- 6 New emails, 14 Slack notifications, 2 new project tags, 4 company updates
- The washing machine beeps
- A meeting in ten notification pops up
- Your mother calls. You make a coffee
- You head to Slack to follow up on that project
- You get pulled into a “quick huddle”
- Your phone lights up: “your step count is below average for this time of day”
- You’ve missed your meeting
- It’s 9:05am
AI soaking up jobs quicker than Kirby, entire workplaces existing only on laptops, and an always-on culture have all twisted the remote working world’s arm to the point that we’re slapping the table for mercy.
Humans are permanently accessible, yet 67% of people feel more disconnected than ever before. What’s a mammal to do?
A lot has changed in remote work since the pandemic. Let’s recap:
Chapter 1, 2020: a hearty shove into a fully-remote world
Chapter 2, 2021: in-demand hybrid contracts now people had a taste of work-from-home culture, and (for the most part) loved it
Chapter 3, 2022: top tech companies calling their workforce back to the office full-time. Even the likes of remote-first enablers like Zoom!
Chapter 4, 2023: the AI revolution, tech lay-offs worldwide, the SaaS Winter biting backsides, and an increased cost of living holding hands with a desert-dry job market
It’s been one crisis after the next, and we’re drowning in it all.
What’s more, there’s a huge blurred line between our work and personal lives, so much so that many employees can’t tell what’s what anymore.
“Which side of the fence is the grass greener? In the office or working from home?”
“Oh wait, that side’s just astroturf. Perhaps we should try astroturf?”
“Oh, but this side’s got a ping-pong table.”
*Scoffs* “That will help pay our heating bill.”
We’re confused. We’re unhappy. And, remote work has left the door open to office culture joining us at our kitchen tables.
In this article, I’ll unpick work-life balance trends in 2023, and what some of these downright overwhelming changes mean for our work in 2024.
I’ll share some ways freelancers and other remote workers are trying to find calm while balancing on the fence.
Work-life balance insights you need to know
First up, let’s get on the same page with some work-life balance statistics you may have missed:
- The top three cities with the best work-life balance are: Copenhagen in Denmark, Helsinki in Finland, and Stockholm in Sweden. (Forbes, 2023).
- Over half of British workers would accept a lower-paid job for a better work-life balance. While 63% of US workers said they’d choose a better work-life balance over pay. (Forbes Advisor, 2023, FlexJobs, 2022).
- 77% of employees have experienced burnout at least once in their current job. (Zippia, 2023).
- 79% of workers in Asia Pacific and Japan believe that a better work-life balance will positively impact their mental health. (Qualtrics, 2022).
- 48% of people would quit their job if it prevented them from enjoying their life. While 23% of people are looking to work more hours to cope with high living costs. (Randstad, 2023,).
- In 2023, 12.7% of full-time employees worked from home, while 28.2% worked in a hybrid model, despite a whopping 98% of workers wanting to work remotely some of the time. (Forbes Advisor, 2023).
The pandemic gave the world a taste of what life is like when you’re able to spend ample time with loved ones, pursue your purpose, and prioritize your mental health—and now we all want more.
At the same time, people still need to cope with an increased cost of living, a tech-rich yet opportunity-short job market, and keeping up with TikTok’s hustle culture: “why are you not selling digital products!?”
For many, it feels like the days of working to live are out of sight, and our only option is living to work.
With all of that on the table, let’s explore the ways you can promote a healthy work-life balance among your remote team, and implement a positive life-work balance in the walls of your home.
This article is broken down into two parts. The first part is for managers of remote teams.
The second part is more for freelancers/remote workers—and, I suppose, for managers looking to create a better home life for themselves as well.
It’s time to start busting hustle culture and kicking connection curbside.
7 Practical ways to implement a healthy work-life balance for your remote team
If you’re working in HR, a CEO, or someone in leadership, then consider implementing the following tactics to promote a healthier workplace—be it digital or physical.
I’ve tried to implement a few of these with my team at dslx, admittedly some are easier said than done, but they’ve been hugely beneficial for my team.
Implement tech-free mornings for your team
Always-on culture is calling our attention from our pillows. 89% of Americans check their phones within the first ten minutes of waking up.
This anxiety-inducing habit is the result of a workplace culture that prioritizes work over well-being—and something that remote leaders need to tackle head-on.
