Working from home used to feel like a treat: wearing PJs all day and walking the dog over lunch. But for many of us, it’s the new normal, with as many challenges as perks.
Tools like video conferencing apps make life easier, but working remotely long-term can also lead to burnout. Compared to before the pandemic, the average workday is 48 minutes longer, with almost 13 percent more meetings. Things like isolation, family obligations, and pressure to be always available make it harder to maintain work-life balance and overall wellness.
Thankfully, good leaders can shift from the crisis mode of March 2020 to a healthy long-term approach to remote work. Addressing the challenges of working from home can not only improve your employees’ wellness and productivity but also create a welcoming and adaptable company culture.
Here’s your guide to creating a good work-life balance at home and taking care of yourself and your employees.
How much screen time is too much?
It’s easy to go from staring at a computer all day to staring at the phone and TV at night. Technology has lots of benefits, but it also begs the question, how much screen time is too much? And what effect does it have on our bodies and mental health?
The answer is complicated. “Screen time” includes a variety of devices with different effects. Less-engaging activities, like passively observing a large meeting or skimming a long report, can be boring. More stimulating activities like 1:1 video chatting or giving a presentation can be more fulfilling. Working on something you’re passionate about can lead to a “flow state,” feeling focused, absorbed, and productive. Genuinely connecting with someone online is even correlated with positive mental health.
Ultimately, there’s no way to say definitively how much screen time is too much, according to psychologist Dr. Mike Brooks. However, sitting for long periods of time with no activity has been proven to be harmful. According to Mayo Clinic, sitting for eight hours a day and not working out is associated with health risks, but you can counteract them by being at least moderately active for an hour or more daily.
The best way to gauge whether you’re getting too much screen time is listen to your body. Here are some symptoms and tips:
- Headaches, a sore back or neck, or dry or tired eyes are signs of digital eye strain. Talk to your doctor or optometrist—glasses might help.
- Try the American Optometric Association’s 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
- If your screen time is affecting your sleep, limit technology use before bed.
- If your mood is suffering or you’re anxious, talk to a mental health professional, or try mindfulness or gratitude journaling.
- If you can’t cut back on screen time during work, consider turning down your screen’s brightness, and take regular breaks.
- Limit screen time outside of work by enjoying tech-free activities like books, puzzles, sports, and nature.
How to create a work-life balance while WFH
Boundaries and routines are key to work-life balance. Here’s how to protect your time, health, relationships, and space while working from home.
- Time: Log off at the same time every day, and resist the urge to check your work email later. Only answer texts after work if it’s an emergency, and leave email for the next business day. Don’t work on the weekend!
- Health: Meal and snack routines are essential. Take at least 30 minutes for lunch, ideally at the same time every day, and unplug—no meetings, devices, or multitasking. Set reminders to get up, stretch, and get water. Schedule a short afternoon break every day to get some fresh air.
- Relationships: Help kids understand that you’re not ignoring them, you just need to focus, by setting expectations about when your workday ends. Then, truly disconnect from work and focus on them.
- Space: If possible, work in the same area every day (ideally, an office) instead of the couch. This physical separation can cue your brain that it’s time to focus when you’re in your office and relax everywhere else.
Working out while WFH
Fitness at work used to be as simple as heading to the company gym. Thankfully, there are options at home, such as:
- Home office fitness equipment like a treadmill desk, balance ball chair, or seated under-desk elliptical.
- A standing or adjustable-height desk.
- Stretching during a phone call.
- Dancing to your favorite work from home song.
- Workout playlists with your ideal beats per minute (BPM). Songs around 140 to 160 BPM are great for short, high-intensity workouts.
- Apps to help you end the workday with yoga, meditation, or stretching.
Taking care of yourself
“You can’t pour from an empty cup,” the saying goes, and you can’t be a good leader if you’re neglecting yourself. Lead by example to encourage your team to practice good self-care. Here are a few ideas:
- Consider your setup. Evaluate how comfortable and ergonomic your chair, desk, and monitors are. Adjust equipment to facilitate good posture.
- Protect your time. Create and defend the boundaries mentioned earlier around time, health, and relationships. Before accepting a meeting, consider whether you really need to be there, and politely decline if not.
- Hydrate. Drinking more water has the added benefit of stretch breaks when you get up to use the bathroom.
- Set a timer. Break your workday into chunks using a method like the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes on, 5 minutes off) or set a reminder to walk around.
- Motivate with music. What work from home song helps you focus? Create a playlist with your favorites. If your home is too quiet, search for “office ambiance music” for hours of quiet background sounds.
- Use your time off. Take vacation and sick days, and resist the urge to check email.
How to take care of your employees
The best way to take care of your employees, remote or not, is to ask what they need. Here are a few other ways to help them while they’re working from home:
- Empathy. Acknowledge that this is a challenging time, everyone is struggling in different ways, and that’s OK. Offer flexibility when possible.
- One-on-ones. Check in with employees briefly to see how they’re doing and how you can help.
- No-meeting day. Try “Meeting-Free Fridays” so people can focus without interruption.
- Prevent back-to-back meetings. Schedule a meeting for 15 minutes past the hour.
- Limit cameras. Encourage people to turn cameras off during meetings, or just on for the first few minutes.
- Limit attendees. Keep meetings as small as possible. Email a summary to everyone else.
- Treat employees. Send employees a free lunch, snack, or food-delivery gift card.
- Summer Fridays. End the company workday an hour or two early on Fridays during the summer (and really sign off then).
- Health tools. Send employees a wearable step tracker, free gym membership, or meditation app subscription for physical and mental fitness at work.
- Office improvements. Budget for employees to make their home offices more ergonomic and comfortable with things like extra monitors or better desk chairs.
Best work from home tools
Apps and tools can improve remote work and give you a sense of how employees are doing. According to the recent Microsoft report, “The State of Remote Work,” nearly half of US businesses say improving employee experience is a top priority. Here are a few of the best work from home tools to track employee wellness and experience:
- Employee experience programs can measure wellbeing by asking staff to rate how they’re feeling each week. Track trends over time and reach out if someone consistently rates low.
- Meditation apps are sometimes integrated in employee experience programs. They can help people feel calm and present.
- Online wellness platforms provide health assessments and goals, integrate with pedometers, and provide rewards.
- Employee surveys can reveal how engaged and valued people feel.
- HR software can track turnover and benefit use metrics, so you can see whether employees are taking their vacation days and using insurance benefits. If those things aren’t happening, it could be a red flag.
Working from home is here to stay for the foreseeable future, but that doesn’t have to be daunting. With these tips, you’re ready to make remote work a better experience for everyone.