If there’s one thing this pandemic has taught us, it’s that remote working really works.
As a freelancer, I learnt the hard way that if I was going to earn money, I needed to work pretty damn hard for it. No more twiddling my thumbs, watching the hours roll by, and no more steady monthly salary sliding into my bank account regardless of how many hours I actually worked.
If I didn’t put the hours in, I wasn’t going to reap the rewards. Simple as that.
But something further switched when the virus hit. Suddenly, all my clients became remote workers overnight and it changed everything.
Their office hours went out the window, countless zoom calls became necessary, and work became a 24/7 thing.
Rather than being less productive, remote workers have proven to be more productive than their office counter-parts — or even their former selves.
There’s no time wasted getting ready for work in the morning (hello fellow pyjama wearers), there’s fewer distractions (for some of us), and less of the office drama (if we can stay off the group chats).
But, have we reached the stage that whilst we are being far more productive than ever before, this is now to the detriment of our work-life balance, and ultimately, our mental health?
Remote Work and Productivity
Before the pandemic hit, everything you’d read about in terms of remote work was all ‘rainbows and fairy-tales’. And for the most part, that’s true.
We have more control of our working day, we don’t have to get dressed if we don’t want to (although it’s advisable), and we can get more done in the same amount of time.
The problem is, when you’re outside of an office, you feel compelled to show your employer or your clients that you’re around and working, because they can’t physically see you.
You work exceptionally hard every day to prove this point which in turn leads to greater productivity and more work being thrown metaphorically on your desk.
Great news for the person you’re doing the work for, but not so great for you — especially if this is to the sacrifice of healthy boundaries and work-life balance, which has started to become non-existent for a lot of us.
Sooner or later, there will be a price to pay for the extra productivity.
We hit deadline after deadline and don’t pause for breath.
As remote workers, we’re unable to spend time chatting face-to-face with colleagues or catching up at the water-cooler. We don’t grab lunch with our teammates, nor do we head out for a drink or two after work.
And whilst instant messaging channels and zoom calls are all very well and good, it’s not the same as face-to-face human interaction — and in some ways, it can be more exhausting.
We’re skipping breaks and pushing ourselves harder than we should because there’s no-one around to tell us otherwise. We’re more dedicated than ever before, pulling all-nighters to hid deadlines, for fear of losing our jobs/clients if we don’t.
Sooner or later we’re going to burnout, and ultimately this will be to the detriment of everyone.
So what can we do about it?
Only focus on the tasks that matter right now
At the start of your working day, make a list of the main tasks that you’re going to commit to getting done. Make sure it’s realistic and that you have the time to complete these on the day.
Don’t go off piste — keep your focus on the core tasks at hand. You’ll have a greater sense of achievement at the end of the day when you complete what you set out to do – and you’ll also be much more likely to log off and enjoy your evening.
Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ to tasks if necessary
As we navigate through these uncertain times, our areas of focus and priorities might change on a daily basis. We need to have the confidence to say ‘no’ to tasks that threaten to overwhelm us or that simply aren’t a priority at the moment (or shouldn’t be).
Those of us who overwork, are notorious ‘people-pleasers’. We struggle to say no. Be realistic about what you can achieve on any given day, within your working hours. There’s only so much you can do, and we need to be aware of that and work accordingly.
Do something for yourself
It’s absolutely crucial that you are able to differentiate between your work and home life. At the end of the working day, log off, turn off notifications, shut the door, and go and do something for you.
Work on your passion project. Go out for a walk, get out of the house, or put your feet up in another area of the house. Make it a consistent habit to do this at the end of each day and it will soon become a signal to your brain that the working day is over.
It’s easy to feel guilty if you aren’t working more hours than usual during this time, especially with the lack of commute and an increased demand for services.
Those of us who still have jobs/clients are worried about whether we will keep them, and as such, are feeling pressure to perform to our absolute optimum — which in turn means more hours and less boundaries.
We need to learn to let go of these unrealistic expectations and stop these bad habits before we embark down a slippery slope that will be hard to come back from.
You can still work well and productively, whilst most importantly, protecting your health and personal life. You don’t have to choose.