Culture

How to improve your remote work-life balance? Lessons from 6 months of working from home

Looking at the past 6 months, we can confidently say that remote work is here to stay. Sure, some of us have been wary of working from home, but many teams saw for themselves that remote could be a better and more efficient way of working. What about the work-life balance? The last couple of months have taken their toll on many employees, causing fatigue that’s not easy to handle. How to function in “the new reality” and build habits that will help us maintain a healthy work-life balance? Mikołaj Jarmużek, QA Manager at Apptension, will share his best tips in this blog post.

WORK

In-office work and remote work may seem very similar at a glance. In both scenarios, you have to deliver your tasks according to the plan and within a schedule. However, that might be the end of the list of similarities between these two types of work.

Take a moment to think about the beginning of your workday back when you worked from the office. You’d come to work, say “hello” to your colleagues, perhaps crack a couple of jokes,  share some weekend memories or upcoming plans. You also had some time to discuss the projects you were working on.

How does it potentially look now?

  • You’ve limited your interactions with colleagues to necessary meetings like daily scrums, retrospectives, or planning sessions.
  • All communication is virtual, so you spend quite a lot of time keeping track of your Slack channels.
  • A simple question that could have taken a moment to clarify face-to-face now requires you to arrange a virtual meeting.

If this is how you communicate and collaborate with colleagues now, it’s easy to see that it’s not the most efficient process. I’m sure that similar visions made many people skeptical about working remotely. Even for me, switching from working in an office to working remotely was not easy.

Since a big part of my job is collaborating with my team, I know that social interactions are crucial. This area is often neglected even when people work in one office, but in a remote setting, it’s even more challenging. That’s why, if I were to emphasize one aspect of remote work, I would go with communication.

“When you schedule a meeting, make sure it will be effective”

Virtual meetings may easily cause you to lose track of time and the main goal of a given gathering. Accidentally, the same can be said about traditional meetings. For that reason, you should always have an objective in mind when you call a meeting. Prepare an agenda as well—it will help you manage the progress of the meeting. It’s essential to leave the meeting knowing that you achieved its primary objective.

As a meeting attendee, pay attention to the schedule of your meetings. Look after yourself and take some breaks between different calls. After all, if you were in the office, you would have time for a quick coffee or moving to a different conference room.

“Keep in touch with your coworkers”

It’s easy to fall out of touch when you’re working remotely. In order to avoid that, I recommend that you actively participate in team meetings and events your company organizes (at Apptension, we held virtual Coffee Breaks). Keep in mind that your manager’s role is to support and help you—discuss any doubts regarding remote work with them. Together, you might just be able to find a good solution.

“Be aware of the time you spend browsing messaging apps”

Slack and other chat-based tools might turn out to be problematic, especially when you notice that you spend a lot of time browsing your messages.  Don’t hesitate to use the features that allow you to turn off notifications. Granted, it’s not always possible, especially when working on a project with a client and wanting to stay on top of everything. Still, you can mute the channels that don’t require your constant attention—you can check them every morning or by the end of the workday.  

Work communication needs to be tailored to the new reality. As a manager, I appreciate being able to connect with my team not only on public Slack channels or during mentoring meetings. I have also moved our 1:1 meetings online. Such a meeting is a chance to discuss work performance but also to address employees’ problems.

It’s important to make sure that everyone feels good in the team, and this is not just a manager’s duty. Acknowledge people’s initiatives and engage them in team-wide activities. At Apptension, we held the so-called Coffee Breaks, during which we shared our knowledge and ideas for, e.g., making remote work more effective.

LIFE

I’ve been working remotely numerous times, but after a more extended period working from home, I realized a significant thing: I’m spending more and more time in front of my laptop, yet new things keep popping up. How is it possible that I had enough time in the office to drink a coffee or eat my lunch, and now I do all of those things at my desk, yet I’m still out of time. What am I doing wrong?

“Change your attitude: treat your home office as an office”

It’s the first of my tips in the “life” section. The sooner you understand and embrace this rule, the sooner you’ll see that working from home doesn’t have to be a 9+ hours a day job. Try to work out a routine for yourself—the same one you had back when you went to the office every day. Wake up at the same time, take a shower, drink a coffee, and get to work. Never try to start working immediately after waking up. Stick to your “office patterns” and don’t forget to take some breaks!

“Plan your workday every morning”

My second piece of advice is all about how you start your day. Make a list of things you want to achieve on a given day. You’ll see that this rule is also based on the first tip. When you treat your home office as an actual office, you’re okay with not being able to do all of your tasks within a day. Something will often interrupt you, or new things will come up. Simply finish your workday at a set time and remember that you can address new tasks the next day.  

“Once you’re done working, don’t check your computer”

I have to admit that this tip is the most important one for me personally. Since I’ve started following it, I feel much better. At the same time, it’s something that’s easier said than done. But look at it this way: remember the first tip? The one about treating your home office as an actual office? Would you come to your company’s office every 30 minutes after work just to do extra tasks? I’m sure you wouldn’t. Your brain needs to rest! You’ll see that embracing this rule will positively affect your well-being and make the sense of weariness disappear.

BALANCE

Equipment, technology, and processes are all important for effective remote work. What about people? Shouldn’t their daily routines be adapted to remote work as well?

It’s now possible to “enter” your virtual office in a matter of minutes. How to leave it and get back to your personal life? How not to associate your living space with duties and work challenges? If you’re asking similar questions, it means you’re going through what I struggled with as well. You finish your workday, shut down your laptop, and move a couple of feet away, but your brain is still at work. This leads to blurring the lines between your work and life and definitely affects your happiness.

“Create your end-of-the-workday routine”

Done with work for the day? Great, now go and do something entirely different! Ideally, you would also change the surroundings: go for a walk or a bike ride, exercise, or even go shopping. Doing this, you’ll feel that you’re “reset” and may perceive things anew. You’re likely to feel the joy of free time much sooner than you would otherwise.

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