In theory, it is very simple. You go to the office and work, then you come home and relax. However, what happens when you have to work from home? Since people have started to work from home, there has been a 40% increase in work hours in the U.S. That’s around three extra hours of work according to data from NordVPN Teams.

People often don’t understand working from home and it’s often been dismissed as an excuse to be lazy or unproductive, lending remote work a certain pressure that does not exist in face-to-face jobs. This mentality has pushed many employees to work longer hours to prove their productivity, which is further demanded as some companies have started asking for timesheets to be filled to review employee work. This shows a lack of trust in employees that work from home and so it can create a lot of pressure to prove that you’re not slacking off just because you work from home.

Another reason why people find themselves logging longer hours is the difference between people’s schedules. This is particularly true of client-facing work where some people get a start later in the day than others and that impacts their team schedule and the overall amount of hours a day that a person spends working.

Moreover, those extra hours of work after often being pushed to the weekends. The fact that we’re not allowed to go out has somehow made it acceptable to set meetings during the weekends or to make work calls late in the evening.

There is this perception that being at home means that you are accessible, that you can be interrupted, and there is nothing stopping you from sitting back in front of the computer. Because hey we are at home, so we must be free! Therefore, making it acceptable to monopolize someone’s weekend to deal with a work issue. But it isn’t. There are a million things that keep people busy during the weekends and even if it doesn’t, keeping a work/life balance is necessary for mental health.

We shouldn’t underestimate the importance of self-care, of switching off our minds from work for our mental health.

Moreover, in times of uncertainty, where there is a lot of pressure around you, it is very easy to overwork as a coping mechanism and unknowingly pushing others to follow the same pattern. Add to that the stress and pressure of quarantine, where you can’t leave your house and there are layoffs… it’s a recipe for burnout and disaster.

Burnout can deeply affect your health as well as your self-esteem. It is a state of physical and mental exhaustion that originates in prolonged periods of stress, usually related to work. Its symptoms are exhaustion, cynism, and feeling less capable of doing the job. It can also present itself with physical symptoms such as headaches or stomachache. It is dangerous for your physical and mental health.

The time of crisis management has passed. We have been dealing with the pandemic for the past three months and have reached a “new normal”. Many people will work from home for a long time, even as businesses return to “normal”. For this reason, it is important to establish work boundaries that protect our mental health.

There are many ways of establishing boundaries and it is important to find the one that works for you. Some of the most useful ones are scheduling and having separate spaces for different activities.

Schedule your day, especially if you’re a student or a freelancer that doesn’t have a set number of working hours. Find the time where you are most productive and organize your day and your week around that. However, make sure that you establish several hours every day where you are not allowed to work. For example, this could be from dinner time onwards, or even a whole day of the week, like Saturdays. Use that time to exercise, to eat, and to spend time with family and friends (physically or virtually). During this time, don’t take work calls, don’t even talk about work or worry about it. Give your mind a rest.

Taking breaks is important. Surveys have revealed that, on avergae, employees are only productive three hours every day, and these hours should be free of interruptions. Working 24/7 is not the answer. Instead, focus on having shorter but more productive work time slots.

A study by Blake Ashforth, of Arizona State University, stressed the need for “boundary-crossing activities” that mark the transition from work to non-work roles, such as commuting. He states that this transition helps to make a mental transition as well. When working from home the transitions are a lot more simple, but not less important. Take a shower, get out of pajamas, sit on the desk. Those small actions might help to create a work mindset and, moreover, undoing them (putting on pajamas, taking makeup off, lying on the sofa/bed) will help you unwind.

The fact that we cannot leave our homes doesn’t mean that we don’t deserve a break. We do and we should take it, for the sake of our health.

  • Beatriz Valero de Urquía

    Beatriz Valero de Urquia is a historian, writer and journalist. She graduated from the University of Cambridge in 2020 and spends her time between Spain and the UK reading, listening to musicals and writing her first novel.