Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many people are now working remotely, while others are launching online businesses. Working from home certainly has its advantages, such as the freedom to set your own schedule and enjoy a more comfortable working environment.
However, one of remote work’s key drawbacks is that you are alone. Your family may be home, but you have no coworkers with whom to chat or colleagues with whom to brainstorm or collaborate.
The isolation can be depressing, and remote workers are also susceptible to overworking. Both of these can lead to burnout, which in turn harms productivity. Being productive while working alone can be challenging — and it’s important to not confuse working longer hours or being “busy” with being “productive.”
Those who are launching their own businesses might also ﬁnd isolation a good excuse to overwork as they endeavor to get their new enterprises aﬂoat. Let’s address these drawbacks and look at some strategies for staying productive — and healthy — during periods of remote work.
Caring for Your Health
Many people neglect their health in a work environment, whether by avoiding breaks that could reduce eye strain, sitting with poor posture, or increasing their stress by taking on extra work. These problems can be compounded in remote work environments.
As mentioned above, remote workers do tend to overwork. Whether because it’s harder to disengage when you don’t have an ofﬁce to leave or because you feel the need to prove that you’re being productive, workers in remote environments often work longer hours and take on more tasks.
However, overworking is not good for your health — or your productivity. In a moment, we’ll discuss the importance of striking work–life balance in a remote work environment.
For now, it sufﬁces to say that caring for your health is crucial to your success, especially in these trying times. Take time to disengage from work and engage in self-care, whether that’s by reading or watching something funny or spending some time with your family and pets.
Eat good meals and drink plenty of water to help nourish your mind. It’s also crucial to avoid overworking. Many people attempt to relieve stress by “keeping busy.” Be sure that you are not distracting yourself by taking on additional tasks.
This approach can quickly lead to burnout and depression. Avoid the temptation to stack your plate high, especially when you’re getting accustomed to remote work. Delegate tasks to other people and be willing to say “no” to unnecessary projects. Doing so will help protect your mental health in a time when external stressors are high.
Connecting with Others
For people used to it, remote work can actually contribute to feelings of being more engaged in the workplace. Perhaps that’s because you have to make an effort to be seen and heard when you’re working remotely.
However, workers who are accustomed to an in-ofﬁce environment may ﬁnd it hard to feel connected without physically seeing their coworkers, and this can lead to feelings of loneliness, which can distract from your work. That’s why it’s helpful to use videoconferencing tools to stay in touch.
These provide the social element that tends to be lost when you’re working in isolation. In fact, you might feel more connected to your team and more “in the know” about projects when you all have to make a concerted effort to keep in contact.
In fact, some remote workers report feeling more valued in their workplace. That’s one major advantage of a remote work situation: You have to prioritize communication.
To help boost your productivity, it’s often more effective to do regular check-ins rather than long, drawn-out meetings. Use a messaging tool such as Slack to keep in touch with everyone without the structure and time constraints of a meeting. This can also contribute to feelings of connectedness with your team.
Managing Your Time
As mentioned above, busy-ness is not the same as productivity. While studies have shown that remote workers report higher productivity, those numbers may be skewed by their own bias. Remember, remote workers tend to work longer hours, which means that they may feel more productive. However, feeling more productive does not mean that you are actually being more productive.
Productivity is deﬁned as accomplishing your tasks in the minimal amount of time needed, without feeling stressed or having to cut corners. Filling up your calendar with tasks is not the route to true productivity.
Moreover, if your remote work ends up bleeding into non-working hours, you’re not improving your productivity: You’re just making yourself busier. This is where proper time management comes into play.
By assigning yourself only essential tasks, then doing those tasks at the optimal time, you can ward off burnout and end up with extra hours in the day. To achieve this, you must do the following:
Limit the amount of time you devote to a task in a given day. Schedule your work in your calendar, same as you would an appointment or meeting, then stick to it. This tactic helps prevent tasks from taking over your day and ensures that you can plan out what you’ll do, then stick to it.
Don’t multitask. Scheduling your work is a good psychological trick to help yourself stay on task — that is, to work on only one thing at a time. Never bounce between tasks; it will end up taking you longer to do all of them, and it’s also an unnecessary source of stress.
Take regular breaks. Don’t work endlessly, without ever getting up from your desk. To help prevent burnout, get up and walk around, grab some water or a snack, or chat with a coworker via your messaging app. If you can’t seem to remember to do this, set reminders on your devices to do so. Taking breaks will help keep your mind fresh.
Do your work at the optimal time. If you tend to feel energetic in the mornings, use that time to knock out your biggest, most energy-consuming tasks. Don’t waste this creative energy on checking email or updating your calendar. By the same token, when you’re feeling low-energy, do a low-energy task such as updating your to-do list or sending a message to a coworker.
Following these best practices will help you be truly productive, not just busy. And by being productive, you’ll ﬁnd that you feel less pressure to work longer hours or take on extra tasks to make up for it or give yourself as a sense of “busy-ness.” That means that you’ll be better able to achieve a good balance between work and the rest of your life.
Striking a Work–Life Balance
According to some reports, nearly 30 percent of remote workers struggle to maintain a work–life balance while about 70-75 percent say remote work actually helps them with work–life balance. In other words, most people discover that a work–life balance is easier to ﬁnd when working remotely. Perhaps that’s because your valuable time is not sucked up by a commute, but it’s also worth noting that these studies are usually focused on people who are accustomed to working remotely.
For new remote workers, it can be harder to switch gears — especially if you’ve developed the bad habit of checking work email after you get home. Now, there’s a blurred line between work and home, and you end up working all evening. That’s a drain on your mental resources, which ends up harming your productivity.
That’s why it’s crucial to establish clear working hours for yourself and stick to them. If your normal work schedule is 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., keep that schedule, then disengage from work at 5 p.m. Designate a dedicated working space in your home, then log out of all work accounts and leave that area when it’s time to cease working for the day. This tactic will help you disengage from work and have a fresh mind for when you return to your desk the next day.
Studies have shown that remote work contributes to productivity, but also overworked, and that remote workers experience a greater work-life balance, but also feelings of isolation.
These contradictory results might be due to different research methods or improvements in remote technology, but overall, remote work seems to have more advantages than disadvantages — if it’s done properly.
We can conclude that proper time management, communication, and self-care techniques are crucial to your success when working remotely. Ensure that you take the time and resources you need to manage your stress, and keep in touch with coworkers and colleagues to help avoid feelings of loneliness or disengagement.
Above all else, resist the temptation to pile up your to-do list or work into the wee hours of the morning. Remote work can be a boon to your productivity and collaboration, but only if you prioritize your health and work–life balance above all else. That’s the secret to true productivity, especially when you’re alone.