For many employees the work-from-home fantasy of an “easy” life — exercising midday, getting some laundry done during that conference call and even juggling child care responsibilities — has met with the reality nightmare of fractured attention, lack of onsite support resources and longer hours. The result is that, after two months, burnout is on the rise.
Internet jokes about forgetting what day it is abound. But what’s no laughing matter is that too many employees forget even what time it is as they unexpectedly find themselves lulled into working morning, noon and night when home becomes the office. As someone who’s worked out of a home office for nearly 12 years (long before it was in vogue), I know how simultaneously seductive and depleting it can be.
For many, burnout is a result of losing the temporal barrier that had previously separated work from home life. When WFW (working from work), there are multiple actions that signal the brain to know that it’s time to transition. Shutting down the computer. Checking out with co-workers. Listening to the news while sitting in traffic during the commute home. In the absence of those signals and that transition, the workday simply continues.
WFH shutdown routines can reduce burnout, enhance productivity and make working from home work.
Work from Home Shutdown Routines
People who can successfully and sustainably work from home understand the necessity of balancing all of the other things they do from home with the work. For many, the key is to develop and religiously observe clockout rituals that trigger the brain and body to shift gears. Consider these incredibly simple strategies as you craft routines that work for you.
Close the door – Many who are working from home are doing so from dens, livingrooms, bedrooms and dining-room tables. But, if you’re fortunate enough to have a separate space, when the work day is done, simply closing the door can be a powerful message that it’s time to move on. Not only that, the closed door is a literal barrier and a reminder of your intention when you’re tempted to dip back into work.
Saying “goodnight” – Your traditional bidding co-workers adieu on your way to the parking lot for a quick text, IM or email. Share a short message of appreciation for their contributions to your day or reference something you know about how they’ll be spending their evening.
Capture insights – Reflection has long been acknowledged as an excellent way to bring closure to one’s day; but it also serves as a transitional signal for those working at home. Ask yourself: What did you accomplish? How did you feel? What will you do differently? Journaling your thoughts can be a powerful and satisfying way to wrap up one’s day on a high note and ready yourself to move on.
Make a plan – Another way to wrap up one’s day is to begin planning the next. Take a few minutes to review your schedule. Pull together necessary resources. Anticipate challenges and issues, and list your to-dos. This clears the conscious mind, freeing up more energy for evening activities with your family.
Phone a friend – Remember those calls you used to make on your commute home, checking in with friends or family members? You don’t need to be on the road to reach out. Not only can it act as a transition; it can also satisfy today’s heightened need for human connection outside of your work relationships.
Follow the leader
Everyone who’s working from home can benefit from establishing shutdown routines that trigger the brain and transition the body into a different mode. But this may be even more important for leadership from business owners and management within the company. Leadership behaviors set the tone and establish expectations for everyone else.
An employee working for a business client of mine recently shared: “Given all that’s going on in the world — and in my home — I’m already hyper-vigilant and on edge. Now my boss is sending emails at all hours of the night and I’ve lost the excuse of not being in the office.”
Leaders are in a powerful position to model the behaviors that can make working from home work. When they leaders make a point to shut their days down, they give permission to employees to do the same, enabling the balance and rejuvenation required to get up and do it all over tomorrow.
Despite increasing pressure over the past decade to offer greater flexibility regarding when and where work gets done, the reality of working from home is beginning to sink in, along with the burnout. Shutdown routines — practiced by leadership and employees alike — are one way to ensure that we realize the promise rather than the problems of the WFH lifestyle.