Since I started my own law firm, I have been working remotely full time, although like nearly everyone I sporadically worked remotely during the much of the pandemic. While working remotely has many benefits, including the possibility of greater work/life balance (even it just means saving an hour plus a day commuting), it also has its challenges. If you’re not careful, remote work has the potential to be isolating, and can stunt social and professional development, especially for newer workers. It can also eliminate the necessary psychological and emotional space between work and home, leaving folks to feel even more “on the clock” than ever before. So, what can we do about it? Here are a few ideas:
1. Develop a schedule for the day and stick to it. To avoid always being “on the clock,” create a set schedule at the beginning of the day and stick to it. Perhaps you take advantage of the lack of a commute and start work early, but if so, make sure you have a set time for lunch, and for when you’ll wrap things up for the day. For many folks that will be tied into their childrens’ schedules, but even if you don’t have kids at home (or at all), you need to give yourself time and space away from your work. It will also have the added benefit of making you more productive during your scheduled work times, as you will be refreshed by those intentional breaks in your workday.
2. Set up a separate workspace. If you can, set up your workspace in a location physically separate from the main part of your home. That way, you can go there for your dedicated work time, but when it’s time to shut it down for the day, it will be “out of sight, out of mind.” Otherwise, the temptation to check email one more time or work a little bit more on that document will be irresistible.
3. Be intentionally social. It is so easy to take our personal relationships for granted, so resist the urge. Reach out to your friends and colleagues, and schedule lunch or coffee at least once per week. And when that is not possible, call them. Notice I said call, not email. We all get dozens if not hundreds of emails a day, and there is nothing better than a call just to say hi. Don’t worry about being a bother, if the other person is busy, they can let it go to voice mail. You might be surprised by how much you lift your friend’s spirit as you lift your own, by spending 15 minutes just catching up on the phone.
4. Be professionally social. Join a professional networking group. Many employers will pay for it, but even if they don’t it is a great way to invest in yourself and make new contacts, which is so hard to do with everyone working remotely. Make sure they meet in person, as the last thing you want is one more virtual relationship.
5. Get outside and exercise. I am a big proponent of the gym, but there is something so beneficial about exercising outside. Even a 10-minute walk at lunchtime will yield tremendous physical and well as psychological benefits. Put that outside exercise time into your schedule and treat it like any other important meeting.
6. Get a dog. OK, this isn’t for everyone, but I found it to be my secret weapon against social isolation and stress. (Plus, he’s cute.)