Working from home can be very freeing in some ways: You're free from the annoying commute, free to run errands when you need to — heck, you're possibly free from wearing shoes, if that’s your thing. The flip side is that when the line is blurred between work and home, it can be incredibly difficult to ever truly go “off the clock." Your colleagues in the office might not be able to work barefoot, but it's probably easier for them to walk out the door and leave their tasks behind until the next day.
Here are some expert tips for balancing both worlds, so that you don't feel overworked and taken advantage of, while you're still a productive, essential member of the office no matter where you work.
Adopt physical boundaries. If your work is spilling over onto the kitchen table, you might be tempted to respond to email over dinner. For multiple reasons, it makes sense to physically separate your work and home lives. “Create a distraction-free zone,” says Tricia Sciortino, COO at professional services firm Belay. “A dedicated office, a quiet nook or even a co-working space, if necessary, are options.”
Don’t forget about electronic boundaries. If the temptation to check and respond to work email when you’re not actually working is too strong, “Go a step further and turn off work email notifications on your phone,” Sciortino suggests.
Lean on technology to stay in touch. A common reason remote workers feel compelled to respond to every late-night email is the worry that less face time makes them less relevant. The solution is to strategically use technology to bridge the gap. “Remote workers need to take advantage of available communication technology to form stronger relationships with their colleagues,” says Michelle Prince, senior vice president of talent management, North America at HR consulting firm Randstad.
“Remote workers lose the opportunity to pop into someone's office, so they need to be mindful to do so, virtually,” Sciortino says. “A virtual pop-in may mean more deliberate and responsive emails, sometimes supplemented by instant messaging or texting.” Your phone and your webcam are indispensable tools here.
Be proactive in your communication. “As a remote worker, a lot of the onus is on you to communicate regularly and set the tone that just because you're remote, doesn't mean you're not a vital part of the team,” advises Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of FlexJobs and Remote.co. You should sometimes be the one initiating Slack chats or Skype conference calls rather than waiting for your boss or in-office colleagues to suggest them.
Decide when it's OK to work after hours. “It may be the case that remote workers are better positioned to respond to an urgent request than someone who is not set up to work remotely,” Randstad's Prince says. Still, it's wise to discuss expectations for when you'll jump in, to ensure that everyone is on the same page and you're not overburdened. You'll want to set some parameters, so that every little request is not treated like an emergency.
Treat work like work. “It's also really important to focus on work during your work time, rather than letting ‘life' things creep into your work hours too much,” Sutton Fell says. "If you're productive and efficient throughout the day, then at the end of the day, it will be easier to walk away feeling accomplished, rather than like you should keep working into the night because you didn't get a lot done during the day."
Learn to say "no." “Managing this is definitely a balancing act," Sciortino says. You want to be known as a team player who is game to help address urgent off-hours requests, yet everyone in the office should understand that personal priorities come first during non-work hours. “It’s important to draw that line in the sand, even if it’s a flexible one.”
If “no” doesn’t come easily for you, experts suggest that some variation of “I’ll be happy to look at that tomorrow” signals your engagement and responsiveness without your having to drop everything and address the issue that very minute.