A Year Into Remote Work, No One Knows When to Stop Working Anymore

The daily alarm Katie Lipp sets isn’t meant to wake her up. It reminds her to go to bed.

The employment attorney in Fairfax, Va., said she has tried a range of techniques to set boundaries while working long days from home running her law practice during the pandemic. Few measures work as well as the 9:45 p.m. alarm she started setting last month, though she admits to snoozing it occasionally to fire out one last email.

“You never feel like what you’re doing is good enough, so you get stuck in a trap of overworking,” Ms. Lipp, the mother of a 5-year-old, said. “Sleep is the difference. If I get like eight to nine hours, I can take on the world. If I have six hours of sleep, it’s like the walking dead.”

A year into the Covid-19 era, many can relate. Employees say work-life boundaries blurred, then vanished, as waking life came to mean “always on” at work. Experts warn that working around the clock—while slipping in meals, helping with homework and grabbing a few moments with a partner—isn’t sustainable, and employers from banking giant Citigroup Inc. to the software company Pegasystems Inc., are trying ways to get staff to dial back.

At consulting giant Accenture PLC, Jimmy Etheredge, the company’s chief executive officer of North America, is embracing the notion of “taking back lunch,” eating in peace away from screens and recharging in the middle of every workday. The company is encouraging employees not to schedule internal meetings unrelated to client business on Fridays, and Mr. Etheredge has repeatedly told employees to be candid with managers, saying, “It’s OK to not be OK.”

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