Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, there’s been a significant change in how people have worked. In 2020, the Office for National Statistics confirmed 25. 9% of the UK population were working from home. This was a rise of more than 200% from 2019, when just 12.4% of the country did the same.
It was in London where this change was felt the most, with 46.4% of people saying they worked from home at some point during the past year. And with so many workers now plying their trades from their homes, there’s a whole new set of challenges for employees to conquer.
If you’re someone who’s worried about balancing how they work with life at home, we’ve got you covered. This handy guide will walk you through what you need to do to ensure you’re making the most of this new form of 9-to-5.
Changing attitudes and behaviours to work-life balance
While seen as something of a luxury in the past, the ability to manage your professional life around your personal one is becoming more of a factor in how a lot of people are choosing to apply for jobs. A recent study from Randstad found that as many as 65% of people saw a good work-life balance as the most important factor when looking for work.
This marked the first time in seven years that a worker’s salary had not been the driving influence in their job hunt. Interestingly, the study – which drew data from 9,000 UK full-time workers – found that the need for balance rose with age. 70% of those in the 55-64yo bracket saw this as the most important feature of a job, compared to 59% of those aged 18-24.
A huge factor in this recent shift has undoubtedly been the sudden need for so many of us to stay at and work from home. The entire working world was totally flipped on its head in 2020. This has impacted some sectors more than others. Government statistics show that on average across all industries in April of 2021, 31% of workers were still remote-first.
This naturally varied between sectors, depending on the type of work that was required. The report found:
- Accommodation and food service – 8% (worked remotely)
- Arts, entertainment and recreation – 18%
- Admin and support services – 25%
- Construction – 30%
- Education – 48%
- Professional scientific and technical activities – 71%
- Information and communication – 81%
The shift in stances was mirrored by job ads themselves, with the same report finding that the latest figures (May 14 2021) showed there were 306 positions posted with homeworking mentioned, compared to just 114 without.
The ability to work from anywhere is one of the key components in achieving a good work-life balance. It’s for that reason that a separate Government report released in December of 2020 found that there were 22% more home-workers in rural areas than urban. The highest percentage of these (32% of all homeworkers) could be found in rural hamlets.
With remote work offering the chance to ply your trade from practically anywhere, it’s perhaps no surprise that we’re seeing an exodus of people out of busy areas and into the relative comfort of the countryside.
Perhaps most tellingly of all, a report from The Gazette found 2 out of every 3 workers who wanted to leave their jobs in 2020 cited their decision was based on a desire to have a better work-life balance.
Adjusting to working at home
If you’re new to working outside of a traditional environment, it might feel like a bit of a culture shock. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure your transition is as seamless as possible. Follow this advice to make the swap easier:
- Create a dedicated space for yourself. One of the first things you can do to make life easier is to create a home office. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate set-up, but it should ideally give you the space you need to feel comfortable and at ease.
The most important factor to consider is how much privacy you’ll get. Even if space is a premium, it’s probably not a good idea to set yourself up in a busy communal area like the living room.
- Set boundaries for others in your home. It can be awkward telling people what they can and can’t do in their own home. Unfortunately, you’ll probably have to set some pretty strict guidelines for family, partners, and housemates when you’re working.
Whether it’s certain privacy requirements which need to be met, a ban on loud noise during peak hours of the day, or even the need to book out a room of the house for an important meeting, it’s vital your cohabitants know what is and isn’t allowed.
- Optimise your network connections. If you’re working from home regularly, it would make a lot of sense to invest in the best internet package available to you.
If you want an additional level of protection, you could even invest in your own home-based router. You can configure this WifFi yourself, allowing you to monitor which devices can and can’t connect to your network. This will improve speeds and reduce the chances of falling victim to any malicious attacks.
- Practice using video conference tools. Tools like Google Meets or Zoom have been a godsend for businesses (and employees) since the move to out-of-office working. Make sure you’re as well versed with them as possible. The last thing you’ll want is to deliver some important news, only to find you were on mute the whole time.
And while in the past things like the intrusion of children and pets may have been frowned upon, there’s far greater understanding and acceptance in the COVID-19 era. Of course, there are still limits to that. Cuddling a bunny on screen for an hour is not quite as acceptable as needing to deal with a little one who’s had an accident.
If you’re unsure where the line is, think about what you would find rude or unacceptable in a colleague, compared to unavoidable household occurrences which are beyond their control.
Being productive when working from home
With all the comforts of your home life surrounding you, it’s only natural to become distracted. This can have a massive impact on the amount of work you find yourself doing. If you’re worried about your day-to-day focus, think about employing some of these tricks to stay on task:
- Create a regular routine. Having a set schedule or routine you stick to is a powerful tool when it comes to staying on top of your work. It gives you a structure to follow through the day, while helping to regulate your internal body clock at a time when distractions have the potential to cause havoc.
