How to make working from home sustainable
We’ve learned a thing or two about working from home the past two years. Now, our community manager shares her biggest tips and lessons to making remote work healthy and sustainable.
The Covid-19 pandemic might have pushed us all into remote work unexpectedly, but two years on, many of us are realizing that working from home long-term is probably in our futures. “I think the hybrid model of remote work — balancing in-office time with working from home — is actually where we’re headed,” admitted Nienke Starmans, our Community Manager of People and Culture here at The Social Hub.
When Nienke first started here in late 2019, she was coordinating our move to a new office. Little did we know we’d never really use that space, as the pandemic forced us all into remote work overnight. So as we navigated this transition, so did Nienke — helping our team not only get situated, but learn how to achieve sustainable remote work. “I think what we’ve learned is that most people are more productive and focused working from home, but the office is where employees like to go for the social aspect and to take face to face meetings. The flexibility works, but we know it’s also not feasible for everyone.” Nienke explained.
With that in mind, our Community Manager has spent a lot of time finding ways to help our employees who work entirely remotely or are taking the hybrid approach. And here, she’s sharing her biggest tips and lessons learned along the way.
Pros & cons of working from home
There are obviously pros and cons of working from home, but more often than not, we found that many of the cons can be solved with proper organization, good communication and helpful tips to manage the balance of this lifestyle. Below, Nienke gives some sage advice to tackle some of the tougher aspects of figuring out how to achieve sustainable remote work. But first, let’s get excited about all the benefits of working from home, shall we?
Pros of working from home
More employee + job satisfaction: At the height of the pandemic in May 2020, a CNBC survey found that remote workers reported a Workforce Happiness Index score of 75 out of 100, compared to 71 for in-office employees. That same survey also revealed that 57% of remote workers were reporting that they were more satisfied with their jobs than office-based workers (50%).
Increased productivity: Many work from home employees report increased productivity thanks to less office chatter and meetings, as well as the ability to plan their own time better.
“I really like to go to the office for the social aspect to do like, you know, face to face meetings with people,” Nienke told us. “But when I really have to focus, I do it from home because there my productivity is so much higher not having people stopping by to chat.”
No, or reduced commute: With the work from home model, obviously, you don’t have to go far from your bed to your office, killing the commute. This not only has benefits for productivity (an Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México study finding that there’s a 4.8% boost in productivity by cutting out commuting just one day a week) but also for the environment.
As reported by the New York Times, estimates from Global Workplace Analytics reveal that if everyone in the US worked remotely just half of the time, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 51-million metric tons per year. And that’s just from vehicle travel.
Less office distractions: One of the benefits of working from home for some people is losing the watercooler chat. Distracting and sometimes just stressful or anxiety provoking, not having to worry about office chatter and distractions is a big plus for many employees.
Money saver: Without a commute, employees can save on everything from gas to childcare — Global Workplace Analytics says on average, that could add up to $2,000 to $6,500 a year by working from home only part-time.
Less sickness: Remember why we started staying home in the first place? Working from home allowed us to stiffen the high infection rate of Covid-19. But, working from home long-term can also help us spread less flu and common colds.
More time for wellness: With commuting eliminated, one of the biggest benefits of working from home is that you have more time to sleep in, workout, meditate and eat proper meals. Even the fact that employees can spend more time with their kids, or worry less about what they’re spending on gas, can greatly impact stress levels — having a positive influence on overall wellbeing.
Cons of working from home
Investing in work equipment: Not everyone is lucky enough to have their work from home office supplied by their employer. Many times, you’ll have to invest in work equipment yourself, like a standing desk, a second monitor or a new chair. Obviously, these costs can add up. Plus, let’s not forget that you have to make space at home to work, too. Not everyone has a spare bedroom or office, so finding and making the space can be challenging and an investment.
Nienke’s tip: “Ask your employer their work from home budget. Even if they can’t cover the costs of all the equipment you need, they may be able to offset some, or allocate office equipment directly to you.”
Communication challenges: Today we have tools like Zoom for video chat, Slack for messaging and phones always by our sides. But, sometimes, it still doesn’t feel like enough to get your point across or make a genuine connection.
Nienke’s tip: “The best thing you can do is have good, open communication. More than just keeping everyone in the loop, you have to be transparent and communicate your needs as well. Another tip I always like to give, especially now with a lot of offices going hybrid, is to make sure everyone dials into calls. Even if everyone is in the office and one person is at home, having everyone on a single screen goes a long way in making everyone feel connected.”
Loss of workplace community: One of the biggest challenges of work from home is definitely losing out on workplace comradery — whether it’s lunchtime chats, coffee breaks, excited brainstorms about new ideas, pats on the back after a successful pitch or happy hours.
Nienke’s tip: “I really think the hybrid model is the future — working from home to be productive and get stuff done, but coming into the office to have that important time with your team. Even if you can get into the office once a week, I think it will help you feel more connected. And if you’re in the same city as your colleagues, ask them to meet up and go for a walk on your lunch break. Little things like that can go a long way.”
Adoption of unhealthy habits: The thing about working from home is that you can’t just jump in without a plan. Doing so can lead to everything from time mismanagement to overworking yourself because you can never turn ‘off.’
