Working from home

Working from home comes with some unique challenges. Learn strategies to support your well-being while balancing your personal and work life.

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Working virtually

Some of us enjoy working virtually, while others prefer working in the workplace. Regardless of your preference, it’s important to recognize the unique challenges that virtual work brings. Some common challenges are maintaining personal and professional boundaries, work-life balance, screen fatigue and isolation. 

Taking care of our well-being is just as important as ensuring we get our work done – when we’re at our best, so is our work!

What can you do? 

Below are tips that you can use to support your well-being while working virtually.

Maintain boundaries

Boundaries are important when working virtually, especially if working from home. Boundaries help us maintain work-life balance, establish a routine, and can help prevent burnout. 

  • Establish what works for you, while also ensuring it supports you to do your job successfully.
  • Communicate your boundaries openly and continuously. 
  • If possible, create a dedicated workspace in your home that offers minimal distractions. Avoid the space where you sleep if possible.  
  • Turn off work email or phone notifications when your workday is finished. Understand the expectations of your employer and consider offering a backup contact if your role requires it. 
  • You can provide your team with a way to contact you in an emergency. 

Establish a routine

Once we’ve set our boundaries, we can create a routine more easily. Establishing a workday routine helps keep you energized and motivated.

  • Start your workday with stretching, journaling, meditation, a nutritional breakfast or whatever helps you begin the day refreshed and energized.      Create a routine that works for you.
  • Each evening or morning, write out or review your daily to-do list. This helps you be prepared and organized. Some also like to do a higher-level weekly to-do list that includes personal and professional obligations.
  • Schedule breaks and meals in your calendar for both you and your colleagues to see.
  • Clean your work area when work is done so you aren’t staring at it while trying to relax.
  • Do something to mark the end of the workday – go for a walk, change your clothes, sit on the porch or balcony.      
  • Exercise to help improve your physical and mental health. 
  • Sleep, sleep, sleep! It’s so important to ensure you’re getting enough regular sleep. For sleep hygiene tips, see Making Sleep Count – Active Steps.

Find motivation and energy

It can be hard to self-motivate, especially when there’s no one else around to help. If you’re having difficulty finding motivation, try some of the following tips:

  • Write to-do lists (daily, weekly, monthly).
  • Set 3 priorities each day and cross them off as you complete them – it can be so satisfying!
  • Set alarms to remind yourself to get up and move your body or drink a glass of water.
  • Set weekly goals and track your progress.
  • Find an accountability buddy to check in with – this also helps prevent isolation and maintain connection.
  • Stick to your total work hours! Some days will be busier than others but finding time to slow down when you can be important to sustaining yourself and your well-being. 
  • Try to flex your work to the times when you have the greatest focus. Some people may find early morning, before the rest of the family is awake, is best for them. Others may find evenings provide uninterrupted concentration. You may find going for a walk or to the gym in the early afternoon helps you stay more productive the rest of the time. If you have the luxury of flexing your time, make it work for you.
  • Block time on your calendar for work that requires your full concentration. This allows those with access to your calendar to understand you’re not available for calls or emails. More importantly, it allows you to manage your time more effectively.

Manage video meeting stress

Screen fatigue can be a real stressor. It’s exhausting to be constantly in video calls. Sometimes, we can’t avoid video meetings, but we can minimize stressors. When we need to be on video, it may be helpful to consider what makes you feel most comfortable, such as:

  • Integrate more phone calls into your day to cut back on-screen time. 
    • This allows more flexibility in terms of walking and talking, which can help reduce video fatigue and eliminate video anxiety. 
  • Where possible schedule breaks between video meetings. If you cannot, consider turning off your camera and microphone to take a stretch for a minute or two while you listen.
  • Keep virtual meetings to one hour or less when you can. If something will take longer, you may want to include a 5-minute break or have more one-hour meetings spaced apart.
  • Have water to drink.
  • Keep tissues, cough drops, and water close by to reduce stress related to fear of coughing.
  • Have an app or a pen and paper to take quick notes.
  • Use a virtual background so you don’t have to worry about who or what comes into view.
  • Use headphones to help drown out unavoidable background noises. 
  • Keep your temperature comfortable by having a wrap or blanket to warm you or a fan to cool you. 
  • Remember that you can mute.
  • Remember that you can turn your camera off.

Seek collaboration opportunities

Virtual work can sometimes feel isolating, especially when we’re used to being in a workplace surrounded by people. Creating virtual spaces to collaborate and communicate – even informally – can help to prevent feelings of isolation. 

  • If you miss having a coffee break with your colleagues, consider jumping on a short call while you go for a walk or enjoy your break time. 
  • Schedule weekly or monthly calls with colleagues outside of work hours just to catch up on a personal basis.
  • If you miss bouncing ideas off others in the office while working on a project, try creating an online discussion board or hosting a mind-mapping session with your colleagues. Finding different ways to maintain engagement and encourage collaboration is positive for everyone. Switching up your usual focuses to collaborate with others can spark creativity and give you a new ounce of motivation.

Working with children

Working with children at home can be especially distracting. By anticipating your child’s needs, you can reduce the interruptions to your day. For example: 

  • Establish guidelines for common requests and be sure your children understand them. For example, what snacks they are allowed to get for themselves, when they can watch television or play on a device, when homework is to be done. These guidelines should be discussed and posted so there is no dispute about what was agreed.
  • Have appropriate activities to keep your children engaged, but don’t give them to your children until they’re bored or asking for something to do. This novelty is more likely to be of interest than a box full of toys they can access at any time. 
  • Have a variety of healthy snacks available to tide them over until mealtime. 
  • Consider using hands-free carrier for babies so you can keep them close to you while working. 
  • Playing calming music may help soothe and relax children.
  • Consider taking multiple short breaks throughout the day to connect with your children. This can mean giving them a hug or asking if there’s anything they need.
  • Schedule your more complex tasks for when your children are sleeping. Spend time with them when they’re awake.
  • When your children need something, give them your full attention rather than trying to get them to wait patiently. Addressing their request, even if it is to say no,  promptly will often take less of your time than dealing with constant interruptions while they wait. 
    • Author, Barbara Coloroso suggested this response for those times you cannot make a snap decision – “If you need an answer now, it is no. If you can wait for 2 hours, I will consider it.”

Additional resources

  • Independent professionals. Independent professionals include those who are self-employed, working from home or remotely, or often working in isolation. While working in isolation could be either a choice or necessity, it may present unique challenges to physical, mental and professional well-being.
  • Work-life balance tips. Balancing your work and personal life can be challenging and stressful at times. These tips and strategies can help.
  • Energizing break activities. Energizing break activities can help improve your sense of well-being, focus and productivity.
  • Calming break activities. Calming break activities can help release stress and improve your concentration.
  • Relaxing break activities. Relaxing break activities can improve physical and mental capacities and reduce stress at work.
Contributors include.articlesAlex Kollo Coaching and ToolsMary Ann BayntonWorkplace Strategies team 2007-2021

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