While you might be given flexible hours by your place of work, it could still make sense for you to have a strict start and finish time. It has the potential to focus your mind and ensure you give your full attention to a dedicated period of the day.
- Track your time. If you’re struggling to manage your workload efficiently, using time-tracking tools like Harvest are a fantastic way to make sure you’re staying on top of your workload. They can show you areas of your job you’re dedicating too much time to, as well as projects which you might be rushing to meet deadlines of.
Having this wider picture of what you’re dedicating time towards makes it easier for both yourself and your employer to understand what steps you need to take to efficiently manage your time.
- Keep learning and training. Training opportunities are commonly held in person, so it might be tempting to forgo this sometimes time-consuming practice. In reality, it’s important to stay up-to-date with skills and trends which are relevant to your industry.
Because of the pandemic, it might be harder to find courses which offer in-person training. Instead, look for web-based classes or webinars. These offer all the same benefits, but can be done from the privacy of your own home (usually at a time which suits you).
- Communicate your needs. Whether it’s with colleagues or your employer, make sure to be open and honest about what you need to properly carry out your job. The last thing you’ll want if you’re struggling is to sit in silence and not give a task your best performance. Having everything laid out on the table is a great way to ensure you’re getting the support you need to thrive and flourish in your role.
Steps to achieve the perfect work-life balance at home
With two very different worlds merged into one place, it might be tough to know how to best manage your personal and professional lives. There are a number of steps you can take to make sure you’re finding the perfect middle ground between the two.
- Socialise with your colleagues. For a lot of us, the people we work with are what makes our jobs worthwhile. Just because you aren’t seeing them face-to-face doesn’t mean you can’t still chat with friends from work. It’s good to maintain the bonds you shared in the office, as it will actually help to keep you in good spirits about your career as a whole. It would be easy to lose motivation if you suddenly felt very cut-off and isolated from the rest of your workforce.
- Take breaks and moments for you. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first. While it’s natural to feel guilty for taking breaks (especially in your own home, where you could feel like you’re slacking off), it’s an important part of any work-life balance.
Without clearly regimented times (as you might have had when working in an office), it might be hard to know how to regulate your free time. The trick is to take a break when it makes sense rather than at a specific hour of the day. This allows your creativity to flow without being capped at a random part of the day.
- Leave the house. Being stuck inside all day isn’t good for anyone. A trip outside isn’t just good for your physical health, but can also provide a much-needed escape from looking at the same walls 24/7. This is especially important for anyone who works in an area of the house they regularly use in social time.
Try to build this into your day to make it as regular as possible. Make a point of getting out and having a mental refresher as often as you can.
- Set goals and targets for each day. Without the positive influence of a manager or team surrounding you, it might be difficult to know how to measure daily successes. And while you will definitely be given some guidance in this regard, it doesn’t hurt to set personal goals at the start of each day, or week.
This will help you stay on track, and give you a real motive to strive for a certain parameter by the end of your designated time period. If you want, these can even be personal goals, rather than professional ones.
Red flags for a poor work-life balance
While we have every confidence you’re going to excel at managing yourself at home, it would be naive to assume you won’t face any hurdles. There are a number of stumbling blocks when transitioning to a different working environment. The trick to managing these challenges is to spot them early.
Here are some red flags for anyone working at home:
- You aren’t taking enough time off. How much holiday have you been taking? It can feel weird, maybe even wrong, to take time off when you’re already at home every day. But even if you don’t have specific plans, it’s still important to book time for yourself to mentally refresh.
It’s vitally important you take the time to pause for self-care, or else you’ll face the dreaded burnout which has become increasingly common in recent years. If you’re really worried about deadlines, then book Mondays or Fridays off to give yourself a long weekend. That way you still get four concentrated, successive days of work under your belt.
- You don’t have clear boundaries. We’ve already highlighted how important it is to set boundaries and guidelines for those you work with in your home. If you notice that these aren’t working, you’ll need to address it. You’ll lose your focus and see your creativity quickly dwindling if you have to deal with factors in the home which have nothing to do with your work.
- You’re burning out and losing focus. If your workload or production levels begin to falter, it’s time to take action. The key thing here is to compare your output levels with what they were like in the office, or at the beginning of your work-from-home period. If there’s a significant dip, it might be time to sit down and go over your options. Ask yourself questions like:
- What are you doing during the day to become distracted?
- Is there anything you can change about the way you work to be more productive?
- Have you got the right home office set up?
- You use work to escape from other stress. If you have a new or existing stress in your life, it’s natural to focus on your work as a means of distraction. While this is a good short-term fix, it will ultimately cause you more stress in the long run.
By shifting attention towards your work you’ll quickly find yourself becoming fatigued, while the initial source of the stress itself won’t be addressed at all. This is the worst of both worlds. If you find yourself not wanting to log off at the end of a working day, it might be time to tackle the other stress in your life.
How does working from home affect your mortgage?
With so much time being spent at home, it’s only natural you might be concerned how the use of your house as a second office is going to impact your mortgage. Luckily, the chances of it being affected are relatively slim. Let’s take a closer look at why that is, what factors could actually cause your situation to change, and what you need to do to keep your lender happy.
- Notify your lender. Always keep your mortgage lender abreast of your working situation if you’re at home. While most will have no problems with this, some mortgage terms prohibit the running of a business from your home. It’s important you find out, or else you could be forced to pay off the mortgage in full if you breach the terms of your contract.
If you are working a regular office job from the comfort of your home, it’s very unlikely it will impact your mortgage. This is a factor for business owners to consider, rather than regular employees. An issue may arise if you are carrying out construction work on your house in order to facilitate your job.
- Switching to a semi-commercial mortgage. If it is the case that you’re needing to do work on your home, you may be forced to swap to a semi-commercial mortgage. Even this will vary between lenders, and usually depends on the amount of floor space being used by your business in the home. On average, if your business (such as a gym or clinic) takes up 30% of the home, you are likely to need to swap to this kind of mortgage.
- Financial aspects to check. There are also a number of other financial factors which need to be taken into account whenever you work from home full-time. Some of the most important are:
- Legal issues. There could be restrictions in the title deeds which prohibit the use of your home for certain types of business. You may also need to get in touch with the council to acquire planning permission if you want to work on your home.
- Tax. Contact the Valuation Office Agency to find out if you need to pay business rates on certain portions of your home. You may also be liable to pay Capital Gains Tax on the part of your home which was transformed to be used for your business.
- Insurance. Get in touch with your insurance provider to find out if your current policy is good enough to cover your business, or if you need to take out a specific business insurance. You will also need to get public liability insurance if you have customers come to your home.
In summary, your mortgage should be relatively unaltered so long as you have permission from your lender and the work you’re doing doesn’t affect the structure of your home. If you do feel like you’ll need to swap to a semi-commercial mortgage, make sure to speak to a professional mortgage broker for expert advice first.
Getting help and support when working from home
Just like most things in life, sometimes it pays off to have the support of others. Luckily, there are a number of ways you can get the help you need when working from home.
- Talk to friends and family. While they might not have anything to do with your professional role, those closest to you are often the best place to turn for help and support. They know you better than anyone, and can give you the advice they know will make an actionable difference to your life.
The fact they’re removed from your professional world might also give them a perspective which you might not have considered before. Having this fresh set of eyes to assess problems is an underrated asset.
- Don’t be afraid to ask your employer for help. If you’re really struggling, it’s important to be open and honest about that with your employer. They would prefer you perform to the best of your abilities, so it’s likely they’ll do what they can to make things easier for you. It might turn out this is a regular problem for their workers since the transition away from home. The more feedback they’re given, the more likely they are to introduce policies which address this new form of work-life balance.
- Create a wellness action plan. These are a terrific way to stay on top of any mental health problems you might be facing. They’ll provide actionable steps to help you manage all aspects of things you’re struggling with, and can be used as a template for anyone else in your organisation who may be struggling.
Transitioning back to the office – splitting your time
As things slowly creep back to normal, more and more offices are becoming ready for use again. If you feel comfortable enough returning – either on a part-time or full-time basis – then it’s important you remember to take the appropriate measures first. It’s not just your needs that need to be taken into account, but also those of the wider team.
- Chat with the team first. It’s important to make sure everyone in your team is happy with returning before enforcing any rules which drag them in. If there are any individual concerns, be sure to make allowances. This has been a really strange time for everyone, so it’s highly unlikely every single member of a team will be in the same place mentally.
- Transparency is key. If you’re in a position of leadership, make sure everything is as clear as possible for those returning. If not, then find out as much information as you can about new office rules. That means in regards to sanitising surfaces, social distancing, safely entering and exiting the office, and any other things that have been introduced.
- Take it at your own pace. Don’t rush back to work if you’re not feeling comfortable or ready. Take baby steps, and only head in when you feel safe to do so. Talk to your employers about this, and be sure to be open and honest with how you feel.
- Consider a test run. If you’re unsure whether opening or returning to the office is a good idea, think about introducing it first as a test. If people are happy, comfortable, productive and feel safe, then moving towards a full-scale reopening might prove to be a success.
Finding the right balance between working and living your regular life at home is tough for anyone. Make sure to keep this guide in mind if you find yourself shifting to a remote-first role now or in the future.
Article written by: Bethany Tomlyn