Ah, work life balance. Everybody needs it, so as to stay sane in a demanding economy. Yet nobody wants to bring it up in an interview, so as to avoid the appearance of having a weak work ethic.
The fact is that work life balance is important for us all to think about, whether we’re candidates considering a job opportunity or managers trying to put together attractive offers. And even when we’re not thinking about it, work life balance can shift in ways that can affect both our productivity and our emotional well-being.
“With the tech industry working remotely, things have changed. Your professional time has collided with your personal space. As a result, you may have found that your work life balance has changed in ways that threaten to decrease productivity and increase stress.”
Look no further than the current shift to remote work. When most of us were working in our companies’ offices – back in the prehistoric era known as January 2020 – we had well-established routines that governed when we were hunkered down and grinding, and when we were enjoying our own personal time. (A common exception to this would be V.P.s and other executives, who often grind through evenings and weekends to keep their companies on track to hit goal.) Now, though, with the tech industry working remotely, things have changed. Your professional time has collided with your personal space. As a result, you may have found that your work life balance has changed in ways that threaten to decrease productivity and increase stress.
Why has this happened?
For the vast majority of sales, marketing, and customer success workers, working from home represents a drastic change. Before coronavirus sent everyone away from the office, a small minority of the tech industry worked remotely full-time. And many of those who did still found designated workspaces in communal office spaces found through WeWork, or even a coffee shop down the street. Very few people were actually working remotely the way we all are now: from our homes, every single day.
As a result, many of us have suddenly become aware of a lot of triggers and systems that govern our work life balance. These triggers and systems have always been there – we just didn’t notice them until we went remote and they disappeared. One of them is the daily commute. The act of leaving the office and getting on a bus or into a car signals, for most people, a cutoff point. The workday is over, and work gets pushed from the mind until the following morning. Without that commute, the line blurs. People check back into work after dinner or right before bed, even if they’ve already put in a full eight hours that day. The work life balance shifts more toward the work side. Conversely, you also may lose triggers that keep you from working too little. At home, with your boss unable to see how long your chair has been sitting empty, it’s easier to take excessively long lunches or midday breaks.
“The act of leaving the office and getting on a bus or into a car signals, for most people, a cutoff point. The workday is over, and work gets pushed from the mind. Without that commute, the line blurs. People check back into work after dinner or right before bed.”
Chances are, it will all even out. But there’s also a strong chance that this disruption to your usual work life balance will either add up to less productivity or more stress. And even if it is, in fact, a wash, and you’re no more or less productive than you are in the office, the change in your daily patterns can cause confusion for a remote team trying to get ahold of you on Slack while you’re playing video games in the next room.
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How to get a handle on remote work life balance
Like any big change, the effect of going remote on your work life balance will take some getting used to. But there are ways to make it less disruptive, and to make sure you keep up the productivity without subjecting yourself to undue stress.
1. Be extra communicative with your team
Maybe your on-site routine has you working 9 to 5 with little interruption, and your remote routine has you working until later in the evening but taking longer midday breaks. That’s not necessarily a problem – as long as your team is up to date on it. Once you get a sense of when you’re typically at your desk and available, and when you usually take breaks, let your team know. And of course, no matter what kind of schedule you hammer out for yourself, make sure you don’t miss any deadlines or meetings.
2. Put breaks on your calendar
When you’re working from home with no one looking, it’s easier to take spontaneous breaks. These breaks can end up lasting longer than you intend them to, and disrupt your workflow and productivity. To add more structure to your remote days, try adding breaks to your calendar as if they were meetings. It’ll be easier to resist the sudden urge to go for a walk if you have a calendar reminder telling you you’ve got a break coming up in 20 minutes. And having all your breaks predetermined in your calendar can prevent you from taking too much time away from work – as well as make it easier for your coworkers to see when you’ll be gone, and when you’ll be back.
“To add more structure to your remote days, try adding breaks to your calendar as if they were meetings. It’ll be easier to resist the sudden urge to go for a walk if you have a calendar reminder telling you you’ve got a break coming up in 20 minutes.”
3. Save personal activities for after the workday
It can be tempting, when working from home, to get a head start on your chores in the middle of the workday. After all, if you can start your laundry right after lunch, you won’t have to worry about it in the evening when you’d much rather be watching Netflix, right? The only problem with this is that getting into personal activities can make the workday feel more like personal time. From there, it can lead to plenty of other distractions. The occasional midday errand is fine, but try to stay in the habit of saving that trip to the grocery store for after work.
A healthy work life balance is essential to keeping you both productive and happy. Figuring out how to keep that balance when you’re working from home is a crucial part of managing the current shift to remote work.