Mastering remote work-life balance when you work from home

a black top spinning on a wooden table

Physical barriers make it easier to create mental separations. When you work in an office, you can alter your environment to facilitate work-life balance, such as by leaving your laptop at work or getting to your car by 5:30 p.m. Your surroundings provide a crutch to help you compartmentalize different parts of your life

Move the office to a spare bedroom, though, and that dynamic changes. Work-life balance while working from home requires a different set of skills and habits.

Remote workers, managers, and founders often struggle to draw distinctions between their work lives and their home lives. The elimination of tangible boundaries means team members are rarely more than a few footsteps away from work. What’s worse — everyone knows it. When you work remotely, you and everyone at your company knows that the only thing stopping you from working all day is your personal determination to have your own life.

Achieving work-life balance while working from home is much like creating happiness for yourself. No one reaches a perfect state of balance and harmony and remains indefinitely enlightened. With good habits, strong boundaries, and a shift in your mindset, though, you can enjoy all the benefits of remote work with none of the anxiety.

Work-life balance from leaders trickles down.

Great work-life balance on remote teams starts with leaders who do not publicly work themselves to the bone all day, every day. While holding executive positions often demands long hours, especially at startups, leaders cannot allow team members to perceive overwork as the norm.

Overwork does not just encourage unhealthy work-life habits, either. While people working in positions of authority may feel compelled to work day and night, research shows that after 55 hours, productivity plummets. A person who works 56 hours gets the same amount done, on average, as a person who works 70 hours. Humans can only stay in the “on” position for so long before they need to recharge.

Unlimited PTO policies should make it easy for people to take as much time off as they need, but in environments where leaders never take time off, employees don’t, either. Executives and managers should make it public when they take time off and disconnect fully from communication tools during those periods of rest. Employees who see this example receive implicit permission to take their own mental breaks without worrying about being seen as lazy or undedicated.

You can’t finish projects to perfection every day.

People like to do good work. Outside of very rare cases, no one turns on a laptop in the morning and thinks, “How can I do my job as poorly as possible today?”

At physical offices, project deadlines often coincide with the end of the day. You work on something, ship it before you leave, then start on something new in the morning. Working remotely, though, makes it difficult for some people to let go of projects that could always be just a little bit better. Marketers go back and tweak copy, engineers scan through their code to see where they can make small improvements. The temptation to do well is enormous, and while companies love self-starters, too much focus on perfection can be harmful.

This is why many self-help articles on the topic of remote work recommend that workers create physical distinctions between work spaces and living spaces within their homes. If you have to make a conscious decision to return to work, you are less likely to do so. More than that, though, remote workers must practice self awareness. Perfection is a myth, and anyone who chases it will find the work day getting longer and longer.

Boundaries are healthy, even with your boss.

Create physical boundaries between yourself and your work, but don’t stop there. Healthy work-life balance for remote teams starts when people recognize their autonomy and take control of their own schedules.

A boss who insists employees regularly make themselves available outside work hours is a bad boss. An employee who never unplugs is a bad employee. A dedicated employee, certainly, but employees who do not protect themselves from burnout rarely reach their full potential, at work or otherwise.

You may have some anxiety about going offline, but you’re allowed to set up an away message on Slack. You can even close the app entirely. The app is called “Slack,” not, “Maintain Focus on Your Work.” The same concept applies to all the other so-called necessary distractions that prevent you from focusing.

All those pings prevent you from hitting your flow state and knocking out your work on time. Your inbox, unread messages, and job will still be there if you step away to get something done or take a break. In fact, these moments of separation are what allow you to bring your best self to work and take that same energy home with you (even if home is only a step away).

At Remote, we encourage team members to take frequent breaks, sign out of messaging platforms when they need to focus, and respect the boundaries people set for themselves. We trust one another to take care of our workloads, and as a result, we are able to operate across multiple time zones without threatening the work-life balance of the individuals within the company.

Remote work is the present and future of both productivity and healthy living. A person working remotely can travel, take care of household tasks, save money, and enjoy freedom and flexibility that would be impossible in traditional working environments. As more companies move to a permanent remote model, leaders and workers should be more deliberate in how they create and maintain healthy remote work-life balance.

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