The future of work is undoubtedly digital and remote. More and more companies are warming up to the idea of letting its employees discharge their duties from home. In fact, some tech giants have allowed their employees to work from home permanently.
For the most part, this is a welcome development for working parents and those who do not like regular office setups. Other benefits of working from home include saving up on bus fare or gas money, avoiding traffic, and spending more time with family and pets.
However, there is one drawback to working from home that largely went unexpected: intense burnout.
You would expect that working from the confines of your bedroom without supervisors keeping an eye on you all the time would be stress-free, but that is not the case. The Harvard Business Review explains that people transitioning to remote work usually experience troubles drawing healthy boundaries between their personal and professional lives. Afternoons blend with evenings; weekdays blend with evenings, and astoundingly, it seems you never, ever have time off.
8 Ways to Prevent Burnout While Work from Home
Still, this does not have to be the case. There are 8 things you can do to prevent work from home burnout, and most of it has something to do about creating boundaries.
1. Go back to your morning ritual
You might not think about it all that much, but your morning ritual has been helping you get in the right mindset for a 9-5. It’s the small things: freshening up, getting dressed, putting on your make-up, commuting to work, and grabbing coffee along the way. These seemingly mundane routine you go through every morning going to work helps you get in that ‘mood,’ and helps you transition from your “home self” to your “work self.”
Try to simulate this experience by keeping a morning ritual even when you work from home. If your Zoom meetings start at 9am, wake up at 8am. Take a good shower, put on work clothes (it doesn’t have to be actual work clothes – just get out of the clothes you slept in), and eat breakfast. These things will help you get in the right headspace before you “show up for work.”
If you happen to wake up early, resist the temptation to start working right away. The goal is to maintain temporal boundaries between your personal life and your work life. Dilly dally in the shower, check social media, work out for a bit – do gentle things to fill your time when you have some to burn before your official “time in”.
2. Clock out on time
Still in the interest of sticking with your normal work hours, make it a habit to clock out on time. If you still feel unaccomplished at the end of the work day, let it be. Even those working in the office have slow days – you are not beholden to do more now that you’re working from home. Taking it one day at a time means anything left undone can be finished the next business day. You have to train yourself to be okay with leaving things as they are when it’s time to clock out.
Just like going back to your morning usuals, having an out-of-work routine can also help. This could mean signing out of work emails, turning off notifications in your mobile phone, and activating that ‘out-of-office’ automated reply in your virtual work chats. It also includes fixing yourself a happy hour drink and changing out of your work clothes, or anything that will switch from “work self” to your “home self.”
3. Designate a ‘work area’ at home
Aside from setting temporal boundaries, it’s also important to set physical boundaries when working from home. One way to do this is by not working on your bed. When your bed doubles as a makeshift office, your body starts associating the space with stress, instead of sleep and relaxation. Health experts believe this is why people who work in bed have a hard time sleeping in it at the end of the day.
It doesn’t matter if all you have is a kitchen chair or an old folding table you just got out of storage. Just have a designated work desk at home and keep your resting spaces sacred. Likewise, you have to refrain from sitting on your workspace just to hang out or pass the time while playing games or browsing on social media on your phone. Have all your essentials within arm’s length of the work desk, just like your own personal cubicle in the office.
4. Do not eat meals at your desk
Whether you’re in the office or working from home, it’s never healthy to eat meals at your desk. One surefire way to get burnout is by never taking physical breaks. On more hectic days, at least make sure you eat lunch in the dining room or the kitchen counter. Otherwise, you should set your own break times. In order to promote self-productivity, you can link up your allowed breaks to certain milestones in your work day.
For instance, you can decide to take a break after answering all emails that came in the night before, or after finishing two items off your work list. Make yourself a cup of coffee or take a walk far from your workspace when going on these breaks. It also helps to stretch every now and then, since physical stress is infinitely linked to mental stress.
5. Get enough exercise
Speaking of stretching, getting enough exercise and physical stimulation is key to transitioning well into a work from home setup. When you go to a regular, physical office, you get a lot of natural workout without even thinking about it. Now that all the walking you do is from your bedroom to your makeshift work space in the living room, it’s easy to fall into a slump in terms of your physical health.
When your physical health suffers, it takes a toll on your mental health, too. Workout routines that focus on proper, mindful breathing are very important in keeping the mind and body aligned when working from home.
Health perils of sitting at a desk and staring at screens all day abound, and burnout is definitely one of those things. The good news is that you don’t even have to pop into full workout mode at home. According to the Journal of the American Heart Association, even small bouts of moderately vigorous physical activity (even as short as a 5-minute routine) can provide important health benefits for those who are mostly cooped up at home.
There are also a lot of exercise routines you can do at home without any equipment.
6. Have fun on Friday nights
You don’t have to leave the house if you don’t feel like it, but ease the work from home burnout by reclaiming your Friday nights. Order take out, binge-watch Netflix, and have a game night with your family or housemates – anything to bring back the joy of welcoming the weekend with a bang.
Needless to say, try to tune out of all work matters on weekends. Off days exist so your mind and body can recover from early onset employee fatigue and workout – you don’t have to let these go just because you’re now working from home.
Weekends are also the perfect opportunity for you to catch up on housework (assuming it’s cathartic for you to keep things clean around the house) and just spend quality time with the family. Keeping this work-life balance is essential in keeping burnout at bay.
7. Set realistic work goals
The tips discussed above would be easier to follow if from the get-go, you know how to set realistic work goals. A Global Banking & Finance article revealed that almost half of UK employees feel ‘work from home guilt’ which sets them on a resolve to set unrealistic work goals just to show their employers how hard they’re working even at home.
The thing about placing tall orders upon yourself is that you’re setting yourself up to fail. Instead, make it a habit to speak with your supervisor or manager at the start of each day so you can get on the same page in terms of deliverables.
Ask directly what you’re expected to prioritize for the day, and keep working at that until the workday is over. Do not commit yourself to taking on more projects or doing more just because you think you have more time – you don’t.
8. Clearly communicate any issues to your colleagues
When you work from home, you lose the social support system that existed in the office. You may not realize it immediately, but you have to undergo a bid adjustment now that your bosses and colleagues cannot physically see what you’re doing and what’s happening around you. Are there kids in the house that are being extra fussy today? Is your partner sick and in need of extra care? Are you on cooking duty? Communicate all these to your colleagues so that they can also adjust their expectations of you and your level of productivity for the day.
It’s very easy to feel isolated and lonely when working from home, but it doesn’t have to be. Fatigue and burnout can easily creep in when you think nobody is in your corner. It may take a lot of practice if you’re accustomed to the office setup where your workmates can easily see if you’re swamped with work, but you have to make extra effort to communicate your situation now. Maintaining a healthy level of communication with your workmates and letting them know exactly what’s happening around your personal workspace is one good way to allow them to understand and support you, albeit virtually.
Do you or your family have ways to cope with stress from working at home? Or, you have that ‘secret weapon’ against work burnout especially from working at home. Tell us about it. Share your thoughts below.
Article by Bella Toledo Edited by Li-ling Ooi