A schedule also protects you because it helps keep you productive, and this is essential for your well-being and also for job security. Don’t believe you can’t be replaced if your output decreases when you start working from home. I’ve seen it happen too many times.
A consistent schedule also helps keep your work time from bleeding into your personal time. Otherwise it’s too easy to find yourself at your desk at 9 pm each night, playing catch-up or unable to detach from those messages in your inbox. Stay connected during work hours. Communicate regularly and make your presence felt with your communication and your high quality output. Then disconnect when the workday is done.
Your schedule also protects those in your home because they know when you are available and when you’re not. You can give them your undivided attention in off-hours.
We all thrive on structure. Make sure you establish a schedule and stick to it - occasional departures excepted.
At-home jobs can make you more sedentary. Instead of rushing around for an hour getting ready, walking from your car to the office building, taking the stairs, and walking the hallways, you only need to walk from one room to the next. That’s your new commute. All those missed steps add up. You simply must make time for healthy movement. It’s good not only for your physical health, but for your emotional and intellectual health too. And this leads to increased productivity.
The good news is that losing the commute provides extra time to focus on healthy movement. It’s possible to get the workout or walk in early, before the start of the workday. Try to trade time on the highway for time on the treadmill. Or throw a quick lunchtime workout in. Get up and move for a couple minutes each hour. Keep weights handy so you can do a few sets while paying rapt attention on a (non-video) call. Stretch. Go for a walk. Just move.
With the call of the kitchen just a few feet away, the home office could be your undoing. The good news is that you can save money (and calories laden with sugar, sodium, and unhealthy fats) by not eating out so much, and you don’t need to go through the hassle of packing your lunch. But your limitless access to the fridge and pantry is a whole new challenge, especially if the fridge and pantry are stocked with sugary, salty, and/or fatty snacks.
There has never been a better time to get on top of your nutrition. Learn about nutrition labels and do all you can to keep healthy options at hand. Chances are you have more time now to prepare fresh, homemade food, which can be a game changer for your diet. Take the time to plan your meals so that you take advantage of this opportunity rather than letting the limitless access to food lead you to unhealthy habits and weight gain.
Keep a jug of water at your desk to sip on throughout the day. Try to cut back on coffee in favor of green tea and other herbal teas. Stick to a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and limit snacks to healthy options when you’re truly hungry. When you approach working from home as an opportunity to eat fresh, healthy foods rather than carryout or processed convenience foods, your nutrition can improve rather than take a nosedive when working from home.
Remote work can be very isolating. I’m an extrovert turned homebody, so I get the joy of being home almost 24/7. But the truth is we all need connection. And the key is to stay involved with activities you enjoy that are healthy and rewarding, and that keep you connected to others in some way. It’s so important that these activities aren’t online. You’re online enough. Step away from the computer, the social media, the TikTok, the YouTube channels. Find in-person activities that provide the socialization you need.
Maybe it’s the gym, a community group, school committee, professional organization, hobby, affinity group, or volunteer activity. Find at least one outside activity and stay immersed in it. The danger of the surge in remote work is a disconnected society that leads to increases in anxiety and the loss of critical social connections. Social relationships are key to health and wellness. Get out of the house and participate in outside activities on a regular basis. Your mental, intellectual, social, spiritual, and even physical health depend on it.
Be a Rock Star
Remote work is a dream-come-true for many. But it can also jeopardize your productivity, job standing, mental and physical health, relationships, and sanity. Design your remote work habits to make you the most productive, healthy, and happy remote worker imaginable. You can then continue to be a rock star in your organization and in your home. (A rock star in fuzzy slippers, that is.)