Working from home; it’s the new normal. Or perhaps not quite so new. Even in 2019, before COVID-19 hit, around 8% of workers worldwide were already working remotely – that’s 260 million people. First coined in the 1980s, the term ‘work-life balance’ has become a familiar one. Put simply, it’s all about making sure you balance out the time you spend working with the time you spend enjoying everything else in life; your family, your friends and your hobbies.
But the pandemic has turned a gradual trend into an overnight phenomenon. What was previously a considered lifestyle choice is now a necessity for lots of us. It’s had us scrambling to form makeshift ‘offices’ in bedroom corners, juggling childcare with emails, and wondering what the correct attire is for a Zoom call (shirt and tie above the desk, PJs and slippers below?).
Whilst working from home can be great, there are challenges to navigate too. This week is National Work-Life Week, so it’s a good time to step back and think about how best to keep everything in equilibrium.
Why is a good work-life balance so important?
Getting that balance right has lots of great benefits not least for your personal wellbeing. We’ve highlighted the key advantages of finding your optimum work-life balance:
- It can reduce stress – Avoiding too much focus on work – whether at your desk or even mulling over tomorrow’s meeting as you brush your teeth – can reduce stress, which of course has other knock-on advantages for your physical and mental health.
- It’s likely to boost productivity – both at work and in your personal pursuits.
- You’ll feel more motivated – when everything’s in harmony, you’ll feel more motivated not only at work but you’ll find yourself more able to enjoy your time off too.
- It’ll help boost your creativity – With renewed motivation and less stress you can foster greater creativity.
- You’ll feel more in control – Perhaps most importantly, a proper work-life balance will help you feel more in control. And when everything’s in order, most of us tend to feel calmer.
Finding that happy state means prioritising what’s important to you, and making sure you’re dedicating enough time and energy to it, rather than sacrificing it at the altar of work.
Work-life balance for expats
Work-life balance is often about perception – what’s right for one person might not be right for another. And the realities of work and life can differ from country to country, too. If you’re an expat working from home, you’ll have your own set of challenges to think about.
Seeking a better work-life balance is one of the main reasons expats move abroad in the first place, with 40% citing it as their motivation.
And it seems many find what they’re looking for. According to research in 2019, nearly half of people working overseas say their work-life balance has improved – with a striking 61% of expats in the UAE reporting a better balance than they’d had in their home country.
So what’s important to expats working overseas?
For some, the key is working fewer hours. In the Netherlands, ranked by the OECD as the number one country for work-life balance, only 0.4% of workers spend more than fifty hours a week at work.
What’s more, the Dutch population devote over 16 hours a day on average to ‘leisure and personal care’ (including eating and – all-important – sleeping). And, interestingly, before the pandemic, the Netherlands had the highest proportion of people working from home in Europe5 – a figure that has only increased since.
But for many expats, a good work overseas balance isn’t just about spending less time working. Quality of life plays a big part too, and so do work-related issues like job security, career prospects and employee benefits.
A survey of over 12,500 expats ranked the Czech Republic, for example, as the fourth best country for work overseas balance, despite the fact that working hours there are slightly above the global average. That’s because expats were particularly positive about their job satisfaction, chances of progression and job security – with many homeworkers valuing the flexibility they were offered.
Tips for a good work-life balance when working at home
Whether in the UK or abroad, finding the right work-life balance when working from home means both businesses and employees taking positive action. Here are our top tips on how each can play their part in promoting wellbeing for homeworkers:
What businesses can do to improve work-life balance?
- Encourage employees to use their annual leave.
Working from home is no holiday, and a proper break will mean employees return refreshed and motivated.
- Be flexible.
Where you can, allow employees to fit their working hours around important commitments, like childcare.
- Review workloads regularly.
Make sure no one’s suffering in silence at home.
- Offer perks for homeworkers.
The free fruit in the office isn’t much use any more – what can you offer employees in their new environment? Discounts on music subscriptions, online courses, or perhaps even ?
- Recognise that every employee is different.
Some may relish working at home, but others may be struggling.
What employees can do to improve work-life balance?
- Set ‘physical’ boundaries.
Create a dedicated work station if you can, separate from your normal living space – and take lunch breaks away from your desk.
- Set ‘mental’ boundaries.
Try to switch off after working hours, and focus on your mind on leisure time – whether that’s exercise, Netflix or spending time with the kids.
- Be open with your employer.
If you need help, ask. Your employer is still there to help, even if you’re sitting at home.
- Don’t always feel the need to be busy.
Relentlessly pursuing the next task on your list will take its toll. Spending a few minutes relaxing isn’t ‘lazy’ – it’s actively boosting your wellbeing.
Take positive steps for happiness – at work and at home
When done right, working at home is full of benefits – for you, for your employer and for your loved ones.
So whether you’re at home or abroad, take a step back this National Work-Life Week and review your own work-life balance. Is everything in harmony? Or are there some positive steps you can take to nudge things back in the right direction? A few small tweaks can make a world of difference – both at home and at work.