Down the rabbithole

Keeping a healthy work/life balance at home

Working full-time remote is a bit different from the occasional home office. With this ugly virus going around and forcing a lot of employees to stay home, I’d like to share a couple of tips for a healthy work/life balance and avoiding isolation.

1. Separate office space (and time)

One can occasionally work from home at the kitchen table or from the sofa, but for any more than a day or two, this just doesn’t cut it. There needs to be physical separation of work and non-work, so we can switch off after we’ve left the office. So we can leave the office. This is extremely important both to keep focused at work, and to be able to switch off after.

If you have a study or guest room you can use, use it — otherwise, simply nominating a chair to be your ‘work chair’ can make a huge difference. Also, avoid checking anything work-related from your personal computer, and outside of working hours. If you have to do work stuff at unusual hours, go to your designated office space to do it, so you know you are working, not spending hours ‘just checking something quickly’.

If you share your home with someone, make sure they know about your working hours and your working spot, and respect it. For me, it helps a lot that we say goodbye in the morning before “going” to work, and say hello after work when we “get home”. We also let each other know if we will stay at work longer than usual.

2. Make sure you’re comfortable, the good way

I don’t mean sitting on a couch, with the laptop in your lap. That’s a prime way for getting repetitive strain injury[1]. Ask yourself: “Would this be comfy for watching Netflix?” If the answer is yes, it’s not for extended work.

Sit at a desk or table, use cushions if your chair is not comfortable, and try to change your setup if something hurts. If you have an external keyboard, use it, and put some books under your laptop to bring the screen closer to eye level.

3. Stay in touch with the team

Speak to people often. Video calls, with the camera on, should happen ad-hoc, without requiring a calendar invite. Respect others’ focus times of course, and from your side, try to be available as much as possible.

Make it clear for everyone when you are available. Don’t rely on just being online on Slack, instead, say hi in the morning and say goodbye in the afternoon. No Irish goodbye! Similarly, let the team know if you’ll be unresponsive for more than 5 minutes or so (e.g. “Need some head space, will be on dnd for an hour”, “Will have lunch now”, or “Off for a coffee break, back in 15”), and make use of Slack statuses.

But the biggest loss when not sharing an office is the lack of watercooler talk. You can still do that: ask someone if they want to share a coffee break with you, pick up the phone, and just chat about whatever comes up.

4. Take regular breaks

It’s easier (for me at least) to get really, really lost in work in the quiet of the home. Pomodoros help because they remind me of two things:

  1. I’m here to focus
  2. I need a break once in a while.

I use pomodoro to limit working time, not to limit breaks. Sometimes I skip a break, but never two. Some of my breaks are 30 seconds, some are 15 minutes. In the end, do what works for you best, just make sure you do take regular breaks.

5. Have pre- and post-work rituals

Always, always put on something you would wear to work. How we dress affects how we perform, and getting dressed prepares you for leaving home, and entering office space.

Keep your regular pre-work routine as well: if you shower in the morning, keep doing it.

And, of course, make sure you get home from work. What do you usually do? Have a cup of tea, sit down in the living room? Call someone? Cook dinner? Whatever you already do, keep doing it.

Use the time gained by not having to commute. Maybe you can go for a walk before work. Read a little, catch up on your painting, writing or soap making. Keep safe 😷, and keep in touch.


  1. RSI manifests as a pain in the wrist, forearms, neck or shoulders due to damaged tendons. Although it lead me to the very enjoyable hobby of building a keyboard, I would recommend trying to avoid it. ↩︎