Whether it’s working on one’s own as a freelancer or telecommuting with a remote position at a large company, a rapidly increasing number of individuals are choosing to work from home these days. In fact, it’s estimated that 50% of the U.S. workforce will be involved in some kind of freelance work (either full or part-time) by 2020.
The flexibility offered by remote work provides many benefits, but it also has its fair share of challenges for workers—especially when it comes to maintaining a high level of health. While it’s true that workers may not be at a high risk for communicable diseases that spread in a communal office environment, they still need to pay careful attention to managing key areas of their health.
Working from home provides an excellent opportunity to take greater control of your physical health, but only if you make a conscious effort. Most remote work is done in an extremely sedentary environment. Many workers spend the vast majority of their time seated at a desk, typing away at the computer and dealing with the occasional phone call.
Several studies have indicated the more hours you spend sitting in front of the screen, the greater risk you have of heart disease and a variety of other health problems. Remote workers need to remember they have total control over their work environment, which makes it significantly easier to offset these issues.
For example, you could purchase a standing desk that requires you to spend more of your day on your feet—even when you can’t get away from the computer. Or you could walk around the house every time you take a phone call. This can also help you overcome the mental and physical fatigue that often sets in after extended periods of inactivity.
You can also use the time you would normally spend commuting taking part in an exercise routine. Whether you practice yoga, go for a jog, or lift weights at the local gym, every extra bit of movement helps you stay in good shape so you can have the energy you need to produce great work.
Burnout is a common problem among remote workers, especially for freelancers who try to take on a heavy workload in an effort to jumpstart their earnings. When remote workers subject themselves to a continually high-stress workload, a wide range of negative mental health effects set in, including loss of motivation, physical fatigue, and depression. These symptoms often spill over into one’s personal life and quality of work, and can even increase your risk of getting sick.
Setting boundaries and appropriately managing your workload are essential to avoiding mental fatigue. Freelancers will sometimes need to say no to additional projects when they already have a full slate. Telecommuters who work for a single employer shouldn’t be afraid to speak up when too much work is coming their way.
Effective time management is also key to maintaining good mental health. Schedule your time appropriately to ensure that deadlines can be met without the need for a 16-hour workday. Set aside time for relaxing or mentally stimulating activities that will leave you feeling refreshed—which includes allowing for short breaks during the day. A short exercise break will ultimately benefit both your physical and mental well-being!
While similar to mental health concerns in many ways, there are a few key elements of emotional health that are of particular importance to remote workers. Perhaps the biggest challenge that many individuals face in the transfer to remote work is dealing with the potential effects of social isolation.
After all, it can be quite difficult to build and sustain friendships and other ties of emotional support when you work from a home office. In some situations, working remotely can also make it difficult to maintain good communication with supervisors and other work contacts. If you’re not careful, feelings of social isolation can contribute to depression and loneliness—negative emotions that can lead to burnout and harm your quality of work.
Companies that employ large numbers of remote workers can take several steps to ensure that working from home doesn’t become an isolating experience. Video calls, phone calls, and even group get-togethers can foster a stronger sense of connection. However, much of the responsibility for the social and emotional well-being lies directly with the remote workers themselves. Join local groups and clubs related to your work or a favorite hobby, participate in events, or join digital networking groups to expand your circle of friends and acquaintances and avoid the perils of social isolation.
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle while working in a remote or freelance position isn’t impossible—but it does require a persistent, continual effort. Individuals who focus on improving and maintaining their physical, mental, and emotional well-being will find a greater overall quality of life and improved results in the workplace.