We may look back on 2020 as the most crucial year in the remote work revolution. Millions of workers are now doing their jobs from home, and companies as large as Twitter have already announced employees never have to return to the office. The future of business is here, and it is increasingly virtual. To help your organization stay ahead of the curve, you need the principles, tactics and tools to empower your team to excel in a remote world.
There’s a common misconception that people who work from home are not accountable and are prone to letting their home-life distractions spill over into their work. However, for many remote workers, the opposite is far more often the case.
Some remote employees find it difficult to set clear boundaries that separate work from their personal lives. They struggle to unplug, take breaks, recharge or decompress at the end of the workday.
Sometimes, those same employees even struggle to end their workday, leaving their laptop on their bedside table so they can check email one last time before bed.
To address this challenge, it’s imperative that you emphasize and train your employees on the importance of setting boundaries—particularly with respect to managing time and workspaces. And if you’re working from home, too, you should set the same boundaries for yourself.
1. Set A Schedule
First, it’s important to keep a structured schedule and be intentional about how time is used. Push yourself to set a consistent wake-up time. Determine what range of hours you will be working during the day and proactively plan to reserve time for projects and meetings, lunch, exercise and personal time. Schedule breaks into your day and stick to those break times.
There are several built-in breaks for people who work in traditional offices—things like chatting with coworkers at the water cooler, taking a coffee break, or going out to pick up lunch.
In contrast, remote employees can easily burrow into their work for several hours without even realizing how much of the day has gone by. By setting a schedule and following it, remote employees can ensure they have time to get their work done, but also take time to rest and reset during the day.
2. Manage Your Energy
It’s also important to manage energy and keep yourself from burning out from too much uninterrupted work.
As mentioned above, it can be easy to dive deep into work, not get up from your desk for hours, and exhaust yourself in the process. You will get a lot done in those hours, but you’re also likely to hamper your performance for the rest of the day.
When you build your schedule, it’s good to mix and match different types of activities along with preplanned breaks. Also, take notice of when your energy peaks and wanes. In the fitness world, there’s a widespread practice of interval training: strong bursts of rigorous exercise followed by a brief period of rest.
This builds your strength and stamina without overexerting your body. Interval training can be applied to mental tasks as well—it’s important to separate periods of mentally strenuous work with short breaks to ensure you don’t burn out. This could involve scheduling periods of intense work in the morning when you are often cognitively strongest. Then, follow that with a break and reserve the afternoon for meetings and tasks that are discussion-oriented and don’t require as much mental capacity and acute focus. It’s important to set a similar regimen for yourself and spend some time deciding which parts of the day are best for you to perform different types of tasks.
3. Separate Your Workspace
Physical boundaries are also very important. Encourage your employees to have a place in their home that is specifically designated for work. This not only helps you mentally delineate work time, but it also signals to other people in your home when you are available and when you’re not.
This is especially important because a person’s partner or children might believe that because they are visible, they’re available.
They may be tempted to walk in and ask a question without realizing you’re actually in the middle of a sales pitch or on a client call. It’s hard for others to realize you’re working before it’s too late, but setting aside a designated space for work helps avoid this confusion. For most employees, physical separation is easier said than done, especially for people who weren’t expecting to be working from home.
Not everybody has a room in their home they can designate as an office. In those cases, even setting up a folding table in the corner of the living room or designating a chair at the kitchen table as an “office chair” is a step toward creating a mental and physical boundary.
4. End your Workday With a Buffer
It’s also helpful to create buffers at the beginning and end of the designated workday, similar to what you would experience with a typical commute to work. It’s not a good idea to roll out of bed and immediately open your laptop and dive into work emails. Encourage your people to set a morning routine—have coffee, eat breakfast, read the paper or do a morning workout.
Then, when you start work, you will feel engaged and clear-headed, rather than beginning your day feeling stressed about needing to jump out of bed and start completing tasks.
At the end of the day, it’s just as important to decompress before stepping back into your home life. Commuting can be a pain, but we often underestimate how much that time helps us mentally separate from work on the way home.
Your usual playbook for the office won’t work perfectly in a remote environment. But using this advice, both you and your employees can end the workday feeling more accomplished and much less worn down.