Remote working is the new norm—work-life balance is more important than ever

Research suggests we need to create a new kind of work-life balance to prevent burnout while working from home.

tired woman stretching at laptop

With working-from-home becoming the new norm, our work-life balance is more important than ever.

Photo by fizkes on Shutterstock
  • Over the last decade, remote working has become more and more popular. Now, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, up to 62% of people are now working from home.
  • Up to 40% of survey respondents say they feel more productive while working from home. However, there are also negative impacts, such as not taking as many breaks. "Employee burnout" is increasing at an alarming rate.
  • Telecommuting and remote working will be the norm long after the pandemic, according to many outlets. There are things we can do to ensure we are maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

Within the United States, the amount of workers who have been doing some or all of their work from home has been slowly rising over the years. In 2003, 19.6 percent of people were considered remote workers. Fast-forward to 2015 and that number was 24.1 percent.

This was slowly becoming the norm across the world, with data collected from Eurofound in 2010 stating that one-fifth of workers across Europe were mainly working from home, on a clients' premises, or on job sites.

A 2019 study of over 1200 full-time workers within the United States between the ages of 22-65 showed that 62 percent of people were "remote workers," while 38 percent were "on-site" workers, working in either an office or job site location.

Although 2020 began like any other year with similar working-from-home numbers, the global COVID-19 pandemic saw even more people being forced to telecommute, and working from home became the norm.

Remote working versus working in an office

person sitting on the floor with a laptop, cat, and spreadsheets around them

Working at home presents different challenges than working in the office, and with remote working becoming the norm, we need to create a new kind of work-life balance to prevent burnout.

Photo by Creative Lab on Shutterstock

While there are many benefits to working from home (40.1 percent of survey respondents say they did feel more productive while working from home), there are also things we need to be conscious of with this new remote work normality.

You may actually be working more hours at home than you do at work.

Across this survey, remote workers were adding an additional 3.13 hours per day working from home compared to when they worked in the office. People who said they felt more productive at home than at the office were reportedly working an additional 4.64 hours per day.

While this may not seem like a big change at first, over time it can become detrimental to your mental health and your productivity. According to new data, employee survey comments surrounding "burnout" have doubled from 2.7 percent in March to 5.4 percent in April.

Your eating and exercise habits may become worse while you're working from home.

Along with potential burnout, picking up bad habits while working from home is another thing to be wary of. According to the Bluejeans survey, 39 percent of people are reaching for salty snacks over healthy ones. Additionally, nearly 50 percent of respondents say they have not been able to exercise regularly since they switched from office to remote working.

Distractions can cut your productivity.

The hustle and bustle of home life can also take a toll on your productivity. Taking care of kids (27.6 percent), scrolling through social media (26.5 percent) and checking on the news (26.1 percent), along with getting distracted by streaming services and television shows (9.7 percent) are among the most commonly reported distractions that remote workers face, cutting into their productivity during working hours.

Healthy changes to make when you're working from home

woman leaning backwards with her head on her desk and her eyes closed

Taking breaks throughout the work-from-home day (even as little as 10 minutes) can allow you to become more productive during working hours.

Photo by stockfour on Shutterstock

This shift in remote working has proven many jobs are capable of being done at home, and several outlets are reporting that telecommuting will likely continue for quite some time, even after the pandemic.

While there are many benefits from remote working (such as lower fuel emissions, less waste, more productivity in some instances along with containing the spread of the COVID-19 virus), there are also some changes that need to be made if this is going to continue longer term.

Separate your home and work responsibilities.

Between scrolling through social media, checking the news, and taking care of your children, you may be feeling the pressure to crack down more than the usual to slow down, but new research shows just how important it is to take breaks while working from home.

This article explains: "Work and home are two separate places for a reason. Both require our attention and effort but in different ways. Completing work assignments and fulfilling personal responsibilities are both important things we do every day and having these two worlds physically separate helps us channel our energy the proper way at the proper time."

Removing that separation, although necessary and even beneficial in some instances, can cause us to become overwhelmed.

Take regular breaks from work, even just for 10 minutes.

When there is a lack of separation in our home and work lives, it can lead to a feeling of "always being on"—which is how burnout happens. Taking breaks throughout the day and "signing off" for period of home-time allows us to be productive at work and recharge during the restful periods. Even a break as short as 10 minutes can help increase your productivity and keep you from burning out.

Perhaps the solution is working less days per week at home.

According to this 2019 study, a 4-day workweek can improve worker's productivity by up to 40 percent. In a 2018 survey in New Zealand, a trust management company explained they saw a 20 percent gain in employee productivity and a 45 percent increase in employee work-life balance after testing out the 4-day work week.


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    Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.

    U.S. Navy ships

    Credit: Getty Images
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    Meet Dr. Jennifer Doudna: she's leading the biotech revolution

    She helped create CRISPR, a gene-editing technology that is changing the way we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

    Courtesy of Jennifer Doudna
    Technology & Innovation

    This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

    Last year, Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier became the first all-woman team to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their work developing CRISPR-Cas9, the gene-editing technology. The technology was invented in 2012 — and nine years later, it's truly revolutionizing how we treat genetic diseases and even how we produce food.

    CRISPR allows scientists to alter DNA by using proteins that are naturally found in bacteria. They use these proteins, called Cas9, to naturally fend off viruses, destroying the virus' DNA and cutting it out of their genes. CRISPR allows scientists to co-opt this function, redirecting the proteins toward disease-causing mutations in our DNA.

    So far, gene-editing technology is showing promise in treating sickle cell disease and genetic blindness — and it could eventually be used to treat all sorts of genetic diseases, from cancer to Huntington's Disease.

