A recent survey found that the remote workforce trend shows no signs of slowing down. The majority of respondents (62%) work remotely at least occasionally. They willingly choose to work from home and would like to do so more often — 83% replied that the ability to work remotely would make them happier.
If you agree with the majority of the respondents, you recognize that there are plenty of upsides to working from home. But there are also drawbacks. Maintaining a work-life balance may be the most challenging one. The current shelter in place restrictions due to the COVID-19 may make working from home the only alternative at this time, potentially taking away some of the joys of staying home since it’s now practically mandatory. Take a closer look at three of the biggest obstacles to maintaining a healthy work-life balance when you work from home and how you can tackle the issues.
The blurred lines between home and work
Many employees and freelancers see working from home as a great opportunity to have more free time for yourself and your family. But the opposite is usually the case. Your employer still expects you to deliver your work at the same pace as you would at the office. But your family may not understand why you’re home and “always working”.
Kids especially may require more of your attention simply because you’re not giving them any. How will you manage to get several hours’ worth of work done while managing your household and attending to your kid’s needs? When the lines blur between your work and home life, neither get your undivided attention.
The solution is to set clear boundaries in every sense of the word. Set up a home office where you can close the door to avoid interruptions and work. Or work from a coffee shop or coworking space. If your kids are home, arrange for childcare during your working hours.
You may need to discipline yourself to avoid the temptation of taking a TV break or doing some laundry or you’ll never get your work done. Set a work schedule with specific hours, just as you would in the office, and stick to it. Otherwise, you may find yourself working in spurts over longer hours at home, feeling like you’re always working, just as your kids said.
Lack of boundaries with the office
Another issue you may face comes from your company’s managerial expectations. Your supervisors or team may text, call, or email you at all hours because “you’re working at home”. The problem with this incorrect assumption is that you can be reached anytime.
Just because you’re working remotely doesn’t mean you’re on standby to work whenever someone calls or messages. And being responsive only encourages the behavior to reach out with problems while you’re making dinner, walking your dog, working on other projects, etc.
Smartphones and technology are a wonderful tool, but they make it all too easy for others to expect we’re “on” at all hours of the day and night. To prevent this situation, you’ll need to clearly designate your working hours and off-hours — and communicate this to your network. Once you set when you are working and available and when you’re not, you’ll need to reinforce it. Set an email autoresponder that replies that you will respond the next business day during work hours. Or set your phone to “do not disturb” during after-hours with a voice mail message explaining you are away from your desk and to please try again from nine a.m. and six p.m. Mondays to Friday, for example.
Handling bookkeeping and other tasks when you’re autonomous
It’s all too easy to let your bookkeeping, invoicing, or project hours tracking slide when no one is there to remind you. It’s one of the first errors new remote workers make when they start working from home — and it’s an expensive one. Failure to properly keep records or track your time can lead to you missing billable work hours, or forgetting to file your self-employment taxes, which can cost you fines and late fees.
Most people perceive that the remote worker has it made — they get to work from home in their pajamas or at a fancy beach resort while they’re vacationing. Nothing could be further from the truth. Work is work wherever you do it from. And quite often, the remote worker’s workload is bigger than it would be when working in an office environment with support staff.
Remote workers can save time on the ongoing administrative tasks by automating them. Use accounting software that handles your billing and taxes for you. Make your invoicing process more efficient by taking advantage of templates for invoicing. Install productivity and time tracking software to keep on top of the work hours you put into your projects so you can bill accordingly. Insurance is complicated when you’re a remote worker — work with an insurance broker experienced with remote and freelance workers who can handle your business and health insurance needs.
The flexibility of working remotely can definitely be more satisfying, but you’ll need to set up a system that defines and separates your work hours from your personal life hours. The sooner you set clear boundaries and discipline yourself to follow them, the more likely you’ll benefit from working away from the office. As for the current shelter in place conditions due to the coronavirus, remember to take some time for yourself and your loved ones during these challenging and uncertain times.
About the Author:
Jori Hamilton is a writer from the Pacific Northwest who has a particular interest in social justice, politics, education, healthcare, technology, and more. You can follow her on Twitter @ HamiltonJori.