Updated: Aug 11, 2021
Many business owners, employees, and freelancers find working from home a dream come true. No more long commutes. No more strict dress codes. No more constant interruptions from co-workers.
There’s a reason four in 10 white-collar workers prefer remote work. And as of April, around 72% of them still hadn’t returned to the office since their companies made the work-from-home shift during the pandemic.
But not all dreams are perfect—including this one. Working from home may offer more flexibility and comfort, but it can also put a strain on workers’ mental health and well-being.
Even the very perks of remote work can morph into downsides. Yes, you can deal with personal issues more easily throughout the day. But you may also find that having to toss a load of laundry into the dryer, calm a screaming child, or answer the door is distracting and tedious. Plus, you face the temptation to work more hours since your laptop is always within reach.
Is it possible to embrace the benefits of remote work while avoiding the pitfalls? We think so! To find out how, we chatted with several business owners and freelancers who work from home either full time or part time.
Follow these tips to protect your and your team’s mental health while working remotely:
1. Have a separate home office.
As the owners of GridPlay Designs and busy parents of young kids, Hal and Gina Fickett needed a separate space to work within their home. So they hired a contractor to turn their garage into a home office.
“Having the home office has allowed us to decrease stress since our home lives are not spilling into our work lives nearly as much now,” says Hal. “Our children are free to be kids in the home while we have the space we need to get our work done and provide for our family. Having two separate spaces for life and work has been beneficial for our mental and emotional health, which naturally benefits our time together as a family.”
If you have a spare bedroom, turn it into a home office. And if your home is simply too small, dedicate a specific corner of a room to be your official work space. You’ll be glad you did!
2. Limit your meetings when working from home.
Often when teams work remotely, communication can get a little hazy. Some leaders’ response is to then overcompensate with hours of back-to-back meetings each day. This leaves workers drained and steals the time they could’ve spent on productive work.
Don’t do this to yourself—or to your team. Limit meetings to 2 or 3 per day or dedicate a specific day to meetings. Then let the rest of the communication take place over a specified messaging app like Slack, Teams, or Gchat.
3. Set strict work hours for yourself.
Find a work schedule and stick with it. Communications professional Gina Meeks says this tip helps her the most on days she's working from home.
"Set times for yourself to work and stick to them as much as possible so you can protect your time with your family and not work all of hours of the day," she says. "If you have an office space, turn out the lights and leave like you would leave your work office. If not, shut down your computer or pack up your laptop so you're not tempted to just 'do one more thing.'"
Your schedule doesn’t have to be the typical 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you’re a freelancer or business owner, it might be more like 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 12 to 6 p.m. Whatever you decide, be firm with yourself. Don’t let work eat up your whole day.
4. Schedule time for family and self-care.
Dustin Anderson is a busy dad, employee, and owner of his Transparent Leadership coaching business. He’s found the key to a healthy work-life balance at home is scheduling time for what matters most.
“Find regular times to spend with your family or invest in yourself,” he says to fellow at-home workers. “Be sure to turn off your electronics and silence your phone during this time. Sometimes I need to protect regular, uninterrupted time for me—like reading a book or listening to an inspirational speech—or with my family. I have found that difficult to do at times, but when I do it, it’s extremely beneficial.”
5. Protect your mental health by walking or moving every day.
It might be more convenient to work from the comfort of your bed or couch, but doing so can wreak havoc on your spine and posture. Get yourself a desk and ergonomic office chair—it’s worth the investment.
Also keep in mind that you walk less when working from home than when at the office. Take care of your body by working out at least three times a week, and take breaks throughout the day to walk outside. You’ll feel more energized when you get back to your desk.
6. Connect with friends.
If you get lonely when working alone all day, connect with a work buddy for a virtual coffee chat. Too busy? Meet at a local coffee shop to do your work together.
Co-working spaces are another great way to make friends with fellow professionals. Even renting a co-working space once a week can give you that social boost you need.
7. Take scheduled breaks throughout the day.
Walk. Drink a cup of coffee. Sit on your porch. Watch a silly YouTube video. Call a friend. Do something that forces you to step away from the craziness of work for a moment. These small breaks might not seem like much, but they let your brain rest so you can tackle your remaining tasks with even more energy.
Have any other advice for our work-from-home friends? Share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments!