Working from home, once a novelty, has become the norm for many in the wake of global changes brought on not just by the pandemic, but also by the ever-developing possibilities of remote communication.
Of course, the transition hasn’t been seamless; adapting to new routines, blurring work-life boundaries and managing remote technology have certainly posed challenges. Some of us have come to terms with home working, some have even thrived, but others have hit unanticipated obstacles.
This article explores five specific challenges to home-based work. It seeks to understand why these particular issues arise, the impact they can have on work and also just a few ways in which they might be mitigated to maintain productivity and balance.
Overworking: The Hidden Pitfall of Working from Home
Working from home, while convenient, often blurs the boundaries between personal and professional life, leading to a risk of overworking. Without clear demarcation between ‘work’ and ‘home’ zones, employees can fall into a cycle of extended working hours, as they try to compensate for perceived ‘at home inefficiencies’ or strive to prove their productivity.
Overworking can have serious implications. It can lead to burnout, marked by chronic exhaustion, cynicism, and decreased effectiveness at work. Moreover, it can negatively affect physical health and personal relationships, thus impacting overall wellbeing. Managing the issue of overworking requires a conscientious approach. Here are a few strategies:
- Establish clear boundaries: Set specific work hours and stick to them. Designate a specific area in your home for work and avoid it during non-work hours.
- Take breaks: Schedule short breaks throughout the day, and take a proper lunch break away from your workspace. These breaks can be set as something to look forward to – to break up the day more effectively.
- Communicate effectively: Be transparent with your colleagues and managers about your workload and capacity.
Giving In to Distractions: The Stealthy Saboteur of Working from Home
Home, unlike the structured environment of an office, brims with potential distractions, from household chores to social media temptations, speaking to a loved one or even doing some ‘important’ exercise. The issue of giving in to these diversions arises from a lack of supervision and the proximity of non-work-related stimuli, which can be particularly challenging to resist during periods of lower motivation or more demanding tasks.
Yielding to distractions can impact work significantly. It disrupts focus, reduces productivity, and extends work hours as tasks take longer to complete. In the long term, frequent interruptions can lead to stress and burnout. But there are certainly mitigation strategies that may work against this ‘thief’ by fostering a productive work-from-home environment that enhances efficiency without compromising work-life balance:
- Create a dedicated workspace: This helps to psychologically separate work and personal life, reducing the allure of home-related distractions.
- Time management: Use techniques like the Pomodoro Technique, which involves focused work periods followed by short breaks.
- Turn off non-essential notifications: Reduce digital interruptions from social media or emails not critical to your work. You could even ‘hide’ your phone!
Ignoring a Sleep Schedule: The Unsuspected Enemy of Working from Home
When working from home, one common pitfall is neglecting a regular sleep schedule. The absence of the need for a daily commute and the flexibility of working hours can lead to late-night work sessions and subsequent late wake-up times. This disruption of natural sleep rhythms can be compounded by the blurred boundaries between personal and professional life.
Ignoring a regular sleep schedule can profoundly impact productivity and well-being. Lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns can lead to decreased cognitive performance, including poor concentration, memory lapses and slowed reaction times, all of which can negatively impact work output and overall well-being. Furthermore, sleep deprivation is associated with mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression, and physical health problems, including cardiovascular disease and weakened immunity. Given the seriousness of these potential issues, it is essential to work on techniques that lessen or alleviate their effects:
- Maintain a regular sleep schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, even on weekends.
- Create a restful environment: Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a comfortable temperature.
- Prioritise relaxation: Activities such as reading, meditation or taking a warm bath can help prepare your body for sleep.
Working in Your PJs: The Attire Dilemma of Working from Home
Working from home comes with the freedom to dress as comfortably as desired, with some choosing to stay in pajamas or casual attire throughout the workday. This flexibility stems from the lack of formal dress codes and face-to-face interactions associated with traditional office settings.
However, this casual approach to workwear can potentially impact productivity. Research suggests that our clothing can influence our cognitive processes and behaviour, a concept known as ‘enclothed cognition’. Dressing too casually could lead to a more relaxed attitude towards work, potentially diminishing focus and work efficiency. Addressing this involves a balanced approach which avoids the pressure of ‘office wear’, but equally keeps in mind that this is working time, not siesta time:
- Adopt a ‘work from home’ dress code: While this need not be as formal as traditional office attire, distinguishing between ‘work clothes’ and ‘home clothes’ can foster a more work-oriented mindset.
- Dress for the task at hand: If you have a video conference, dressing ‘professionally’ can boost confidence and positively influence how others perceive you.
- Comfort is key: Opt for clothes that are both comfortable and presentable. This helps maintain productivity without compromising on comfort.
Not Exercising: The Overlooked Challenge of Working from Home
Working from home, while comfortable, often involves prolonged sedentary periods. The elimination of commuting, walking to meetings, or even office stair-climbs can inadvertently lead to a decrease in physical activity and well-being.
Lack of exercise can also significantly impact both work productivity. Regular physical activity boosts mood, energy levels and cognitive function, all of which enhance work performance. Conversely, a sedentary lifestyle can lead to sluggishness, difficulties in focus, and, over time, an increased risk of chronic health issues such as obesity and heart disease. The choice to deal with this often-overlooked matter involves consciously integrating exercise into the work-from-home routine:
- Schedule regular exercise: Treat exercise as a non-negotiable meeting in your daily and weekly calendar.
- Incorporate movement into your day: Short walking breaks, standing desks, or even ‘walking meetings’ can break up long sitting periods.
- Explore online resources: Many workout routines, from yoga to high-intensity interval training, are readily available online and can be performed with limited space and no equipment.
While it can be great to work in an environment that you know inside out, working from home doesn’t come without its obstacles. Your health and wellbeing should be your top concern, so to boost productivity and keep a healthy mindset, make sure to avoid all the traps listed above.