Set up processes and regulations to discourage employees from reaching for their phones first thing in the morning.
How? Ask them to mute work app notifications during non-office hours, and ensure they have a separate phone for work if they need it—that stays out of the bedroom.
Plus, try to accommodate time zones of those joining the team “later” in the day by ensuring communications are scheduled for when they start their working day.
Work can wait, breakfast can’t. Still struggling? Buy them all old-school alarm clocks!
Promote screen-free spaces
We are social creatures and early adopters of curious things, yet technology is often stifling in-person connections—despite its promises.
Our phones are a crutch we’ve learned to lean on the moment we feel uncomfortable.
Much like the world once had smoking and non-smoking sections, try implementing the same in your office for those days that your WFH champs come in.
There should be mobile and laptop-free zones where your team can go for some screen-free time and to nurture those H2H (human-to-human) relationships we used to be so good at.
They don’t need to be as fancy as Google’s meditation spaces, they can be as simple as sign-posted lunch tables.
If you’re dealing with a remote team, it’s not uncommon to see the eyes of your on-camera employees flickering down to the phone nestled in their laps, or to the top right of the screen for those email and Slack notifications.
Build workplace policies that prohibit notifications and mobiles when you’re on team calls.
Grant access to free therapy
I once saw a top that said: everyone should go to therapy, and I don’t think I’ve agreed with a t-shirt slogan so much in a long time.
Therapy is a huge aid to everyone—yes, even those who think they don’t need it.
Around 75% of people say they benefit from it, which is a huge success rate.
It reduces sick days by 36%, and around 80% of individuals are better off after therapy as opposed to those who haven’t received it.
Business case proven?
There are some great business-oriented tools and service providers to help support the mental health of your team.
A few of my favorites are:
- Headspace: you’ve likely heard of it. Includes: full EAP replacement, therapy, psychiatry services, coaching, and daily mindfulness practices for your team.
- Oliva: round-the-clock access to therapy specifically for personal well-being journeys, workplace well-being, and life events—note you’ll need a minimum team size of around 20 to qualify for their service.
- Benevity: build a more connected company culture with an employee engagement platform helping deliver on corporate CSR.
These are just the tip of the iceberg and some tools that I’ve come across in my time, but I’m sure there are plenty more out there to consider!
Grant mental health days
Mental health days are days that employees can take off at any time without justification or questioning from their manager.
They simply need to tell their manager they’re taking a mental health day that morning.
Many businesses typically grant a couple of these a year. Employees at dslx get three mental health days per year when they start, and this allowance goes up one day for every year they have with us.
I’ve found my team has used a few in their time. I think they’re just a great get-out card to play if you’re not up for it and don’t want your manager to pry.
Even if questions come from a place of kindness and empathy, a mental health day reminds me to respect people’s privacy.
Usually, if an employee uses one, they don’t want to be asked what’s going on.
So, I make it as small of a deal as possible and leave them be.
Educate on your team’s mental, physical, and financial health
There are six areas of mental well-being that every employer should know about.
But, for me, these are the most important three to support in the workplace.
If businesses implemented onboarding processes for mental, physical, and financial health as thoroughly as they do for their product and processes, employees would be happier, more productive, and enjoy a more prosperous work-life balance. Fact.
But, you know what I’m going to say already: it’s easier said than done. As an employer, you are responsible to an extent but know your boundaries and where you need to advise employees to seek further help.
I’d suggest you try to find internal or external coaches that can host workshops or build company-wide team training programs to support the overall health of your workforce.
Here’s how I’d briefly support these three pillars:
- Mental: very relevant to points three and four. Finding non-invasive, optional resources to support your employees’ mental well-being can be a huge help for happiness, productivity, and workplace safety.
- Physical: a little more light-hearted, but no less important. Modern employers are often knocked for offering free yoga classes (etc) but as a qualified yoga instructor, movement is medicine, and the more you can educate your team to move their bodies, the better.
- Financial: something I truly believe should be taught in schools, but isn’t. Lessons on how to invest, how to save, how to buy a home. Build open and cozy cultures around money, it shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Empower your employees to use their money better.
Once you’re educating on these three topics, you’re not only building more prosperous workplaces, but also enabling people to lead more fulfilling personal lives the moment they step outside of the office.
Consider a work-together budget for remote teams
A Buffer survey revealed one in three remote workers struggle to leave the house, while 23% struggle with loneliness.
