I’ve noted several times over recent weeks how Covid-19 has tested the retail (and wider) workforce like never before.

The pressure of achieving a work/life balance while working remotely has been a particular challenge for those accustomed to being in an office environment.

Paradoxically, we’ve never been as connected as a workforce yet never so far apart. Tools such as Zoom, Teams and Facetime were familiar to many of us before lockdown but have become integral to the way we work since the coronavirus swept into the UK back in March.

Their value in helping businesses continue to function should not be underestimated, but nor should the risks they pose to employee wellbeing. At a time of job insecurity, being contactable but not visible can be a dangerous mix that allows the concept of ‘presenteeism’ – which describes the desire to be seen to be working even outside of regular hours – to creep into our daily lives.

The best managers recognise this and tackle it head on. At Retail Week’s recent Be Inspired virtual conference head of Figleaves Jenni Burt remarked: “What was interesting to me at the start of lockdown was the sense of responsibility among staff to work long hours and put in extra work because they were fighting for the survival for the business. My focus has been letting them know that they could step back and that they needed to make time for them.”

For employees whose managers may not be quite as proactive here are some tips for achieving a better work/life balance when working from home:

Have clear segregation between work and personal life. Set specific times within which you are working and stick rigidly (or as rigidly as possible) to them. Let your colleagues know what these times are, especially those you report directly to. Put an out of office notification on your email indicating when you’re likely to be able to respond. This will help dispel any anxiety you may have over colleagues not knowing where you are. If you have a work phone switch it off at the end of a working day. If you’re using a personal mobile don’t feel pressured into joining work WhatsApp groups if you feel it will cause undue stress. 

Try to create a physical space between work and home. Not everyone will be fortunate enough to have a garden or home office but wherever possible try to find a space for work that is not central to your home life. If you have no option but to work in the kitchen or bedroom, pack up your desk at the end of each day so that work is not a constant reminder.

Find time to collect your thoughts. Having a 30 second commute from the kitchen to the spare room might sound attractive but leaves little time to collect your thoughts ahead of the working day. When we commute, whether by car or public transport, we have time to read a book, listen to music or simply ponder what the day has in store. Don’t dive straight into work. Make space to go for a run, do some yoga or read a book for 20 minutes before you log-on and start checking emails. If family circumstances make this challenging, take regular short breaks to read a newspaper article or get some fresh air. 

Discuss how you feel with your manager. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to finding a work/life balance. Some people will be happy catching up with emails before bed, others will find it an intrusion. Managers should be cognisant that everyone has different needs. Make sure yours are known and understood.