June 07, 2023

The Covid-19 pandemic certainly changed the world of work both here in New Zealand and around the world.

Research by recruitment experts Hays New Zealand found that 60 per cent of employees in New Zealand would like to work from home more often after the pandemic than before.

But working remotely is not without its challenges. We take a look at how you can embrace the flexibility and avoid the pitfalls.

Better boundaries when you work from home
Working from home used to be the prerogative of small business owners or freelancers but the global pandemic has reshaped the world of work, with more employees now having the opportunity to do their job remotely part-time or fulltime.

There are lots of advantages to being able to work remotely – less time commuting, more flexibility to take care of family responsibilities and the ability to set aside time for tasks that need to be done in a quiet space. It’s even left some people better off financially, with fewer work clothes needed, less money spent on parking, work lunches or takeaway coffees and the opportunity to keep a job at a city-based organisation but move to an area with more affordable housing.

But one of the disadvantages of working from home can be the difficulties around setting clear boundaries between your professional and personal life. It can be hard to switch off from work when your office is constantly a few metres away. Conversely, sometimes it’s tough to concentrate on your job when you are surrounded by domestic distractions or chaos.

Here are some tips on how to set boundaries and maintain work-life balance when you work from home.

  • Keep a regular schedule – it doesn’t have to be nine to five. You might want to start at 6am and finish by 2.30pm. Or you might want to divide your workday into two parts to fit in exercise or after school activities with your kids. Whatever hours you choose, it helps to have a daily routine. Having structure helps you focus on working during work hours and relaxing the rest of the time.
  • Create a dedicated workspace. If you are working at home on a regular basis, ideally you will set up a workstation in a home office or spare bedroom. Then you can shut the door to keep out distractions during your working hours and to leave work behind at the end of the day. If that’s not possible, think about whether you can screen off part of a large bedroom or the lounge to act as your office. That way you can set up a proper desk and ergonomic chair, which is better for your body, and you don’t have to see your workstation once you finish for the day and move into home life.
  • Get dressed for work. While it’s fine to dress more casually at home than when you are in the office, putting on ‘work’ clothes is a signal to your brain that your workday has started. It also means you are not caught out if you get an impromptu Zoom call from a colleague.
  • Ban distractions. Make sure that the laundry that’s waiting to be folded is out of sight and you are not tempted to watch an episode of your favourite Netflix show when you are supposed to be analysing this month’s sales figures. It’s great to take breaks and you can do household chores or spend half an hour watching something online during those breaks but don’t fritter away your work hours on domestic chores, then spend the evening sitting at the computer catching up.
  • Agree a plan with other people in the house. Whether you have flatmates or a partner also working from home, or children vying for your attention, it’s important to have some rules about when you are available. Agree on a time for lunch or morning or afternoon tea to spend some time chatting or dealing with what the kids need, but make it clear you expect to be left alone, except for emergencies, during the rest of your working day. Make a Do Not Disturb sign for times when you are on calls or really need to concentrate without interruption.
  • Take breaks. When you are in an office or workplace, you take breaks even just to fill up a water bottle or make a cup of tea. You should also do that at home. Make sure you have at least one longer break in the middle of your workday, whether that’s to eat lunch, do some exercise, take the dog for a walk or run errands/pick up children from school. You need breaks to refresh your energy and return to work with a renewed focus.
  • Use technology to help you maintain boundaries. If you are starting and finishing early or taking a longer break in the middle of your work schedule, set an out-of-office rule on email letting people know when they can expect a reply. You can opt to put a mobile number on your out-of-office message so people can call or text if a matter is urgent. This can stop you fretting about checking emails when you are away from your desk as anyone who needs you is able to get in contact. Some people may prefer not to do this as your definition of urgent may differ from that of your colleagues or clients.
  • Practice saying no. That might mean saying no to a 4.30pm online meeting if your agreed workday finishes at 4pm. Being only a few steps away from your computer does not mean being on call all hours. Or it might mean saying no to picking up a friend from the airport if you have a full work schedule. Working from home doesn’t mean you are always free to do favours for others.
  • Set up a personal email address separate from your work email. It will make it easier to avoid answering work emails after hours or get distracted by emails from friends or family during work hours.
  • Don’t forget to clock out. When you work from home, you don’t have the physical separation of getting in your car or jumping on the bus and going home. But you need to mentally clock out and stop working at the end of your scheduled day. That means shutting the office door or shutting down the laptop and not returning until the next day. You can even change your clothes to reinforce the message that your workday has finished. It’s tempting to pop back later and check emails or get a couple more things done but resist the urge. It’s important you switch off completely so your brain knows it’s time to relax. If your job is Monday to Friday, try not to work at weekends. It's a slippery slope – before you know it, you will be working seven days a week.
  • Take days off and holidays (as well as your weekend). Although working a couple of days at home each week is a change from being in the office, it’s not a proper break. We still need to take a day off here and there to recharge and fill our cups with the activities and people we love. Longer breaks are important to stop burnout and improve our physical, mental and emotional health.

Your work-at-home healthy eating guide

Healthy eating habits can be hard to maintain when your office is only a short walk away from your fridge or pantry. It can be very tempting to avoid a boring work task by stopping for a snack, or opting for a quick-fix energy boost by eating some of the kids’ sugary treats that are right in front of you when you open the cupboard. Then, before you know it, the cost of working from home is a few extra kilos you really didn’t want!

Here are a few strategies to help you keep your eating on track and ensure you are getting the nutrition your body and brain needs to stay sharp and focused throughout the workday.

Keep food out of sight, out of mind

If possible, don’t work in or near the kitchen. Being close to your home’s food central makes it too easy to stop for a snack and you will end up eating more frequently than you would at the office or when you are working on the move. Keep your kitchen free of junk food or unhealthy treats during the week. If that’s not possible because it will cause anarchy with your family or flatmates, put the foods you don’t want to eat during the workday high up on the pantry shelves where you don’t see them or in large plastic containers labelled “Weekends only” or “Kids’ treats” to reinforce the idea they are not regular go-to snacks.

Have a food plan

At the beginning of the week or when you go grocery shopping, think about how many days you will be working from home and make a meal and snacks plan for those days. Then you can stock up on what you will need and you won’t be forced to grab whatever is lying around when you get hungry.

Aim to eat real food (rather than pre-packaged or processed food). You can still keep it really simple – a bag of salad, some pre-cut veges and your favourite protein (tinned tuna, some cooked chicken or a couple of boiled eggs) are all you need to whip up a delicious, healthy salad.

Have frozen and canned fruit on hand for times when a variety of fresh fruit is hard to get so you can whip up a smoothie or a fruit salad.

You can also make the most of the fact you have access to full kitchen facilities, and you don’t have to queue for the microwave, by making lunches that you wouldn’t be able to have if you were in the office. A simple omelette is a good option that provides protein and fibre – just make sure you do the prep ahead of time by grating the low-fat cheese and cutting up the vegetables in the morning before you start work. Then it will be quick to make.

Another option we love for lunch is a Poke bowl. Check out this recipe which uses Te Atatu Toasted Gluten-free Muesli. It’s a great balanced choice, offering protein, fibre and carbs, which is important to keep up your energy levels.

Read more: Why protein packs a powerful punch for health

Another great strategy is to cook once, eat twice. When you are preparing dinner, make enough food so you have leftovers for lunch.

Plan your snacks as well. Have healthy options on hand and portion them out on a plate to eat them. Don’t eat straight out of a container or the bag or you may consume more than you need. Here are a few snack ideas:

Stick to a schedule

Schedule meal and snack times in your work diary or plan for the day.  That means you should be eating only when you are hungry, not when you are bored or stressed.

Make sure you do eat at the scheduled times. If you work through meal breaks, you will end up ravenously hungry and that’s when it’s too easy to choose quick, unhealthy food options.

Stop work for meal and snack breaks. If you are focused solely on what you are eating, your body and brain can send and receive the signals that tell your digestion system to begin work or let you know when you have eaten enough. It’s much easier to digest food when we are in a relaxed state, which doesn’t happen if you are scoffing your lunch while answering an email from your boss.

