For many, the workday ends when they leave their office. But for those who work from home and lack diverentiation between worktime and offtime, the work day can strech on indefinatly. To avoid burnout, learn how to leave work at work, even if you work from home.
Illustration: Joan Alturo
Remote work is a growing phenomenon. In 2017, 43% of Americans said that they spent at least some time working at home, according to a Gallup report, and that statistic only accounts for people in full-time positions who have the option to work remotely. With 57 million Americans now working on a freelance basis and a further 29 million slated to join them by 2027, freelance workers will outpace in-office workers by around three million.
Working remotely offers flexibility and freedom. You can set up a home study in a spare room or work from the comfort of your cozy sofa while in your pajamas. Not having to report to a physical office means waving goodbye to long commutes and petty workplace politics.
However, there’s one major obstacle remote workers face. When the working day is officially over and it’s time to switch off—mentally and physically—many find it hard to disconnect. Almost a third (32%) of workers say that having remote access to their work means they are unable to relax in their personal time, according to a report from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
If you’re having trouble figuring out how to leave work at work when you work from home, you’re not alone. While there’s no magic spell that will instantly solve this problem, these tactics for remote workers can help you distance yourself from your job when the day is done.
Quit checking your work emails
Whether you’re a freelancer or remote worker, having set work hours is a must. Checking professional emails during your downtime can make it impossible to relax and truly have a break from work. Research from Virginia Tech suggests that employers’ expectations for workers to reply to off-hours emails could have harmful health effects.
“The insidious impact of ‘always on’ organizational culture is often unaccounted for or disguised as a benefit—increased convenience, for example, or higher autonomy and control over work-life boundaries,” wrote study co-authorWilliam Becker, a Virginia Tech associate professor of management in the Pamplin College of Business.
Flexible work boundaries often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being
“Our research exposes the reality: ‘flexible work boundaries’ often turn into ‘work without boundaries,’ compromising an employee’s and their family’s health and well-being.”
Letting your employer and/or clients know that you’re unavailable outside of office hours isn’t a selfish or unprofessional act. It’s a necessary one. By setting reasonable boundaries, you can create a distinction between your work time and your free time.
Hit the gym (or take a fitness class)
Exercise is a great stress reliever and a powerful tool to try as you figure out how to leave work at home when you work from home. Hitting the gym or heading out to a fitness class creates physical distance from your work, and the benefits don’t end there.
An active lifestyle can help safeguard yourself against everyday pressures and stresses. Research conducted by Princeton University suggests that regular exercise makes people more resilient to stress because a spike in activity directly supports the brain region associated with managing and regulating anxiety.
At the end of a long day, getting out of your home and engaging in some form of exercise will help you unwind and release tension. While not everybody loves running round and round on a treadmill, there’s a wealth of options out there. Take the time to explore different types of activity to determine what works for you.
Spend your free time socializing
Struggling with how to leave work at workwhen you work from home? Socializing could be the answer. Even if you’re tired at the end of the day, forcing yourself to go out and see people may help you detach from your professional responsibilities and replenish your energy.
A study published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine found that people who engaged in social activities had better recovery periods between work. Incidentally, these individuals also reported better levels of sleep at night. Both of these effects can help you create a better overall work-life balance.
Start prioritizing your social life. Whether you have a large circle of friends or just a few close buddies, be certain to make time for them. While you don’t have to make plans each evening, ensuring that you have two or three social engagements each week could make all the difference.
Tip: Arrange to meet people immediately after your working day finishes. That way, you’ll have a definitive cut off point to your day and someone to celebrate it with.
Get outside and bask in nature
If you’re working from home, the chances are that you spend hours each day staring at some type of screen. You may be constantly attached to your laptop or smartphone during working hours. Enjoying the freedom of nature could help you de-stress and disconnect from the pressures of your work.
Bonus: You don’t need to spend hours hiking in the great outdoors to benefit. Research published in Frontiers suggests that spending just 20 minutes in nature each day can lower stress hormone levels. Give it a try—you take your dog for a walk in a nearby field, head out for a quick cycle, or do some sun salutations outside in the actual sun.
Time to disconnect and recharge!
Shutting down your laptop is one thing—shutting down your brain is quite another. However, recharging your mental batteries each evening means that you can come back to work refreshed and ready to fight another day. If you’ve been struggling with how to leave work at work when you work from home, start with one of these science-backed tips. You never know, you might just find that they are the key to truly powering down for the evening.