Untangling Work and Home: Strategies for Remote Worker Wellbeing

In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month and with many UBC IT staff working hybrid schedules, we wanted to examine how working from home influences workplace stress and mental health. We've often been told to leave our work behind when we exit the office doors, but what happens when the office is just five steps away from the living room couch, or even closer: nestled in the notifications on the phones in our pockets? In today's world of advancing communication technologies, the line between work and home has been blurred for many remote workers. This has led to new challenges in maintaining mental wellbeing. For Mental Health Awareness month, we’ve identified some strategies to support remote workers in reducing workplace stress. 

As communication technologies are rapidly advancing it has allowed for more flexibility in scheduling our workdays. Research from the Journal of Vocational Behavior indicates that remote workers are experiencing higher levels of workplace satisfaction. However, they are also finding it more challenging to separate work from home. The fading lines between our work and domestic environments result in a muddled internal perception of where one ends and the other begins. According to a study by Sage Journal, remote workers often feel a constant pull toward work while at home, describing the experience as being "on 24/7" and feeling "chained to the computer." 

With fewer physical boundaries, the need to self-reflect and establish personal boundaries between work and home is more critical than ever. Rest is crucial, and taking the time to set up boundaries can help ensure your down time truly feels like down time. We reached out to UBC HR for resources for remote workers and conducted research to compile strategies to reduce stress while working from home.  

So, how can we help reduce stress in our hybrid work environments?  

  • Set physical boundaries or cues: Dr. Pam Cohen, a behavioral research scientist, spoke to  CNBC and advises that remote workers designate a separate physical area for their office. Cohen says “make it feel like you’re going somewhere”. For those with limited space, Cohen suggests creating a ritual that signals the transition from work to home, such as stowing away the laptop somewhere out of sight at the end of the workday. 
  • Implement designated “unplugged” time. Supported by research in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research in Arts, Science and Technology, UBC HR suggests setting clear boundaries by scheduling time to disconnect from digital workspaces. During these periods, turn off notifications from workplace applications and channels to avoid work distractions outside in your down time.  
  • While at work establish ways to connect with coworkers remotely. According to BMC Public Health, coworker support systems can alleviate feelings of isolation and foster informal problem-solving and task-sharing, thereby reducing stress. UBC HR suggests creating space at the beginning or end of meetings for conversation. UBC also offers opportunities to connect with colleagues throughout the year, such as the Pick Your Peak stair climbing challenge that encourages staff of all abilities to create teams and climb towards a mountain peak goal. 

This Mental Health Awareness Month, take some time to reflect on your boundaries between work and home. If you find yourself struggling to disengage from workplace stress, consider implementing the strategies mentioned in this article or reaching out to your manager or UBC HR Health & Wellbeing Team for help. UBC also offers the Employee and Family Assistance Program that provides expert information and immediate support resources available in-person and by phone, video, web or mobile app including Emergency Counselling Services. Let's support each other and prioritize our mental health, both individually and collectively, as we continue to adapt to the evolving landscape of remote work. 

Article written by Emilyn Sim.