    The biotech revolution is just getting started — and CRISPR is leading the charge. We talked with Doudna about what we can expect from genetic engineering in the future.

    This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

    Freethink: You've said that your journey to becoming a scientist had humble beginnings — in your teenage bedroom when you discovered The Double Helix by Jim Watson. Back then, there weren't a lot of women scientists — what was your breakthrough moment in realizing you could pursue this as a career?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a moment that I often think back to from high school in Hilo, Hawaii, when I first heard the word "biochemistry." A researcher from the UH Cancer Center on Oahu came and gave a talk on her work studying cancer cells.

    I didn't understand much of her talk, but it still made a huge impact on me. You didn't see professional women scientists in popular culture at the time, and it really opened my eyes to new possibilities. She was very impressive.

    I remember thinking right then that I wanted to do what she does, and that's what set me off on the journey that became my career in science.

    CRISPR 101: Curing Sickle Cell, Growing Organs, Mosquito Makeovers | Jennifer Doudna | Big Think www.youtube.com

    Freethink: The term "CRISPR" is everywhere in the media these days but it's a really complicated tool to describe. What is the one thing that you wish people understood about CRISPR that they usually get wrong?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: People should know that CRISPR technology has revolutionized scientific research and will make a positive difference to their lives.

    Researchers are gaining incredible new understanding of the nature of disease, evolution, and are developing CRISPR-based strategies to tackle our greatest health, food, and sustainability challenges.

    Freethink: You previously wrote in Wired that this year, 2021, is going to be a big year for CRISPR. What exciting new developments should we be on the lookout for?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were multiple teams around the world, including my lab and colleagues at the Innovative Genomics Institute, working on developing CRISPR-based diagnostics.

    "Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time."
    DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

    When the pandemic hit, we pivoted our work to focus these tools on SARS-CoV-2. The benefit of these new diagnostics is that they're fast, cheap, can be done anywhere without the need for a lab, and they can be quickly modified to detect different pathogens. I'm excited about the future of diagnostics, and not just for pandemics.

    We'll also be seeing more CRISPR applications in agriculture to help combat hunger, reduce the need for toxic pesticides and fertilizers, fight plant diseases and help crops adapt to a changing climate.

    Traits that we could select for using traditional breeding methods, that might take decades, we can now engineer precisely in a much shorter time.

    Freethink: Curing genetic diseases isn't a pipedream anymore, but there are still some hurdles to cross before we're able to say for certain that we can do this. What are those hurdles and how close do you think we are to crossing them?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There are people today, like Victoria Gray, who have been successfully treated for sickle cell disease. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

    There are absolutely still many hurdles. We don't currently have ways to deliver genome-editing enzymes to all types of tissues, but delivery is a hot area of research for this very reason.

    We also need to continue improving on the first wave of CRISPR therapies, as well as making them more affordable and accessible.

    Freethink: Another big challenge is making this technology widely available to everyone and not just the really wealthy. You've previously said that this challenge starts with the scientists.

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: A sickle cell disease cure that is 100 percent effective but can't be accessed by most of the people in need is not really a full cure.

    This is one of the insights that led me to found the Innovative Genomics Institute back in 2014. It's not enough to develop a therapy, prove that it works, and move on. You have to develop a therapy that actually meets the real-world need.

    Too often, scientists don't fully incorporate issues of equity and accessibility into their research, and the incentives of the pharmaceutical industry tend to run in the opposite direction. If the world needs affordable therapy, you have to work toward that goal from the beginning.

    Freethink: You've expressed some concern about the ethics of using CRISPR. Do you think there is a meaningful difference between enhancing human abilities — for example, using gene therapy to become stronger or more intelligent — versus correcting deficiencies, like Type 1 diabetes or Huntington's?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't.

    There's always a gray area when it comes to complex ethical issues like this, and our thinking on this is undoubtedly going to evolve over time.

    What we need is to find an appropriate balance between preventing misuse and promoting beneficial innovation.

    Freethink: What if it turns out that being physically stronger helps you live a longer life — if that's the case, are there some ways of improving health that we should simply rule out?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The concept of improving the "healthspan" of individuals is an area of considerable interest. Eliminating neurodegenerative disease will not only massively reduce suffering around the world, but it will also meaningfully increase the healthy years for millions of individuals.

    "There is a meaningful distinction between enhancement and treatment, but that doesn't mean that the line is always clear. It isn't."
    DR. JENNIFER DOUDNA

    There will also be knock-on effects, such as increased economic output, but also increased impact on the planet.

    When you think about increasing lifespans just so certain people can live longer, then not only do those knock-on effects become more central, you also have to ask who is benefiting and who isn't? Is it possible to develop this technology so the benefits are shared equitably? Is it environmentally sustainable to go down this road?

    Freethink: Where do you see it going from here?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: The bio revolution will allow us to create breakthroughs in treating not just a few but whole classes of previously unaddressed genetic diseases.

    We're also likely to see genome editing play a role not just in climate adaptation, but in climate change solutions as well. There will be challenges along the way both expected and unexpected, but also great leaps in progress and benefits that will move society forward. It's an exciting time to be a scientist.

    Freethink: If you had to guess, what is the first disease you think we are most likely to cure, in the real world, with CRISPR?

    Dr. Jennifer Doudna: Because of the progress that has already been made, sickle cell disease and beta-thalassemia are likely to be the first diseases with a CRISPR cure, but we're closely following the developments of other CRISPR clinical trials for types of cancer, a form of congenital blindness, chronic infection, and some rare genetic disorders.

    The pace of clinical trials is picking up, and the list will be longer next year.

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    Megalodon attacks a seal.

    Credit: Catmando / Adobe Stock.
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