For many of us, working from home has been a necessity, for better or worse, during the Coronavirus pandemic. However, as the UK slowly edges out of lockdown and our workplaces open again, not everyone is eager to return to the office full time.
Working from home can bring lots of benefits. It offers a more flexible way of working by giving us more control over the hours we work and the ways in which we work. Some find that they have less distractions at home than in the office (although we know this isn’t the case for everyone, particularly those living in house shares or with young families/caring responsibilities). If you feel as though you will get more work done (or a better quality of work done) at home than in the office, or even if you feel that you can achieve a better work-life balance through partial or full remote working, then it is worth raising this with your employer.
However, working from home poses a diverse set of challenges. While it can save some of us commuting time and give our days more flexibility, it can also leave us feeling isolated from others. This article aims to advise anyone thinking of continuing to work remotely on how to achieve this in the healthiest and most productive way.
Setting boundaries is vital for people working from home in terms of prioritising a healthy work-life balance. To protect your own peace of mind, you should be clear with yourself about when your workday ends, and your personal/family time begins. Try to work for the same set hours each day if you’re able to, as this will help your brain get used to a routine (and will improve your sleep schedule too).
If you need a bit of a push to stick to the boundaries you’ve set in place, it might be helpful to create some cues for your brain so that the idea that your workday is finished is reinforced. For example, you could change out of your work clothes at a certain time each day, or even go for a short walk or drive to mimic your commute.
This might sound excessive, but it could be the difference between you being able to relax and wind down for the evening and tossing and turning in bed all night because you can’t switch off from work.
You probably know by now that it’s not particularly healthy to live and work in the same space (we’ve all learned that lesson the hard way!). Therefore, it is important that you distinguish a part of your home that can serve as your workstation every day without fail, where you won’t be disturbed.
Having a designated workstation helps us two-fold. By protecting our sleep, our wellbeing will improve, and this will make us work better and more effectively. We don’t all have the luxury of a home office, and if more than one person in your family is working from home, you might not get first dibs on your workstation. However, we recommend that you avoid working in your own bedroom if possible.
The reason behind this is quite simple. Our brains find it extremely hard to switch off from work without a physical change of scene. If you have been sat in your bed all day working, when it comes to sleeping at night you will have difficulty. If there is no other room but your bedroom to do your work in, try to ensure that you have a desk to sit at and a proper chair that supports your back. Working in bed is terrible for our posture!
Just as you need to set boundaries with yourself on your workday, you also need to be clear with anyone else who lives with you that you shouldn’t be disturbed at certain times. It is important for your productivity and personal relationships that those around you respect your need to work, and this involves respecting your workstation too.
If you have been working at home during lockdown, you have probably already had this challenging conversation with your loved ones at some point. But if you are going to be working remotely on a more permanent basis post-lockdown, it is important that you re-establish your boundaries on work with the people you live with, to ensure that everyone is on the same page.
The return to normal life may bring about a change in the way you work, with children returning to school and many workplaces opening back up, it is likely that the day-to-day dynamic of your household will change. Having an honest and open conversation with your loved ones will encourage them to continue to respect your need to work, which means reducing their disruptions and behaving in an empathetic and considerate manner.
When working from home it is vital to remember to give yourself time to rest. If you don’t quite get everything done during the day, this doesn’t mean you have to dedicate any of your own time to finish it. You wouldn’t do this while working in the office, and so there’s no reason to start doing it now (your employer is a human being too; they don’t expect you to be a machine!).
If you let your work start to bleed into your evenings and weekends, it may be hard to gain that control back. It’s so important that you don’t expect too much of yourself and that you remember to recognise your own needs. It’s easy to settle into a routine of skipping lunch or eating at our workstation each day, without moving out of our seat regularly and getting a change of scene. Plus, when we have no need to catch the next bus or walk to our car before it gets dark, we run risk of working for more hours than we are being paid for.
To protect your own wellbeing, you need to keep a close eye on any aspects of your work that are starting to take more time out of your day than you can give. Acknowledge your limits and respect them, and you should expect your employer to respect them too.
Getting some fresh air can work wonders for your mental wellbeing. Leaving the house and going for a walk also helps us to break up our day into smaller chunks, leaving us feeling refreshed and energised when we return to our desk.
You might find walks boring but they don’t have to be. Recent studies have shown that distracting ourselves while exercising, such as listening to a podcast or having a conversation on the phone, is greatly beneficial for our mental health.
This is because our brains are focussing on a particular task; when we use our brains more, our bodies pump more blood to our brains to aid their functioning. This increase of blood flow has been proven to improve the overall health of the brain as it provides it with more oxygen, glucose and proteins (which help grow and repair brain tissue). In short, using our brains while we exercise is a way to make our daily walks more interesting, whilst also boosting our mood.
If you live with other people, then hopefully this step shouldn’t be too hard. However, for those who don’t live with family or housemates, working from home can feel isolating at times. If you do live alone, first ask yourself whether working remotely is a practical way for you to work, considering you won’t have regular human interaction while at home. If you notice your mental health starting to suffer due to a lack of human interaction, then permanent remote working may not be for you.
But if you do decide to continue working from home, there are ways to keep those channels of communication open to boost your mental wellbeing. A phone call with a colleague rather than an instant message, for example, can be greatly beneficial. Not only is communication clearer in spoken conversation as there is less chance for misunderstandings, speaking aloud to another person can help end feelings of loneliness.
And even if your house is full of people and you’re never short of conversation, you still need to make efforts to communicate with your colleagues who you don’t see face to face as much as you used to. Your colleagues are always just a message or phone call away. Just because you aren’t physically in the same room as them, this doesn’t mean that communication must be limited. Platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack have been designed to aid communication between work colleagues, so you should use them to your advantage.
So, there we have it. Working from home doesn’t have to be an isolating experience, as there are ways that we can adapt our behaviours to protect our mental health and boost our mood. However, there is no reason to feel as though you should continue working from home if you don’t want to. Many of us get a lot out of in-person conversation with our colleagues and that is a perfectly good reason to return to the office.