Are freelance consultants getting enough ‘me time’?

Workplace and wellbeing

9 March 2021

With a degree of control over working hours not available to office workers, it seems as though freelance consultants should be able to achieve the perfect balance between work and home.

After the pandemic forced home working upon so many people, it has become more common for employees to expect it. In fact, according to a global survey by Buffer, 97% of people would now recommend working from home to others citing schedule flexibility, location flexibility and the lack of a commute as distinct positives.

However, when we look closer at the details, 'me time' tends to take a back seat when working from home. A survey by TINYpulse found that fully remote workers tend to have the highest levels of emotional exhaustion and Buffer had ‘not being able to unplug’ in their top three challenges of working from home.

Why freelancers struggle:

Freelancers often worked from home even before the pandemic, and as many workers return to the office fully or enjoy a hybrid model, those who freelance may still be working from home.

So, are freelancers really striking the right work–life balance in their perpetual work from home arrangement?

Blurred lines

One of the main challenges freelancers face is the lack of clear boundaries between home and office. Many people who work from home don’t even have a specific office space to work from. A 2020 survey from Curry’s showed that in the UK, just 28% were working from a study or office type space. Otherwise, 27% were in the living room, 17% worked from the bedroom another 25% from either a dining room or kitchen and – worryingly – 2% were relegated to their bathroom or hallway for working. Even in the US, a Flexjobs survey reports similar stats with just 24% of workers having an actual home office.

Having no separation from where you work and where you live can make it difficult to walk away from your work when the day is done or to feel like you’re every really separate from your work.

Long days

Starting your own business and being your own boss is hard work and sometimes that means working long days. It’s even easier to work late when your place of work is also your home. Our own survey from 2016* showed that over 15% of freelancers were working more than ten-hour days on a regular basis. Looking at the recent Curry’s survey in the UK, 25% of people working from home said it led to them working longer hours.

This increases when you look at Buffer’s global survey that showed 40% of respondents felt that working from home led to them taking on longer hours. While working from home means you get the time spent commuting back, it seems that many are now using that time – and then some – to work even longer days than they would in an office environment.

Always on the go

Often when you’re the only one in the business, you may feel like you have to constantly be available to clients at the risk of losing business. With all of that on your shoulders you might be tempted to answer phone calls in your free time or respond to clients on the weekend. If you’ve been known to taking a short ‘al-desko’ lunch break so that you can get through more work while you eat, just know that you aren’t alone. Statista’s global research showed that one of the biggest struggles when working remotely is being unable to unplug – with 27% of respondents saying this is a problem for them.

Missing out

2014 YouGov Survey found that two in five small business owners have missed out on special occasions because of work commitments. From anniversary celebrations to picking the kids up from school, entrepreneurs often have to take a rain check on life's little pleasures. More than one in ten have missed out on their own birthday parties – and one respondent even missed the birth of his child. While we’d like to hope that people have started to understand work-life balance and boundary setting a bit better in the last eight years, anyone running a small business will sometimes be making sacrifices to keep everything running.

Get your work–life balance back on track

Despite all of this, most find that the flexibility that work from home allow could give them the opportunity to have a better work–life balance. So, if you’re finding that your balance is off, here’s our top tips to help you realign and make the most of working from home:

Set firm boundaries

Aim to limit yourself to an eight-hour day and resist the urge to constantly check emails when off-duty. You don’t want clients to expect that you’re available at all hours of the day. Remember that it's okay to say 'no' if you’re at your limits. Your clients will appreciate this more than you working longer hours, becoming fatigued, and potentially making mistakes.

Top tip: Set up an out of office message for the weekends so that people know when they might expect to see a reply from you.

Get away from the desk

Try to take a full hour for lunch and completely walk away from your work. Going for a stroll, visiting a local café or meeting up with a friend can help to clear the cobwebs and make you more productive. While it is know that taking breaks is good for your concentration, it can also help your heart health to get up and move around for a bit. If you’re struggling to take a long break, consider a series of microbreaks throughout the day. Stretching, climbing your stairs or another quick physical activity away from the screen are a few good ways to give your brain a break.

Top tip: At the start of the day, look at your schedule of meetings or calls and add in scheduled break times. See if you can fit in three ten-minute breaks and set alarms for these so that you don’t miss them.

Divide and conquer

Try to separate your workspace from your living space. That could mean having a dedicated office in your home or rigging up a screen or curtain that closes away your workspace at the end of the day. If you don't have room for a dedicated office at home or a way to make a makeshift divider, communal co-working spaces (which are typically kitted out with Wi-Fi, drinks facilities and meeting rooms) are an alternative worth considering.

Top tip: If you can’t divide your place of work from your personal life, try separating in other ways. Consider investing in a work phone to help keep work calls separate from your personal phone.

It’s a common struggle

Being your own boss is a 24/7 job - times can be tough and life can get hectic, even when you love what you do. When you’re being pulled in every possible direction, your mental health can suffer and striking the right work-life balance can feel like an impossible task.

But if you struggle with striking the right work/life balance, you’re definitely not alone. For some top tips from people who have been there before, listen to episode seven of our Mind Your Small Business podcast where guests Simon Gallacher from RDAM Consultancy and Anne Kapoor from Festival in a Bag discuss their experiences of trying to find the right balance when you work for yourself.  

*Based on a study of 330 professionals working from home conducted by AXA Business Insurance in January 2016.

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