Live your best work from home life
Working from home, once the dream of frustrated office workers, is now our norm. Idyllic thoughts of sitting on the sofa with the laptop, TV on in the background, a constant stream of hot drinks, no need to get dressed and an ‘easy life’ once filled our thoughts as the sought after working situation. I wonder how many of us now see things the same way. Is the reality vastly different from the vision?
In this post, we’ll look at how working from home is impacting on our mental and physical health. We’ll also explore some solutions, tips, and advice, which will help you look after yourself and improve your current situation.
Since April 2020, 49% of us have been working from home. With the new, unknown entity that is the Covid-19 virus doing the rounds, it was hoped that it would be a temporary measure, something which may help alleviate the spread. Fast forward six months and here we are again, even more of us confined to working from dining tables, sofas and kitchen worktops.
Pros and cons
There are many positives to this way of working. The dreary daily commute has been eradicated, the money saved from fuel, transport and lunch costs is a welcome boost. Having more time to spend with family, friends and pets is invaluable. Many people are reporting that they now have a much-improved work-life balance and are generally feeling happier overall.
However, the negatives of this situation can also have a debilitating impact on our mental and physical health. The most reported issues resulting from working from home are loneliness, isolation, anxiety, stress, pressure and depression. Workers are silently suffering and longing for a return to our previous ‘normal’.
There have been many surveys conducted into this almost new phenomenon, it being such a culture shock to many. Organisations are intrigued to find out how we are coping, what the issues affecting us are, and what they can do to help.
- In June, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reported that 7.4 million of us had declared feelings of loneliness since being in lockdown.
- 19% of those surveyed also expressed that video calls were making them anxious, despite being a vital way to combat isolation. They said that they felt under pressure to look good for the calls.
- Over a third (36%) admitted that being away from their colleagues left them feeling they are unable to take a break, must respond immediately to contact and are unable to step away from their computers.
- 30% said that they are struggling to separate their work and home lives, with 27% saying they had difficulties with switching off at the end of the day or working week.
- Considering other members of the household, 34% admitted that working from home harmed relationships with partners and/or children.
- A worrying 58% of an Institute of Employment (IES) study reported new musculoskeletal pains.
People are finding that they feel under pressure to be constantly productive. Not being able to be seen by co-workers and bosses, they feel guilty about not being glued to their laptop. Although, in reality, a lot of the working day in the workplace is spent as unproductive, away from the desk, or at least spent ‘not working’.
Take tea-breaks as an example. Factor in the time it takes to walk to the kitchen, chat to those who come in, make the tea, chat to co-workers on the way back; these episodes are a welcome break from the task in hand.
Then there’s general chit-chatting to colleagues, going to pick up your printing, all those opportunities to chat to other people and distract from the monotony of work – these moments are priceless and all contribute to our physical and mental well-being. The absence of these episodes may be having a great impact on our psyche.
At home, you may still get up to make yourself a coffee, but you are back and fore to the laptop whilst waiting for the kettle to boil. You take no longer than necessary and are rushing through it in case you are ‘missed’ from your Skype – or however you think your boss is monitoring you.
You don’t know when to start or end, logging on at seven am and logging off at seven pm. There are no boundaries, no bells, no rules.
People are struggling to motivate themselves, especially if they self-manage their workload. Deadlines these days don’t seem as urgent as they once did. The corporate world seems far more relaxed and refreshingly understanding, but some people need deadlines and pressure to keep them ticking along.
Loneliness and isolation
Consider, also, the person who lives alone. In the workplace, they are surrounded by colleagues, by activity, by life. Going home to an empty house at the end of the day brings a welcome relief to some, but to others who thrive on being with people, it can be a case of wishing away the hours until the next morning when they return to work.
Multiply this by five days a week, for six months – we soon get a picture of how people can experience loneliness. Everyone needs human interaction, albeit on varying scales.
Loneliness and depression go hand-in-hand. Those suffering from loneliness will often struggle to motivate themselves to seek out human interaction, maybe due to loss of confidence, or through feelings of anxiety.