Despite the freedom and flexibility that so many employees view as a benefit, there’s a lot of loneliness packed into a fully remote role.
If your budget allows, you can try to combat this by creating a work-together budget.
This is something we’ve implemented at dslx in an effort to get our remote employees out of the house, traveling, and spending quality time with each other.
Employees can use this allowance to meet with other team members: for a social or a work-oriented occasion.
For example, the budget can be used for:
- Two employees getting together and sharing a dinner in a city they’re both passing through.
- To rent a coworking pass for a day and work alongside their colleague.
Recognize deep work calendars & contact hours
It can be exceptionally tough for team members to get anything done with dreaded notifications spamming the corner of their screen every other minute.
It’s a huge blocker from a deep work flow state, which employees need a minimum of two hours of uninterrupted time to achieve.
However, once you’re in the flow, you can be there for up to eight hours!
To combat this, team leads can implement deep work calendars, make it acceptable for team members to mute notifications, and set their status as “away” or “in deep work”.
Slack even has it as an automatic option when you want to change your status, so clearly we’re on to something with this.
On the other hand, you can also implement contact hours. Contact hours are agreed times in the day when all employees are readily available and can have those quick-fire conversations.
These only need to be a couple of hours, but can work wonders for productivity, and, moreover, peace.
Okay, that’s all of our business-oriented tips to promote a healthier work-life balance in your company.
Let’s take a look at how you can promote them at home. Thought I’d forgotten?
Absolutely not. This is my favorite part.
7 Practical ways to implement a healthy life-work balance for yourself
Let’s just get on the same side of the coin for this one.
By life-work balance, I’m talking about how you can prioritize your home life when your work life is just a click away from your kitchen—something I know so many WFH champions find challenging.
Promote tech-free evenings and no-phone policies
We’re so dependent on technology that it can be hard to realize its presence in our everyday lives.
At the same time, when we bring our phones to the table or our laptops around our loved ones, we send out a signal that they are not the most important thing in the room.
Even if we’re not saying it, we’re showing it—which is potentially more powerful.
Try to promote tech-free evenings and no phone policies during quality time.
This can be things like no phones at the dinner table or after eight. Or, it can mean doing screen-free activities together, to give your eyes and mind a break—ie. less TV shows, more walks, puzzles, card games, or something else.
They’re much more wholesome than a Netflix binge, live your rom-com fantasy!
Set up a designated workspace
Physical places in the home hold great weight, and when you start to blur the purpose of those spaces you start to blur the line between work and life.
“I live alone, but I absolutely cannot maintain work-life balance when I work in the same place I relax. I learned this the hard way early in the pandemic. If I work on the sofa, I simply do not stop working, and over time, my productivity and quality suffer.
Now, I’ve converted a spare bedroom into a dedicated office. At the end of the day, I leave and shut the door to signify that it’s time to be “at home.”
On the flip side, when I have a really hard, do-or-die deadline, I’ll use this tendency against myself. When I need to keep working no matter how long it takes, I move back to the living room sofa, and tunnel-vision until the end of the project.”Shannon O’Shea, Senior Content Writer at Semrush
However, if you don’t have the space to turn an area of the home into the office, the same goal can be achieved with a desk mat.
This mat turns a common space into a temporary work environment.
So, when you remove it at the end of your work day, and pack your laptop away, that work environment goes away too.
“I don’t bring my laptop from my work table to the multipurpose table or the sofa.
I’m also thinking of using a curtain/cover/divider to hide the area because I don’t even like looking at it once my work is done.”Navin Israni, Senior SEO Strategist at SpearGrowth
At the same time, working from home isn’t for everyone, and it’s okay to admit defeat.
This is the case for Vicky Frissen, a freelance copywriter. Vicky told us:
“I had to give up on WFH. I bought everything you could possibly get for a good setup, went out for walks and workouts before and after work, but it just wasn’t happening at home in between.
It made me hate work because I felt like I should be relaxing, and I couldn’t relax anymore because I felt like I should be working. It cost me too much energy and time to fight temptation and I was losing hours (aka money) on it.
Instead, I invested in a coworking space, moved all my work stuff there and feel so much better. Maybe my top tip is: if it takes you every trick in the book and a lot of effort to create that balance at home, maybe try finding it elsewhere.
