Working remotely 100 percent of the time is the dream, right? No commute, no office politics, wearing pajamas at your desk without the sidelong glares from judging coworkers. Who wouldn't want that freedom?
While -- yes -- remote work is often a very nice perk and can even improve productivity, it has a dark side. The first couple of weeks feel fantastic, but then the days start to meld into each other and a sense of isolation sets in.
After more than a year of working remotely, I would know. If you're not careful, you start to feel disconnected from the rest of the world -- trapped in a bubble of your own making. Work begins later and later in the day, meaning you end up finishing projects at 10:00 PM and staying awake until 2:00 AM, pondering the depths of your existential crisis.
How big is the problem?
In the 2019 State of Remote Work -- a survey by the fully-remote social media startup Buffer -- 49 percent of remote workers claimed that their greatest challenge is related to mental health. To get specific, 22 percent are unable to unplug from work, 19 percent suffer from loneliness, and 8 percent struggle with motivation.
Many of my fellow remote workers fell into this trap and warned me about it before I started my own fully-distributed company. Thankfully, their advice allowed me to make the transition with minimal detriments to my mental health. But without their sage guidance, I surely would've struggled with the same challenges.
Here are the five best pieces of advice I received for avoiding depression, procrastination, and isolation as a remote worker.
1. Book all your appointments early in the morning.
Doctors, dentists, fitness classes -- anything that can be booked in the morning, should be booked in the morning. This tactic will keep you accountable to an early schedule so you wake up and start your day rather than hitting the snooze button.
2. Get outside at lunchtime.
As long as weather permits, lunchtime is perfect for a stroll around the block or a quick errand. You'll get a break from the screen and a hit of Vitamin D, allowing your mind and body a chance to reset before tackling afternoon projects.
3. Fill your calendar with local networking and social events.
Finding the Meetup group Ladies Work Remote truly helped me transition into this new lifestyle. It replaced the social interaction of an office environment and provided a supportive community to learn from. Networking and social events will get you out of the house and stop feelings of isolation in their tracks.
In addition to Meetup, you can find similar activities on Eventbrite, Facebook, the calendars of co-working spaces, and even at local gathering places such as coffee shops.
4. Turn your home office into a space you love.
I spent about $1200 dollars on upgrades to my home office, and it's one of the best investments I've made in my business so far. A gallery wall, a standing desk, a chaise lounge, some bookshelves, and a slick Mad Men-style executive chair are all it took to make the office my favorite room in the house.
With the right environment, you'll actually look forward to your workday. Start with the items that will truly help your productivity, like a nice monitor, and a couple of affordable aesthetic touches, such as plants and framed pictures. You can add more to your office as budget and space allow.
5. Adopt or foster a dog
This is the most important ingredient in my work-from-home mental health recipe. My dog keeps my feet warm under my desk during winter, reminds me to take breaks for walks, and doesn't let me take myself too seriously. Plus, you can do a wonderful thing and give a home to a pup (or a cat) in need -- that's good karma and good for your well-being.
So, if you're moving in a remote role, congrats. You're about to enjoy a whole new level of flexibility. But keep in mind that it's easy to fall off track without the structure of a typical office job -- you need to watch out for warning signs regarding your psychological health. If you follow the five tips above, you'll be far more likely to love the work-from-home life.