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How to successfully manage the mental lines between work and home

With 2021 presenting more remote working opportunities than ever, culture change expert Colin D Ellis highlights the importance of knowing where to draw the line to save your sanity.

Remote Work

The COVID-19 pandemic forced many organisations to finally enable remote working for all employees. This practice is one that great working cultures dealt with years ago, when the tools and technology caught up with the demands on our lives.

Effective remote working requires many things, not least that managers define the culture to keep people connected, set expectations around work to be delivered and ensure that they are available to listen to the challenges that employees have.

There is also a responsibility on employees themselves to ensure that they draw a clear line between work and home to allow them to be as present and fresh as they’re able to be, for both.

These are the checkpoints every remote worker needs to successfully manage the lines between work and home.

Set up your workspace

Just because you’re not in the office doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t set up your workspace properly. To work from home effectively, you need a good internet connection, a laptop or PC with all of the right applications installed and preferably a light space in which to work in. You also need to remove all distractions to allow you to be able to focus on the job at hand.

Establish your working routine

No lounging around in your pyjamas all day, let’s deal with that one first. While you don’t have to get dressed in office attire, you still have to get dressed, unless your surname is Lebowski! Your attitude has to be right and you can’t be putting the washing on or popping to the shops at a time when you would normally be working. The simple rule when working from home is to ask yourself, ‘Would I do this if I was in the office?’ If the answer is no, then it can wait until you finish for the day.

Take regular breaks

This applies for both work and screens. One of the things that being in the office forced people to do was to get up from their desks and hydrate. A walk to the local coffee shop or filling a water bottle and having a chat in the kitchen could take 15 mins. When working from home, taking a break has to be a more deliberate activity. In line with establishing your routine, set aside time for coffee/tea/water away from your working area. Leave the phone behind to give your eyes a break and, if you’re able get some fresh air, a 15-minute walk around the block (with your kids if they’re free and at home with you) will do wonders for your energy levels and mindset.

Stay in constant contact

Working remotely (as well as being in lockdown conditions) can be a lonely business, so it’s critically important that you stay in touch with your teammates and friends. Chat tools can definitely help, but it’s also nice to see another face or speak to someone on the phone. Video conferencing is so simple to use these days that it’s a mistake not to use it. Oh, and when people dial you in for meetings, you have to remain focused, you can’t be tapping away on your laptop or checking your phone. This practice is just as disrespectful when working remotely as it was in the office.

Have a switch-off time

And when the working day is done, it’s time to remove all evidence of it or else close the door to it. Presenteeism is a huge issue when working from home as you’ve blurred the lines between what is work and what is home. In order to address this, you can do a number of things. Firstly, set a time when you will finish working; 5pm, 5.30pm, 6pm, you choose. Just pick a time and stick to it. Then close your laptop properly, put it in a cupboard and don’t return to it until the next day. Same with your phone. Turn notifications off or – if you have a work phone – put it in the same cupboard as the laptop. Better still create a ‘I’m home’ signal, so that your family members know that now is the time when work has finished.

With a little bit of preparation, routine and discipline, the lines between work and home can be really clear and manageable. What are you doing to set yourself up for success?

Colin D Ellis is the best-selling author of Culture Fix: How to Create a Great Place to Work and helps organisations around the world transform the way they work.

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