Finding a balance between work and life is already elusive for many. And as the coronavirus pandemic has sent millions of U.S. office workers to work remotely for the foreseeable future, the two have become even more blended.
For many people, it may be their first time setting up a home office for an extended period of time. Even workers comfortable with a remote-work arrangement have new distractions to overcome, whether it's company at home (kids and partners), a deluge of stressful news or figuring out how to handle personal tasks during the pandemic.
CNBC Make It spoke with leaders at remote-work companies about how to strike a better balance when work and home occupy the same space.
Just as work teams host daily status updates, households should have daily morning meetings to discuss what's on deck both at home and for work, Catie Brand, vice president of HR at education company General Assembly, tells CNBC Make It.
Roommates and partners can level-set in 10 minutes every morning: Who has important calls and needs the space to be quiet at a certain time? What errands and personal tasks need to be done throughout the day? Does the Wi-Fi work better in one part of the house and if so, how can you split time there accordingly?
Brand suggests housemates arrange cooking and dinner plans in the morning so it doesn't become a distracting conversation in the middle of the day. She adds that parents can use this time in the morning to go over shared child-care responsibilities by the hour.
Having a built-in time to discuss how things are going at home can be helpful as people adjust and needs change, says Brie Weiler Reynolds, career development manager and coach at remote-working site FlexJobs.
"A lot of people are probably creating joint Google calendars for the first time because of this," Weiler Reynolds says. "It takes a lot of time to get this down."
Workers should try to go through their normal morning routines as much as possible, experts say. As tempting as it is to sleep in, Darren Murph, who leads employee culture and onboarding at the globally remote IT company GitLab, says it's better to replace that time with another activity.
"If you're used to an hour-and-a-half commute time and you don't plan for that working from home, it's easy for the lines between sleep and work to get blurred," Murph says. Launching directly from waking up to checking email could lead to burnout, he adds.
Instead, he recommends starting the morning with a walk around the neighborhood, a workout, reading, cooking or something else that has nothing to do with work during the time you would otherwise spend commuting.
Work-from-home experts agree it's important to create a separate space for work at home.
Of course, that can be challenging for people who live in small apartments or homes without space for a dedicated office.
When the living room sofa or dining room table will have to do, workers should use smaller physical cues to set workspace boundaries, says Pam Cohen, a research scientist who's studied remote work for 20 years.
That could mean setting up your laptop in the morning and stowing it out of sight in the evening, even if that just means clearing it from the table before dinner.
"You want to make it feel like you're going somewhere," says Cohen, who leads research at The Mom Project, a job site for moms returning to work.
Now it's more important than ever to remind yourself to keep moving throughout the day, experts say, since workers no longer have usual office distractions (socializing with colleagues, getting up for meetings, stepping out for lunch) to do so. Set calendar reminders to stretch, grab a snack, go for a walk or simply step away from your laptop and phone for a few minutes.
Cohen takes regular breaks to walk her dog, Molly. She says it helps quiet her mind, and she's able to come back to her desk re-focused. "Going for runs or a walk with my dog where she's focused on the grass and the trees or another dog — there's nothing like it to bring you back into the present moment," she says.
Others have brought movement indoors.
Andy Didorosi is head of marketing at Basecamp, a project management platform with a majority remote workforce. While he's worked remotely full time for the past six months, he says he used to split his time among coffee shops, co-working spaces and his home office. Now that he's home all the time, Didorosi moved previously unused fitness equipment from his basement to his home office so he'll stay active throughout the day.
"If you're at a desk all day, even a standing desk, you're constantly rigid and tense," Didorosi says. "Then you go to bed and wake up and do it all over again." Setting up a simple home gym with free weights, a foam roller and a yoga mat is "a good way to stay limber and keep moving," he says.
At the very least, Eric Robertson, a physical therapist and spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association, says workers should try to alternate their posture every hour. For example, you might start your day at your kitchen table, then transition to a standing position or sit on your soft couch, and cycle through those positions throughout the day.
Americans are logging more hours than usual now that they're working remotely. Bloomberg reports that U.S. workers have logged on for an additional three hours per day compared to patterns seen before March 11 — a 40% jump — according to data from virtual private network service provider NordVPN Teams.
To establish better boundaries, Weiler Reynolds recommends workers recreate their commute back home, too. Set a calendar reminder every day to signal when it's time to start wrapping things up. It's a good idea to communicate your intended start and end times to team members, Weiler Reynolds says, especially as people might be working on non-traditional schedules to accommodate for their home lives at this time.
Then, "as much as you can, shut off notifications on your phone, so when you step away from computer your phone doesn't ding every time you get an email or message," she says.
Brand recommends looping in other people to help hold you accountable for your log-off time. Go for a walk and call a family member or friend to both physically and mentally end the work day.
Experts encourage workers to lean on their employers for support as they adjust to a new way of living and working.
That includes speaking up about what isn't working.
"A big thing to keep in mind is that you can't assume leadership knows what they're doing at this time," Murph says. "This is uncharted territory."
If you need certain tools at home, like a headphone set to make sales calls, or an external keyboard to alleviate wrist pain, Murph suggests raising that issue with managers and HR leaders.
"A lot of people are doing this for the first time, so it's an opportunity to make improvements," he says. Frame your feedback as a suggestion of how to make things a little better during this time, Murph suggests, rather than pointing out everything that's not going well.
Another benefit to providing feedback, Murph adds: "There's probably a chorus of other people who agree with [you]."
Brand recommends workers turn to any company-sponsored employee assistance programs to help manage stress, whether it's financial, physical, mental or otherwise.
"This is a stressful time, and wellness is being impacted," Brand says. "We've encouraged team members to take advantage of telemedicine providers, mental health support, therapy and other resources to discuss what they're experiencing [and] how it's impacting them."
It's crucial for workers to be patient with themselves and prioritize their personal lives and wellbeing amid the pandemic.
"Work needs to relax a little right now," says Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp. "It's a time for everybody to slow down a little bit."
He says a lot of the responsibility lies with leadership to set the tone that it's OK to focus on personal matters during the workday more than usual. That's especially true for working parents who may be providing all-day child care and homeschooling for the first time.
Cohen stresses this is a time for empathy. It can be helpful to discuss with coworkers and managers how your daily life has changed, how you need work to shift as a result and to find reassurance and support from those you work with most closely.
"It's a difficult and stressful time no matter who you are," Cohen adds. "A lot of people are trying to go on with business as usual, when really, we're all in a state of emergency. So have a little more patience with yourself."