When it comes to dealing with stress, all the advice is designed for office workers. But what about homeworkers? Many of them suffer in silence. They don’t tell their friends and family how they feel because they know the reaction: “You work in the spare bedroom in your pajamas! How can you be stressed?!”
But this is a big and growing challenge for all of us. The most recent data in the US shows that more than 5 million people now work from home, and globally it’s estimated that 53% of employees now work remotely for at least half the week.
Companies are increasingly embracing the benefits of flexible working, so even if you’re not doing it now, you’ll undoubtedly work from home at some point in your career. So how can you avoid the stress associated with homeworking? Here are three top tips.
Work normal office hours
This is probably the biggest trap that new homeworkers fall into. You leap out of bed at 7am, grab a coffee and flip on your laptop or PC. You tell yourself you’re just going to catch up on social media, or wheel round the news sites. But after 30 minutes you’re reading work emails, thinking you can get a march on your to-do list and before you know it, you’re regularly working 10-12 hours plus per day.
It’s very hard to break out of this cycle because it’s habit-forming. But you need to remember that you’re being paid by your employer to work for 40 hours per week, not 60-plus. So you’re basically working for free outside of those hours.
Yes, I can hear you say: “But I’m not in the office, so they can’t see that I’m working really hard; my boss can say I’m a slacker behind my back; maybe the company will stop me from working from home, or HR might even sack me!”
If you feel this way then leave your job. Your employer does not deserve you and they’re not supporting you properly, so move on to better job with a better culture.
Get email-replacement therapy
We all love communications tools like Slack. There’s nothing better than having instant access and response from the team wherever you are, and having the occasional banter. But when you’re a homeworker, these apps become less benign.
Because you’re not in the office you start to notice the gaps in response times; you start to realise that people are talking and you’re not part of that. You can get obsessed with the idea that you’re missing out, or being kept out of decision-making on purpose. You start to feel that now you’re working from home you’re being treated differently.
In my experience this problem is much more about adjustment to remote working combined with the personality of the individual than it is about being treated differently. Extroverts find this issue much harder to cope with – which is not a surprise because for many, the isolation of homework can be tough.
But if after a month or so you’re still feeling edgy it’s a sign that you need to up the number of scheduled team catch-up calls and meetings. Bring those right up to at least once per week. Finally, adjust your notification settings. This might sound counter-intuitive but it could be that you’re actually getting too many notifications, making you focus too heavily on Slack.
Get out of the house at least once per day
Alongside doing a normal working day, it’s really important that you get out of the house at least once per day. I am particular bad at this myself, and it’s a constant battle to take breaks. Some weeks I can find that I’ve only been out of the house once. But I know that this is a quick route to burnout.
One of the things I’ve learnt through the years is that you need to shake things up and act like you’re at work. In the workplace people leave for meetings, they take a break to make a coffee, they have a five minute chat with their friend in the accounts team. To survive you must mirror this kind of behaviour – take breaks, go for a walk, chat with your neighbour, go to the shops at lunchtime; do the things you would do in an office.
If you follow just one of these three tips, you’ll be in a better place to cope with, and enjoy, being a successful homeworker.