How to Protect Work-Life Borders When It Seems They Do Not Exist Anymore?

The never-ending struggle to find the perfect balance between professional and personal life seems to be getting crucial for mental and physical well-being. Here are 5 steps that would help to win this fight.
image of How to Protect Work-Life Borders When It Seems They Do Not Exist Anymore?

The problem of the lack of differentiation between work and home environments is not a recent one, but the issue has never been as acute as during this pandemic. Indeed, nowadays the expression “living at work” is perceived more than literally because the phrase merely represents the other side of the omnipresent Work-From-Home (WFH) situation.

To elucidate, employees, even though they are physically removed from the workplace, are never truly disconnected from their job. First, because their homes have become locations where everything is associated with work: living rooms, bedrooms, even kitchens are not spared in a journey to find a perfect place for a Zoom call. Second, due to the massive use of messengers as means of communication between co-workers, team leaders can easily reach their subordinates at any time of day, regardless of what the official working hours are. To deal with this problem.

As a result, people underrate the amount of time they actually work. For example, a person might not count an emergency late-night meeting with a colleague as a work-related situation because this is “just a quick call-in to exchange ideas”. This neglectful attitude to employees’ own workload leads to overworking and, consequently, burnout. One study found that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated a 75% job burnout rate. What is more, this pandemic-induced burnout concerns every professional sphere, from the most obvious healthcare workers to fashion retailing workers.

To counteract this negative tendency, employees could implement (and their managers should see to it that they do) the following 5 measures that would help to separate private life from the workplace, even in the current circumstances of complete seeming indistinguishability between the two.

1. Accept the situation — it is high time to do it. That is, stop considering WFH a temporary state. As of now, the majority of people (and even entire nations) are going through the iconic 5 stages of grief, ranging from denial, embodied in anti-maskers and even governments refusing to adopt appropriate measures to combat the pandemic, to anger — protests against endless lockdowns — to depression.

The harsh reality is that countries in Europe are introducing a third lockdown; many more have mandatory curfews; and vaccines are far from being available to everyone. In all that mess, the best anyone could do is to accept that remote working is not going anywhere, not in the short-term perspective at least, hence, the sooner people make peace with this fact, the sooner they would start to truly adapt to the WFH’s negative aspects.

2. Build a perfect work spot. And work only there! It is not advisable to follow the widespread advice “if you work from home, try to work in different rooms, change the environment”. While changing the environment is certainly helpful (more on that later in the article), working in different rooms of the apartment could create a strong mental association, so that subsequently a person would have absolutely no escape from work in their own home. Besides, while still in the office before the pandemic, the worker had their own office (desk, cubicle) — but they did not wander around the office, searching for a better place to work. Sure, there were open-space solutions, but even there people considered these fun hangars with air hockey and coffee machines a job-related environment.

To avoid such a scenario, employees would find it helpful to define a specific space in their apartment designated only for work and customize it to their own liking. Investing in ergonomic chairs, spacious desks and everything that a person needs for their own comfort are invaluable expenditures in the current situation. Even if the pandemic would soon be dealt with for good (which seems pretty unlikely as of now), after switching back to offline employment, people would still have a convenient work space at home, where they could bring extra work from the office, without disturbing the general “homey” atmosphere.

3. Suit up! © Barney Stinson, “How I met your mother”. Oscar Wilde once said, “Only a fool will not judge by appearance.” Yes, most of the time people nowadays spend at home, where there is nobody who could judge them by their choice of clothes for the remote work session or a virtual business meeting. However, that does not mean that people themselves are not affected by what they wear — this psychological effect is called “enclothed cognition”. As such, wearing habitual business or business casual attires to work, even if it is remote, has proven to boost employees’ productivity, while sticking to pajamas or sweatpants prevents people from concentrating and putting their maximum efforts into work.

Sure, wearing comfortable clothes is highly desirable, but if a person has the same outfit for work and for private life, there is no symbolic change, signifying the end of one and the beginning of the other. Earlier, such a change could be achieved by experiencing the pleasant feeling of coming home from the office and taking off mildly uncomfortable elegant shoes. Now, however, without the change in clothes, work-life balance might be distorted by the same pattern that manifests itself while working in every room of the apartment.

4. Fake commute. This advice might sound crazy at first sight but it has exactly the same purpose as the previous recommendations, that is to create mental distance between professional and private environments. This fake commute might even be a little more pleasant experience than the conventional one, that is no rush, no traffic jams, no crowded public transport. A simple walk around the block and returning into the apartment would be enough to signify the end of the cozy home bubble and the beginning of a productive workday.

In addition, fake commuting provides a change in scenery, which even Ancient Romans by the phrase “Varietas Delectat” (variety is delightful) thought to be indispensable for staying in a good mood. One scientifically proven benefit of the change in scenery is that it improves the brain’s neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to rewire itself by repairing old neural connections or creating new ones. Thus, managers should also be interested in promoting fake commutes among their team members because more variety means a more intelligent and more productive workforce.

5. Set you available working hours and protect them at all costs. The most difficult thing to do due to the already mentioned messengers (and let us not forget about emails too), but probably the most important. In some European countries, there are laws protecting employees from too much workload by providing them with the so-called “right to disconnect”. The pioneer here is, of course, France; Italy also has similar clauses in the country’s legislation. Nonetheless, most of the countries, US included, do not legally discourage the employment of people in their free time.

As a result, the absence of the appropriate legislation is the reason why the worker (and also their managers) should themselves take care of their working hours. One of the paramount steps is having an efficient company calendar that allows to set different time slots for professional and personal activities, as for many people nowadays a working schedule is not the traditional 8 hours non-stop work, but several sprints of productivity for 2–3 hours throughout the day. Therefore, such a calendar would shield employees from being dragged into a meeting during their off-hours.

Teamcal.AI is perfect for the task of creating a balanced but productive work-life environment for employees by allowing its users to discreetly set their work and leisure periods in the application. What is more, the service takes into consideration different time zones team members might be living in, thus optimizing the work process to the highest level. Request a demo.

Work Work Life Balance Work From Home Workplace Productivity