My current flat just isn’t the space for it, everything from my kitchen to my bed is in the same room.”Vicky Frissen, freelance copywriter
Turn conversations about work off
It can be nearly impossible for couples to switch off about work, especially when it’s weighing heavy on their mind and they want to confide in each other.
I’m not saying ignore the business-casual elephant in the room entirely, but I am saying know when to put it to bed.
Have a designated time to discuss anything you want to get off your mind about work, and after that, turn the conversation to other topics.
I remember telling a partner once that their employer didn’t pay them enough to earn space in their head around the clock.
Turning off work helps you run more efficiently when you turn it back on. You need downtime too.
Look after your physical, mental, and financial health together
The three major pillars I mentioned earlier for the workplace are best put into practice with an accountability partner.
Moving with them and having open conversations about financial and mental well-being are a breath of fresh air for a healthier life for both of you.
Of course, this doesn’t need to be practiced with someone you live with, your accountability partners may be sitting right under your nose—literally.
“I have an agreement with my neighbor that we take an hour-long walk after 5 PM every day.
So I leave my laptop at home and go out for some fresh air and a good chat. Hoping to keep this practice during summer while it’s hot.”Mileva Stankovic, Commercial Content Editor at Find.co
“Always start with fitness. Every morning starts with a workout – regardless of how much work I’ve got that day.”Alex Napier Holland, Sales Copywriter at GorillaFlow
Jean Larkin stresses the importance of these people as unwinding accountability partners:
“When [my colleague] reminds me it’s stupid late and I need sleep, sometimes it’s the first time I’ve looked at the clock in hours.
A healthy relationship with work and personal time is best supported by healthy relationships with your colleagues.”Jean Larkin, Co-founder at Octopy.io
Of course, your accountability partner doesn’t always have to be two-legged.
Camila Cury, a B2B Content Writer, tells us of her surprising four-legged accountability friend.
“I got a dog (not for this reason), but she forces me out of the house twice a day. Starting and ending the day with a walk outside has done wonders for my health.
For the evening walk, I usually spend more than one hour outside. I go to the park, talk to neighbors, and sometimes grab a coffee or something for dinner.
Other than working from home, I also live in a city where I barely know anyone. These daily walks have also helped me meet people who I now hang out with outside of the dog park.
It’s a lot of work having a dog, but also a lot of fun.”Camila Cury, a B2B Content Writer
Host in-kitchen “afterworks”
Just because you’re at home, doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate Thursdays (or any day for that matter) the same as those in-office workers.
Find ways to reward yourself for reaching the end of the day: your in-kitchen afterworks.
These afterworks can be anything from a glass of wine to a cheeseboard, to an activity that you’d have access to in a co-working space: perhaps a pub quiz-style event, or attending an inspiring talk.
Whether you’re home alone—hi, Kevin!—or, you live with someone else, dedicate the time to celebrate the end of your work day and disconnect.
Playlists can do wonders for setting a mood or mindset. I often use them to help me get through a gym session, get into deep work, or pick up my energy before a big meeting.
However, I’d never considered using them until I put the question to my LinkedIn community.
Jean Larkin mentioned she uses a playlist to help unwind at the end of the day and to signal to her mind that work is over.
Music, especially in a repeated order, can do wonders for tricking our minds into a desired state.
So, take a leaf out of Jean’s book: “I have set Spotify playlists that help set the tone and energy of working vs exercise vs winding down, etc.”
Boss your browsers
Lastly, many of us don’t have the luxury of having separate devices for our work and personal lives.
What most of us do have, though, are separate browser options. Jean once again lends her advice here on separating work and life with different browser profiles.
“I use separate Google Chrome browsers for different email addresses to limit cross-contamination!”
This lets you browse on the weekends or evenings without being tempted to check your work emails or have any “out of sight out of mind” notifications pop up.
What’s to come for a more equal life-work balance in 2024?
Hopefully, you’re walking away from this article with some practical tips for implementing a healthier work-life balance for your teams and for yourself.
I want to say a huge thank you to all of the remote-first workers who contributed to this article and opened my eyes to some new strategies to try with my team.
There’s no doubt that 2024 is going to be a year more connected than the last. However, as someone great once said: “If you don’t love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else?”
The same applies to your work. If you don’t look after yourself, you can’t look after somebody else.
Set your boundaries, hold yourself accountable, and call me if you ever need someone at your afterworks!