Maintaining a positive work life balance during COVID-19

Aliya Vigor-Robertson, JourneyHR, co-founder, considers why working from home can lead to issues with work life balance, and how to adopt a strategy to avoid any challenges

Achieving a good work-life balance while working from home can be challenging at the best of times. It takes serious planning, discipline and can be even harder to manage when everyone else suddenly becomes a remote worker due to COVID-19.

Over the past few weeks we have recorded that some people are feeling additional pressure to show productivity.  For some it was because their managers can’t see them, for others it was to prove their worth in times of uncertainty due to fear of losing their job.

While it’s no surprise that many feel insecure about their jobs during this economic climate, it’s important that everyone takes some time away from work or they’ll risk burnout which will ultimately make them less productive.

Focus on the most important tasks

Right now, many of us will be wearing multiple hats, from home-schooling young children to taking care of loved ones.   All of us will have unique and individual challenges so it is important for each and every one of us to be realistic about what we can and cannot achieve during our working day.

Working with your manager or team members to agree on what the most important tasks are on a day to day or weekly basis will help us focus on what we need to prioritise which will help everyone

Set some boundaries

Setting boundaries at this time is so important, not only for work engagement but for well-being too. At ‘work’ it’s about communicating the pace of work that’s practical – possibly it means flexible time to work around family responsibilities, strict cut off time at 5pm or longer lead time for responding to emails. Everyone has their own challenges and priorities outside of work – it’s important to manage expectations so both sides aren’t disappointed.

The first obvious difference between ‘the home office’ and the actual office, is location. The new commute could be from the bedroom to the kitchen table, but it’s still necessary to recreate boundaries. It’s worth taking time you would have commuting to step outside, and get the feeling that you’re moving from one location to another, it will also help you mentally prepare for the work day ahead.

Being at home and being surrounded by the TV, the dog, a pile of laundry and dishes can make staying on task and keeping productive challenging. It’s important to create a space that is only used for working. This physical boundary also lets others you share the home with know that when you’re in that space you are working.

Whilst at home, typical aspects of personal life have the potential to creep over and be distracting. So, it’s important to dedicate a certain amount of time per day to other areas aside of work and then circling back to maintaining your regular daily routine.

It’s also important to communicate this to the people you’re living with. Letting them know that maybe you need those first 10 minutes before you start your working day alone, or that you need an hour to complete a task with no distractions. This will all help keep stress to a minimum.

Understand stressors

Burnout goes beyond just feeling tired, it’s a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion that’s caused by continuous amount of stress. Working from home, or not working from home, it’s important to recognise the things that might lead someone to burnout at work. This can include:

  1. Unmanageable workload

Everyone in a team needs to work together, especially when times are tough, to get tasks complete, but this doesn’t mean one person takes more than others. During this time, it’s important to communicate when workloads are just too heavy and distribute it in a way that gives everyone a sense of balance.

  1. Lack of support network

When you’re under extreme stress to balance life at work and home, it’s important to have someone to lean on. Whether that’s their team members, a buddy or mentor, their manager or access to an EAP scheme.  It’s important that everyone has access to the right support for them.

  1. Mismatch of values

It can be hard working for a business that doesn’t reflect your personal values or working with a client who challenges you. Although some things are out of your control, it’s important for employees and leaders to have transparent discussions about the ways of working that are causing stress. From this, adaptions can be made that work for everyone.

Carve out non-work time and free mental space

We’ve said it’s important to set boundaries but that doesn’t stop you from mentally thinking about work, even at the weekend. It is so important to dedicate free mental space. A notification from a late arriving email, for example, could easily have you thinking about work for the rest of the evening. Think of all the barriers that could get in the way of you enjoying some time away from work responsibilities.

Not to forget, whilst we aren’t able to jet off to some exotic location at the moment, it’s still important to take time off. A study from The Mental Health Foundation and LinkedIn found that employees working from home reported putting in an extra 28 hours per month on average since lockdown measures were introduced. If we all continue working at over capacity, we’ll be at risk of burnout. It’s crucial that everyone continues to use their annual leave to rest and do things they enjoy outside of work, even it is limited at the moment.

Self-care is paramount during a time of social distancing. The responsibility lies in all of us to manage work and personal life and to ensure that we maintain good mental health. By working together, communicating well, setting some much needed boundaries and reducing stressors as much as possible, we can get through this together.

About the author:

Aliya started her HR career in 1996 and co-founded JourneyHR in 2010. She applies a commercial focus and business psychology to HR across the marketing and communications industry.

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