Drinks matter

Keep up your water intake – if you get dehydrated you are at risk of feeling lightheaded or getting a headache. Sometimes we mistake thirst for hunger so drinking regularly can help ensure you don’t eat food you don’t need. If you like soda or sparkling water, have a bottle in the fridge and add a squeeze of lemon or lime juice to your glass to make it more palatable.  Avoid drinking sugar-laden juices or soft drinks or drinking too much caffeine, which can you leave you feeling wired or jittery. Try a herbal tea instead of a coffee or caffeinated tea.

Take breaks that aren’t food-related

If you need some time away from your desk, get up and do some household chores such as hanging out a load of washing or emptying the dishwasher, head out for some exercise or phone a friend. This will train your brain to understand that you don’t need to eat to take a break.

How to work flexible and stay fit

One of the big advantages of working from home for all or part of the week is spending less time commuting. In theory that should leave more time for exercise. But the reality for many people is that a change in daily routine breaks those workout habits we’ve spent years creating, and exercise and movement can drop off the radar. Let’s look at how flexible working can make it easier to stay fit.

Take advantage of your flexibility
If you are a creature of habit, you may want to continue to exercise at the beginning or end of your workday, even when you are at home. But flexible work hours can also create space for a more flexible exercise routine. As long as team members are getting through their work and turning up for scheduled online meetings, most workplaces are fairly relaxed about when people start, finish and take breaks.

This can be especially helpful in the winter months, when exercising in the dark, cold mornings or evenings is not very appealing. Try starting work half an hour earlier than you normally would, then heading outside for a walk or a jog mid-morning when the sun comes out. If it starts raining just when you were about to head off, work a bit longer until the showers have passed, then go out for some exercise. It has extra health benefits because you are getting some vitamin D and giving your body a break from sitting at a desk.

Many gyms or leisure centres offer off-peak memberships so if you are able to work out in the middle of a weekday, you will save yourself some money. Off peak golf club memberships can also be significantly cheaper – Golf New Zealand’s She Loves Golf programme is designed give more women an enjoyment of the sport and promote golf as a great way to stay active and socialise at the same time. There are also midweek golf competitions for men that can provide a fun exercise opportunity for flexible workers.

Make it a meeting

Schedule exercise into your diary or Outlook calendar just like you would a meeting or appointment and treat it as a must-do. Even if you have to move your ‘exercise meeting’ around during the day to accommodate your work schedule, commit to spending that time on moving your body. Ultimately, it will make you more productive so it’s time well spent.

Get an exercise buddy

If you find it too easy to work through the time you have set aside for exercise, arrange to workout with a friend or a someone from your professional network. We are much better at honouring commitments we’ve made to other people than those we’ve made to ourselves! If you meet a colleague or professional contact for a walk or a gym class, you’ll be both exercising and downloading information that will be helpful once you are back at your desk.

Dress for success

Put on your exercise gear when you get up. This means you are making a mental commitment to moving your body sometime during the day. Then if the sun comes out or you need a break from writing that report or tricky email, you are ready to go. If you have an important online meeting, you might need to be corporate on your top half and casual on your bottom half but wearing leggings and trainers will remind you to tick off working out on your to do list.

Embrace web workouts

Whether you love yoga, pilates, boot-camp style workouts, dance-based classes or just using your own bodyweight to workout, there will be a YouTube video or an app that you can tap into to exercise at home. Most of the time you don’t need a great deal of equipment, although you may want to invest in some hand weights or resistance bands, and there are usually free or low-cost options for online workouts. Experiment with a few different online trainers or experts to find one you like – Yoga with Adrienne is a favourite with the Te Atatu Toasted team, with a huge library of yoga videos for all levels and to suit all moods. If you normally like going to the gym, Les Mills+ replicates those famous high-energy classes online and offers a free 30-day trial.

Short is sweet

If you feel you can’t get away from your desk for an extended period, aim for three or four 10-minute exercise bursts through the day. It will get your heart rate up, boost your energy and reduce the effects of sitting in front of a computer for long periods.

