In 2020, we quickly adapted to working remotely by bringing the creature comforts of the office into our homes. We purchased back-ordered standing desks, ergonomic keyboards and high-end espresso machines. We took advantage of the shortened commute time and replaced hallway banter with virtual team building activities.
As the lines between work and home blurred, by the new year it became clear that for many employees, the future of work would remain—at least partially—remote for the foreseeable future.
We’ve discussed the IT side of planning for 2021, as well as the human resources approach to 2021. But for employees, what does this mean? Some of us are feeling pretty good about our work from home routines, but most of us are still dialing it in. (Ask those who have done it for years—it can take a long time to get used to things.) It can help to stay agile, and keep trying new ideas and tips to be comfortable, productive and satisfied with our remote work routine.
Create digital boundaries: 2021 edition
Since the start of the pandemic, many corporate giants have announced that they will be permanently welcoming remote workforces. According to a Gartner survey of company leaders, 80% plan to allow employees to work remotely at least part-time after the pandemic, and 47% will allow employees to work from home full-time. Additionally, in a PwC survey of 669 CEOs, 78% agree that remote collaboration is here to stay for the long-term.
At the start of the pandemic, however, there was some skepticism about how this dramatic workforce shift would impact productivity. Would working parents be too preoccupied with helping their children complete online school assignments? Or would individual employees take advantage of their newfound freedom to simultaneously binge Tiger King while answering emails?
A FlexJobs’ survey revealed the opposite happened. 95% of respondents say their productivity has been higher or the same while working from home, and 51% report being more productive when working remotely. Despite pandemic challenges, 49% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers saying they are more productive working from home.
However, while remote work has allowed many employees to increase their productivity, some employees are simultaneously experiencing burnout, which can come more easily when the lines between work and home are blurred. According to a recent survey by Monster, more than two-thirds of workers are experiencing burnout while working remotely. And even though these employees are burned out, they’re not taking time off: 59% reported taking less time off than normal, and 42% weren’t planning any time off for self-care.
While there are numerous articles with advice about working from home, this year has seen this tested on the largest scale ever. Here are some ideas and observations that rose to the top:
Silence work notifications
Turn off work notifications on your phone over the weekend to give yourself a proper brain break. HR Director recommends setting strict boundaries and sticking to them. Set a hard time to end your workday and turn off notifications. Define your boundaries with your team to avoid defaulting to a culture of 24/7 communication and stress. There’s rarely an email that can’t wait until the next day—just make sure your colleagues can call you in case of a true emergency.
Separate work from leisure
Don’t check emails, Zoom or Slack messages outside of work hours. Forbes also recommends not using your work laptop outside of work hours. Just like having different locations for work and private life, it’s important to separate your work tools from your personal tools.
Don’t be afraid to use your PTO
Take time off when you need it. According to Glassdoor, being able to recharge your batteries to produce impactful but intentional work is essential. A 2018 American Psychological Association survey on work and well-being found that nearly 70% of workers experienced an increase in positive mood and energy after taking vacation time, and about 60% felt more productive. Even if you’re unable to book a fancy tropical vacation to unwind, use your PTO for a relaxing at-home staycation.
Schedule your after-work time
Since we are all stuck at home, it can be easy for the eight-hour workday to extend to a 10-hour workday. To break yourself away from your desk at the proper time, make plans for yourself after work. According to CEO and CTO of Lokalise, Nick Ustinov, “it is now more important than ever to plan your after-work activities” to avoid getting stuck working longer than needed. Schedule time to make yourself dinner, read a good book or workout. This will help improve your mental health and avoid burnout from overworking.
Use technology to increase personal productivity
As mentioned, we’re focusing on the end-user side and how employees can better manage their remote work life. In 2020, we learned that while there are plenty of benefits to remote working, there is also a greater chance of burnout when our work devices are constantly within arm’s reach. In order to increase personal productivity while avoiding the pitfalls of working from home, take these steps to prepare for a balanced and efficient 2021:
Use tools to publicize your schedule.
Ensure that your team is aware of your work hours and stick to them. Once you’ve set your schedule, set your messenger and calendar availability so you don’t receive notifications or meeting invitations outside of your hours.
Learn to switch off
Set an alarm for when your workday is over. When it goes off, shut down your work devices and retreat from your home workspace into your living room. Treat this as your new “daily commute” to really separate your work and leisure time.
Use your calendar to time-block
It can be easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole of messages to the point where you can’t get any real work done. Use your calendar to reserve time in between meetings to work on projects. If someone asks you to meet during your time allotted for projects, kindly ask to reschedule so you can effectively stay on top of your workload.
Set reminders to go on a walk or take a lunch break.
Taking breaks helps lower stress levels and improves productivity (especially when taken in-between tasks you find draining!) so schedule them in your calendar if you find yourself forgetting to take them. Going for a nice walk can (quite literally) provide a breath of fresh air when you start to feel your mind wandering during your workday.