How to avoid burnout while working from home as an expat or remote worker.


Working from home is a big change if you are used to the hustle and bustle of an office.

But many of us will have to get used to it and find the best ways of making it work. There are lots of changes, both physical and mental.

It means losing the easy availability of human and technological support - the camaraderie and the big desk-top screens - for an isolated, self-reliant, lonely environment.

Office chairs and desks are made for work. Dinner tables and easy chairs aren't.

Here's the best advice of the experts our paper talked to.

Who is affected?


In our new times, many offices have already sent people home. Some employers have divided workforces into two teams who never work together so that if one lot gets infected, the other group doesn't.


Obviously, the move home can't be made for some jobs - trades people need to visit customers, photographers need to see the subject, nurses need to touch patients.

In our new times, many offices have already sent people home. Some employers have divided workforces into two teams who never work together so that if one lot gets infected, the other group doesn't.


Obviously, the move home can't be made for some jobs - trades people need to visit customers, photographers need to see the subject, nurses need to touch patients.

Even before the crisis, many already worked from home. According to recent research by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, "Almost a third (3.5 million) of all employed persons regularly worked from home in their main job or business."


This included, though, those who took work home after office hours but will now work there full-time, at least temporarily (though temporarily is a loose term these days).

What is the best advice for those who suddenly find themselves working at home?

The experts invariably say you should separate work from the rest of your life. Try not to let the two merge.

"It's really important to have a start and finishing time," says Dr Vivienne Lewis, a psychologist at the University of Canberra. "Stick to that so you've got a routine."

She says home workers should try not to answer work emails outside working hours.

It might be tempting to work at home in your non-work, casual clothes, perhaps very casual clothes.


It's really important to have a start and finishing time.

Dr Vivienne Lewis


That should be resisted. "Get dressed as if you're going to work and at the end of the day, get changed again," Dr Lewis says.


It needn't mean wearing the full working gear. You don't have to wear your usual tie at home - but it is important to make a distinction between work clothes and leisure clothes. Have more formal clothes for work, even though they're not the full dark suit.

If you can, work in a separate area of your home. Don't just set up on the kitchen table.

Slippers or shoes? Do what feels right.


How should you organise your day?


It's easy to let your day drift when you work from home. Some home workers, particularly those with deadlines far into the future, say they snack to break up the day. They refer to "the 12.01 lunch".


That should be resisted. Have set times for meals and breaks.


Sarah McCann-Bartlett, chief executive of the Australian Human Resources Institute, told this paper exercise could be built into the daily structure.

If you normally spend an hour commuting, use that time for exercise instead.

"Walk your dog around the park," she said. Or have a walk at the same time as a colleague and talk to each other on the phone. This technique also helps colleagues keep in touch when touch is banned.

What are the risks of home-working? 



Isolation from the main office is one of the risks. There have been cases where employees have had breakdowns because so much work has been loaded on them. Out of sight has meant out of managers' minds.


So, managers may need training. Remote working demands emotional sensitivity for an employee's situation, not just for to care about his or her well-being but to maintain productivity. A remote, downcast worker is not the most motivated.

Different people may need different treatment.

Some people like being left alone, says Sarah McCann-Bartlett. More extrovert types need to feel connected. She recommends new structures so people talk to each other and see each other on video links.


"Managers will have to spend a lot more time checking in with their teams - both from a work and productivity perspective and from a well-being perspective," she said.

"Don't do things via email. Try to do them face-to-face."


Her rule is if a remote messaging conversation goes back and forth through three text responses, it's time to pick up the phone.


Even informal events can be done through video hook-ups. She said in some companies people had been encouraged to take pets to communal video meetings. In others, they had been asked to wear funny hats, though she didn't think that was a good idea. You might not, either.



Who pays for the home office?

In the current emergency, many people have just taken their laptops home and set up on the kitchen table, no questions asked.


But in the longer-term, employees and employers may negotiate over cost. Companies may insist on ergonomically-designed chairs and tables. There may be insurance and tax issues.


Who pays for the worker's internet at home? Sarah McCann-Bartlett recommends give and take. If there's no data limit on the home broadband, she says the extra work traffic costs nothing - and you may well use company resources in the office (online shopping, anyone?) But if you have to upgrade your broadband, the extra cost does need to be negotiated.


Is it worth it?


There is no easy answer. It differs from employer to employer and employee to employee.

Ms McCann-Bartlett told us there were great opportunities for different, more flexible ways of working.


And companies save rents on offices.


But there are employers who have ruled out permanent home-working. Setting up a home office properly isn't cheap. Technology has to be installed. Insurance has to be bought. Whatever the dollars and cents, it's obvious home-working is not going away, even after the current pestilence has been purged.


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