Making Working From Home Actually Work

Boundaries Blur Between Work and Life

Boundaries between work and life for those now forced to do their jobs at home are, in many cases, nonexistent. Initial predictions about the effects of the pandemic anticipated that flexibility could allow for opportunities to embrace new hobbies with the time saved in not commuting to a physical office. These predictions, for the most part, were wishful thinking. Employees in the US are, on average, logging three more hours per day at work than they were before the pandemic, according to service provider NordVPN. The US has seen the greatest spike in hours worked of all the countries the provider has tracked.

Without a commute to help demarcate when the day officially starts and ends, a clear distinction of which hours are for work and which are not, has vanished. Though people are waking up later in the morning, they are also working and consuming media online later into the night. VPN provider Surfshark reports usage spikes late at night that didn’t exist six weeks ago before the pandemic set in.

Burnout Risk is Real

It’s true some companies have reported increases in productivity, including JPMorgan (JPM) and IT consulting firm Publicis Sapient (PUBGY), as clients are more reachable and the distractions of an office aren’t at play.

Working from home, however, brings its own distractions. The pressure to be productive despite these distractions can contribute to employee burnout—consistently elevated stress levels that take a toll on both mental and physical health. A survey by Eagle Hill Consulting earlier this month indicated that about 45% of employees report feeling burned out.

Getting work done right now is especially difficult for those with children at home, which is two-thirds of married couples in the US. Many parents are doing their jobs and becoming their children’s teachers as schools remain closed.

Staying Healthy at Home

Some employers are doing their part to address these issues. Goldman Sachs (GS) and Microsoft (MSFT) have given staff more family leave, and Starbucks (SBUX) has offered its employees free therapy.

Employees can also regain some control through concerted efforts. Ben Fanning, author of “The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love Without Quitting,” advises employees to clarify expectations with their bosses. Professor of Organizational Behavior at Cornell University, Vanessa Bohns emphasizes the importance of establishing clear boundaries, and suggests defining a cut-off time each day for when work stops. She also recommends changing into different clothes for non-work time to physically signal a new part of the day.

Primary care physician Dr. Saju Mathew advises creating different zones at home for different activities, if possible. He also says it’s important to take regular breaks and move around. Standing up at least once an hour and walking around or stretching can help maintain both mental and physical health.

Turning to those who have been working from home since long before the pandemic could also be helpful. Paul Kvinta, a freelance journalist who’s worked from home for more than 20 years admits, “I pace when I talk on the phone. When I have long phone interviews, or even if I’m just chatting with whomever, I will literally walk laps in the house. I’m not sure if I could pull that off if I was in an office setting.” Despite the challenges of working from home, people across the country are finding creative ways to make it through.

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