It is August, more than four months after the circuit breaker and two months into Phase 2, and with the latest directive by Education Minister Lawrence Wong advising employers to continue WFH as the default arrangement for non-essential workers, it is safe to say that work from home is here to stay.

While this may be good news to many, some workers are finding themselves working longer hours and struggling to draw the line between work and home.

In a recent post, Redditor BHoles_n_Gravitation, who just started a full-time job in operations at a startup, wrote: “Especially with WFH arrangements, the lines have become blurred. I work in an office job but the working hours don’t seem to reflect so and I am learning to say ‘no’… in an attempt to preserve my mental health.”

He is not alone. Friends have told me that they have been answering work calls on weekends, and even past midnight on weekdays!

Additionally, without daily interactions with colleagues, many of us are experiencing little to no physical social interaction outside of our homes while WFH.

It is not surprising that a recent Workplace Resilience survey found that those working from home can be more stressed than those working on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The survey, conducted by the National University Health System’s (NUHS) Mind Science Centre, found that 61 per cent of those working from home reported feeling stressed, compared with 53 per cent of front liners.

The survey also found that women working from home can be even more stressed than men, which was attributed to women tending to hold more conventional “domestic leadership” where added responsibilities when they are working from home culminates in a higher level of stress and anxiety, Associate Professor John Wong Chee Meng, director of the NUHS Mind Science Centre and the lead clinician in the survey, told The Straits Times.

While working in the comfort of your home doesn’t sound like a stressful thing, it might be so for those who are unable to separate work and home effectively.

Here are five ways to cope with stress (and achieve work-life balance) while working from home.

1. Stick to a routine

Setting Alarm for Work from Home
Image source: Shutterstock / Boszyy Artist

The great thing about WFH is the flexibility to set your own schedule. But it is a double-edged sword. It is important to create a routine that works for you and stick to it!

Try to start and end work at the same time every day, even if you have no physical meetings to attend. Avoid the temptation to work at odd timings. This will help you be more productive and ensures that you can complete your scheduled tasks without work taking over your entire day.

It is also helpful to make a priority list of what you want to accomplish each day so that you can better plan your time while making a commitment to daily goals.

2. Set boundaries

Set boundaries between work and home
Image source: Shutterstock / Black Salmon

It can be difficult to separate work and home when you are working from home. Where does work end and play begin when the home is the office?

The first step is to carve out a workspace or dedicate a spot in your home where you can work.

At the end of the day, turn off your computer and leave your workspace. The simple act of doing this is akin to mentally clocking out and helps you transition out of work mode and into home mode – even if that means taking a few steps from your table to your couch!

Setting boundaries also mean letting your family know that even though you are physically at home, you are “at work”, which means not asking you to wash the dishes or have a chat at odd times during your day. This is especially important if you’re mid-way through a virtual meeting!

While it is understandable that you want to be the most efficient worker during this time when many people are losing their jobs, you also must learn how to say no. Talk to your supervisor and share how you want to not just be efficient, but effective. More often than not, such conversations can be very fruitful. By getting your supervisor on your side, you are showing them that you have the ability for self-assessment (“I can get this done for you, but I’ll need some time to do it properly”) and would help them manage you better.

Try not to respond to emails or text messages on weekends unless it is urgent. Send a polite reply and say that you will work on the task on Monday. That said, the onus is of course on you to get the job done as promised!

3. Stay connected

Video call your friends
Image source: Shutterstock / Travelerpix

Ask anyone who has been WFH for a prolonged period of time, and they will tell you that social isolation is real (introverts are not immune). We are social creatures who need meaningful connection, even if it is a brief conversation at the pantry or a lunch break with your office kakis at the nearby coffee shop.

Remember the last point about setting boundaries with your family members? Letting mum know that you’re “at work” so that she knows not to intrude doesn’t mean ignoring her totally. Find time to catch up with your loved ones, after all, they are literally within arm’s length.

Social isolation can be detrimental to one’s mental health. Check in with your colleagues, fellow WFH buddies and friends to see how they are doing. Chances are, it will be a welcome intrusion that would help to brighten a dull day.

Tip: Don’t just use technology for work, try to organise a virtual lunch meeting with your colleagues and even share recipes while you are at it!

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4. Keep healthy

Doing exercise at home
Image source: Shutterstock / zhanghaoran

Take care of your mind and body by taking short breaks to do leisurely activities. During the day, take 15 minutes to go for a walk, do a quick workout, even a short nap if you feel that’s what you need. The point is to make space – mental and physical – for yourself during the day so that you do not burn out.

Having a healthy lifestyle – eating properly, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep – not only helps you to stay in shape, but helps you to relax and divert your mind from work.

While we spend more time at home, we can use this opportunity to focus on self-improvement and reflection through reading, journaling or mindfulness meditation.

5. Be kind to yourself

Working from home with pets
Image source: Shutterstock / Chendongshan

We are living in uncertain and unusual times, so it’s more important now than ever to be compassionate to yourself. We may not be productive 100 per cent of the time, and that’s okay. Don’t put too much expectations and stress on yourself.

Instead, create your own personal rewards to keep your motivation up. Celebrate small victories. Treat yourself!

As WFH becomes the new normal, let’s remember to care for ourselves and others so that we can navigate these changes with compassion and empathy. Prioritising our physical and mental well-being will help us make the most out of WFH and come out of this pandemic stronger.

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