10 ways to avoid work-from-home burnout

3 weeks ago 13
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Working from home full time can have benefits and drawbacks. Learn ten ways to make the most of the experience and steer clear of the negative effects.

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I've worked from home 18 months now, and since the experience went well my global company closed our nearby physical location. This means I now work remotely 100% of the time.

Many of us were overjoyed at first, facing a work life without a commute, lower gas and car maintenance costs, fewer expensive lunches out, no more in-person interruptions and not worrying about picking up workplace germs.

SEE: Wellness at work: How to support your team's mental health (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But the day-to-day reality set in; being within the same four walls all the time; the sense of isolation; the need to properly balance work and home life to get the best from both worlds. 

I've seen the potential for burnout. It's a common hardship. 

Jennifer Dudeck, SVP and CPO at Red Hat said: "We recognized early on that working from home all of the time creates complex challenges. Being separated from co-workers we're used to seeing in person creates feelings of isolation and even grief—a common emotion as we adapt to change. This doesn't just refer to the death of a friend or family member. Grief also refers to the feeling or group of feelings that may occur after any change in our lives. We've all experienced change, and there have been an exceptional amount of changes to respond to recently."

Jeff Harper, chief people officer at HashiCorp, commented on the negative impacts of a poorly managed work/life balance: "Ironically, the failure to create time and space for oneself in the pursuit of work performance can lead to diminished performance through the loss of perspective, creativity and motivation. In the short term, this lack of balance may result in poor decision-making, resentment and, eventually, burn-out. 

"Long-term, people with an imbalance between work and home life may experience significant physical and mental health problems and have a higher likelihood of conflicts in their personal and work relationships. We encourage employees to care for themselves and also offer benefits that provide meditation, mental health and home office set-ups, as well as company and organization wide mental health days, and paid time off. We also provide training on time and productivity management and setting a sustainable pace."

SEE: Research: Video conferencing tools and cloud-based solutions dominate digital workspaces; VPN and VDI less popular with SMBs (TechRepublic Premium)

I've devised these ten tips based on my own experience and input from Dudeck and Harper to help you go the distance:

1. Go with the basics

The basics here are common-sense elements: take breaks as needed—but stay focused, exercise and eat right, get a good night's sleep and evaluate your work style to discover what works best for you. Implement any necessary changes, such as aligning your calendar to match that style.

2. Have a dedicated workspace

I can't stress enough the need to have a dedicated place to work. Roaming the house with a laptop, maybe even working on the couch or deck sounds glamorous, but you do need a predictable spot to get things done or you'll likely feel disoriented and unmotivated. Even if it's a spot at the end of the dining room table, make it official.

3. Avoid distractions

Where applicable, build an alliance with your family, especially a spouse who might be working from home as well. Work with them to reduce the chance of being interrupted while on duty. You'll feel less squeezed and more productive.

4. Dedicate your time appropriately

Keep a dedicated schedule for when you'll be on duty and off duty and stick with it. It's not just when you're working and when you're off; it's what you're doing throughout the day or evening. I have two jobs—my day job plus my tech writing job—and I make sure the work doesn't overlap or else it gets too disorienting and I can't focus appropriately.

In a nutshell, when you're done with one phase of your work, be done.

5. Split your workplaces 

This might be a tall order but if you have the resources, split your recreational computers from your work computers and work in two different spots. One spot for 9-5, and the other for your post-work activities. This will help you segregate your duties from one another and transition accordingly.

6. Strive for flexibility but avoid recreational endeavors 

It's one thing to be able to dedicate time to appropriate endeavors, either work- or home-based, during your time at home. It's another to have a fun break (other than a lunch hour). You couldn't do that at the office, so pretend the same discipline applies here. It's all too easy to engage in a slippery slope of entertaining yourself in between meetings. Save it for after 5.

7. Use the flexible time to your advantage

Working from home means you have certain advantages you didn't at the office. Plot out the hours you intend to invest in each day and leverage the chance to take a break and get crucial home obligations done. For instance, go to the store during the weekday when things are quiet (as opposed to the weekend) and invest the hour you spent shopping Wednesday into an hour working Wednesday night or Saturday.

8. Try to do something different every day

The sense of deja vu is the hardest thing I've faced working from home. Whether I ride my bike, take a run, or walk with my dog in the woods, I try to make each day different during my free time so I don't feel like every day is Groundhog Day.

9. Keep socializing 

Face time with people is the key to prevent at-home burnout. Nobody wants to feel like they're living in a cave. Don't just have people over, but meet up with friends and associates elsewhere. Just getting out of the house for an hour can be rejuvenating.

10. Engage with your management chain as well as associated teams 

Ideally management should support the home/life balance tightrope, ensure the workloads are appropriate and help provide guidance to address any issues. Surveys to gather feedback and implement solutions should be a key element.

One more thing you should already be doing: Turn on your video camera in those Teams or Zoom calls. Face-to-face interaction helps build bridges and maintain focus.

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