Nienke’s tip: “It’s super important that you take care of your health and wellbeing. Go to the gym, take walking breaks and find a schedule that works for you. And importantly, stick to that schedule!”
Lack of focus and motivation: A major complaint about working from home is the lack of focus and motivation to do work, and that makes sense, right? Home is where you relax, eat, sleep, watch tv and play. So, it’s easy to understand how people feel distracted or unmotivated while working from home.
Nienke’s tip: “Not everyone has space for a desk or a separate home office, but it’s really important to make sure that you have a proper setup so you can sit down and focus. Hiring a flex desk can also be a great way to get the setup you need — even if it’s just a couple days a week. Making and sticking to a schedule will also help you separate your focus time from your downtime.”
Overworking leading to burnout: A study by Monster found that 69% of work from home employees were experiencing symptoms of burnout — and that’s huge. With your computer or phone always nearby, it can feel hard to fully clock out, decline that late meeting or finish up a project after dinner. But, there’s a downside to being overly flexible with your employer, as it can lead to exhaustion, irritability, anxiousness, lack of motivation and even sleeping troubles.
Nienke’s tip: “I believe it's important to hold off on after-hours emails. Of course, sometimes you need to just get something out of your head. But, we think it’s important to think about what that email is going to do to the other person, too. By holding off until the next day, you relieve that pressure from yourself and your colleagues to respond. Another tip I tell people is that if you don’t need to show your face or be behind the computer screen, take it to go. Dial in and go for a walk!”
Career stagnation: A 2015 study out of China’s Stanford Graduate School of Business found that work from home employees weren’t rewarded with the same promotion rate as their in-office colleagues — and that’s despite being 13% more productive. So, it’s easy to understand some employees’ hesitation about climbing the career ladder from home. With less face-to-face time with your team and boss, being out of sight can mean out of mind.
Nienke’s tip: “It goes back to what I said before, but having open communication is key. Even if you can’t be face to face as often with your boss or with your team, if you have good communication, you’ll make a stronger impression.”
Tips for how to achieve sustainable remote work
While there are challenges and adjustments to working from home long-term, there are some ways to make it more sustainable for you, your work and your health. But do note, these tips aren’t a one-size-fits-all solution. In fact, it’ll probably take a bit of trial and error before you figure out what works best for you. But, that’s all part of the process! And the best place to start is by embracing that.
- Create a routine
A routine is going to be key to creating a healthy schedule for yourself. Whether you like to start the day with a workout, take a break during your 3:00 PM dip or schedule email reply time — creating a routine for your workday is going to greatly improve your organization and motivation.
- Maintain regular hours
Admittedly, maintaining regular work hours is one of the hardest parts of working from home, but it is key to finding balance. Now, that doesn’t have to mean 9:00 to 5:00, either. Maybe that means starting at 10:30 and finishing at 6:30. But whatever schedule you choose, having a set start and stop time will be key to not overworking yourself.
- Schedule breaks and actually take them
What’s the point of scheduling a break if you don’t ever take it? Even if something pops up and you have to work through your break, just move it instead of skipping it altogether. We suggest taking different kinds of breaks, too, like walks outside to recenter, a coffee break to perk up and a screen break to give your eyes a quick rest.
- Create a comfortable work environment
It doesn’t always have to be a desk with a monitor. Whether it’s a medicine ball, standing desk or a laptop pillow desk to use on the couch, invest in what you need to get comfy and productive. And if you’re having trouble separating work from play, try and find a designated desk space that you can get up and physically leave at the end of the day — it will make a huge difference. You can even consider a flex desk for days when you know you just need to get out of the house.
- Set rules with the other people working from home with you
These days, you’re probably not the only one working from home. It’s important to set rules with your partner, roommate or even your parents about what you need to have a focused workday. Laying this all out upfront will help you all avoid frustration.
- Remember to get out of the house
Now that you work from home, you have to make the extra effort to actually get out of the house and into the world for an important change of scenery. Whether you go for a walk, head to the gym, meet friends for a happy hour drink or go shopping, changing it up will help you feel more grounded and well-rounded.
- Communicate, communicate, communicate!
Arguably the most important tip — by now, you should know communication is key to your success as a remote worker. More than just keeping those around you up to speed, it’s about communicating your needs so people know how to help you, too.
- Get creative socializing with colleagues
Company challenges and games run by your employer are genuinely fun ways to connect with your colleagues — so don’t write them off as corny before giving them a try. You can also try starting up a social club (with remote or in person meetings) to create a more engaging space for your colleagues.
- Make an impression, even if small, during meetings
Let people hear your voice and know your presence. Don’t just sit back and listen — contribute where you can, and at the very least, turn on your mic to say goodbye when you sign off. Letting people really know you’re there allows you to feel more connected, but also makes your contributions and efforts known, which could make all the difference next time a promotion comes around.
- Schedule facetime
A great way to be proactive about making and maintaining a connection with your boss is to request facetime — from in-person quarterly reviews to being included in conferences. Make it clear you want to be part of these ‘real life’ activities and meetings and you’re much more likely to get the face-time you crave.
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