We’ve all heard the stereotypical and sometimes mistaken conceptions about remote workers: We all hang around in pajamas until noon. We wear bunny slippers with business suits for meetings. And we are all constantly struggling to balance time and attention among kids, work and that leftover lasagna in the refrigerator.
As a remote worker and self-employed businessperson for much of my career, I have actually been known to wear slippers during a video meeting. I’ve done laundry in between projects. I’ve taken the dog for walks while on conference calls. And I love leftover lasagna.
Study after study shows that employees as a whole are more productive when working from home — but that’s only the case when they feel their life and work are actually balanced. There are side effects to working from home, namely, the feeling that you should take on even more than what you would normally because of the perceived added flexibility. Here are some tips to help manage this particular side effect.
Make realistic expectations and plans. Lay off the idea that you have to be a multitask master. Just because you work at home doesn’t suddenly mean that you are a superhero that can manage teams, projects and a family simultaneously. So while you may try to do more at home — and you may be successful — be sure to set realistic expectations and simply accept that no one can do it all.
Don’t feel guilty about taking time off. The reason I originally started working from my current location was because my mom was getting older, and I chose to live near her rather than my then-employer. My manager, my co-workers and the HR department were tremendously understanding and supportive about the time I needed to help my family, but I also felt that I had to work even harder and longer to prove my dedication to the company. And because the company was a three-hour time difference away and many of my co-workers worked late, I’d often find myself working 12-14 hour days. It was exhausting.
One of my co-workers eventually pulled me aside and reminded me that it was OK for me to “go home” at the end of my workday and that it was equally OK for me to take vacation days. Even though I agreed, it was tough in practice — I had to turn off my chat app, close down my work email, get off my work server and make myself leave them all alone until the next morning. I became better organized and less stressed out and, as a whole, got more done.
Minimize distractions. I was able to move my office to an outside building (we converted part of our barn into a finished office) and keep regular hours. Choosing an area in the house with a door can work just as well, if you’re willing to close it. I had a remote co-worker that rented an office across from his apartment building just so he could better separate home and work. He kept regular hours, just as if he were going to an office building, and got home at the same time as his wife got home from her job.
Don’t fire the nanny. If you have children who require care and supervision during the workday and it’s financially feasible, keep your nanny, babysitter or daycare provider on the payroll even when you work at home. Work-at-home-parent experts have several suggestions for parents whose kids stay home with them, including teaching kids how to check if a parent is busy before interrupting them, giving children job lists of their own and rearranging work schedules to better fit the children’s schedule. Some parents find swapping kid-sitting time with other work-at-home parents helps each to better organize their day and alleviate worries about childcare.
Working off the clock. Working in a different time zone meant that sometimes meetings would be held during my “off” hours. As a practice, since several employees worked remotely, we would do our best to coordinate meetings during work time that worked for all of us, with only the occasional meeting off the clock. But of course, not everyone could make it. Here’s one easy solution: If coworkers need to have a meeting when you are not available, ask them to record it for you to view afterwards.
At the end of the day, it’s OK to do the laundry while you’re working at home. Just make sure that your to-do lists don’t overlap and become counterproductive to one another. Your employer is paying you to work, so be accountable to that commitment. And remember to balance that with a commitment to yourself and the people and activities that are important to you. Feel free to share how you’ve made this balance work for you.