Revamp your workstation

Consider swapping your office chair for a Swiss ball for a few hours each day. The instability of the ball will mean you are strengthening your core and burning calories while you work. A more long-term investment might be a standing desk for your home office. Working at a standing desk for part of the day improves your posture, gives you an energy burst, burns calories, keeps your circulation going and can help with back pain.

Sneak in extra movement

Walk around when you are talking on the phone or set an alarm every hour to remind you to take five minutes to get up from your workstation. Hang out washing, unload the dishwasher or vacuum the lounge – you can tick off some domestic chores and move your body at the same time. If you have a meeting scheduled that you don’t need to be in front of a screen for, grab your phone, put on your trainers and do it on the move. Combine getting some fresh air with increasing your step count.

Avoid isolation in our new work world
In one survey of 1000 remote workers, almost half reported experiencing feelings of loneliness.

So how do we enjoy the advantages of working from home for some or all of the week and avoid social isolation? We’ve found some strategies you can try.

  • Work at least one or two days outside of your home. That’s easy if your organisation has an office you can work from a few days a week. But if your entire workforce has gone remote or you work for yourself, you will have to be a bit more creative. Look into a co-lab or shared office space. These are becoming more common across our cities and towns and there are a range of price options. Alternatively try putting a post on your neighbourhood social media page to see if there are other remote workers in your area that might want to share an office or may even have space in their home office to allow collaborative working once or twice a week. Some libraries are set up to act as a base for remote workers and other people find basing themselves in a café one or two days a week works well.
  • Make the most of your flexible schedule to meet up with people during the day – you could schedule lunch with a friend while their kids are at school, or arrange to walk with someone from your professional network so you are exercising and brainstorming at the same time. Or go to an off-peak exercise class at your gym – working out with other people is another way to replace time with colleagues. If you can’t get out of the house, at least make sure you take a break and use it to call a friend to catch up on their news and have a laugh.
  • Make plans for weekday evenings. When you work in an office, meetings and lunchroom catch ups mean you have often had enough people time by the end of the day, and some solitude seems very appealing. But if you are on your own all day, you need to make the effort to socialise outside of work hours. Having a plan to meet friends for dinner or a movie ensures you switch off the computer and get out of the house.
  • Join a business or professional networking group to replace face-to-face time with colleagues. These can be set up by industry or based on location - Business Network International (BNI), has chapters all over New Zealand. There are several networking groups aimed solely at women including Venus Businesswomen and Women in Business. You can find groups that meet in person or those that meet online.
  • Ask your manager to organise regular face-to-face get togethers for your team to allow for in-person collaboration and ensure you stay connected. Work out what cadence will suit your team – it might be weekly, fortnightly or monthly. It doesn’t have to be all about work – a fun, team-building activity will also help mitigate feelings of isolation and keep team culture strong.
  • Use online or phone chats to stay in touch with your colleagues regularly rather than always sending emails. Not only are you seeing a friendly face or hearing a friendly voice, talking through issues or ideas can help avoid the frustration that can occur when written emails are misunderstood.
  • Look at what you can do in your local community to meet people midweek. If you go for a walk in your neighbourhood at about the same time each day, you will start to run into the same people. Be brave and start a conversation – even if it’s not the beginning of a beautiful friendship, it’s an opportunity for some human contact. Other easy options are heading to your local café for a coffee each day and making it a challenge to talk to one stranger, or volunteering at a local op shop or charity for a couple of hours a week.
  • Consider getting a pet. A furry friend can be great for easing feelings of loneliness and if you are working from home, it will be easier to walk the dog or let the cat sit on your lap during a meeting.
  • Look for ways to boost your mood. It might be setting up your workstation in a sunny area of the house, going outside to enjoy your mid-morning coffee and soak up nature, buying some fragrant flowers or a gorgeous, scented candle for your desk or treating yourself to a muffin from your favourite café. If you are feeling positive and uplifted, you are less likely to be impacted by feelings of loneliness and isolation.

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