Aches and pains have also become more prevalent, with many people not maintaining the correct posture whilst working. If there’s no dedicated working area and surface, then those sitting with laptops on lap, or lying on the bed are suffering from musculoskeletal pain. Neck pain, backaches, headaches and upper limb disorders are being reported more frequently.
Debilitation comes about through being stressed. Stress is far from just a mental state. In its physical form, it can be excruciating, manifesting itself in so many ways. There are stomach pains, breathing difficulties, fainting, high blood pressure, headaches – without going into how the effects of stress will exacerbate existing conditions.
If we could only tell ourselves “don’t do it, don’t stress”, and listen, life would be a breeze. Unfortunately, it’s the fight or flight impulse in us that wins out most times – unless you’re in a constant state of zen!
Considering these sobering ONS and IES statistics, what can we do to help ourselves through this situation? At the time of writing, it’s highly expected that we’ll continue to work from home for the rest of 2020 at least. How can we ease the burden and learn to love our previously held dream?
Alleviate the pressure
Start by taking the pressure off yourself. You don’t need to be glued to your laptop for eight solid hours a day. Get up regularly, move around, put the washing machine on, hang out your washing, make tea and coffee, have a proper lunch break.
Productivity increases with your levels of energy. Sitting in one place all day with no movement, exercise or distractions will send you into a downwards spiral, resulting in dwindling productivity.
In this current situation, most employers are flexible, so if you feel you need a break be honest and let your colleagues or boss know that you’re taking a fifteen-minute walk around the block, rather than worrying that they’ll contact you when you’re out.
Some employers won’t need you to work core hours, just as long as you’re being productive and completing tasks. If this is the case, work when it’s best for you. You may be able to work very early in the morning, maybe before the household wakes up, then a few hours midday, and a few more in the evening.
If this flexibility is available to you, take full advantage of it.
Breathing is one of the quickest fixes you can do when feeling the effects of pressure and stress.
Take some time to step away from your stressor and focus on your breathing. Just a few minutes of closing your eyes, breathing deeply into your diaphragm, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Visualise a calm, pleasing scene – a forest or a beach for example, and try to switch off all thoughts.
At work, you have a start and end time and will almost always take a lunch break. This should be no different at home. As above, you can either work flexibly or stick to core hours.
If you live with others, let them know your work times. Taking a dedicated break to eat, and maybe a quick walk, will do you the world of good and leave you feeling refreshed ready for the afternoon shift.
Switch your laptop off at the end of your working day. Don’t leave it open, or in view where you may be tempted to check emails when you’ve clocked off. Make switching it off and putting it away the signal that your brain needs to know it’s home time.
Maintaining a good sleep pattern is fundamental to life, especially in these trying circumstances. You would have read lots about sleep health, so remind yourself of the basics.
Having a ‘switch off time’ from work should greatly increase your chances of more restful slumber. You could also try to incorporate a nap into your working day. It has been proven that a ten to twenty-minute siesta in the afternoon will perk you up, making you mentally alert and ready to go on for a few more hours.
Try to keep your office set-up out of the bedroom if possible. Make it your sanctuary, with as few distractions as possible. If you’re working out of your bedroom, hide or put away all things connected with work as soon as you finish for the day.
Try to go to bed and get up at the same times each day. Banish technology and eye-zapping devices as early as you can in the evening – and especially try not to answer work emails or take part in work-talk with colleagues.
How often do you put on a box-set that you’re addicted to, and spend the majority of time on your phone? Before you know it, you have ‘lost’ two episodes and it’s bedtime. Your senses are on high alert, your brain is buzzing, your eyes strained, and sleep won’t be easy. Your home is now your workplace, you need to create boundaries in all aspects of it.
Leave your camera off during group calls. The ONS discovered that pressure to look good for video calls was one of the issues getting us down recently.
Working from home affords us the luxury of a more relaxed lifestyle. We don’t have to dress formally or even wear make-up if we don’t want to.
Unless being seen on camera is essential, or your boss has expressly requested it, leave it off. As long as your audio is on and you’re participating, this should ease some of the pressure. Maybe ask colleagues to call you on the phone, or audio-only, if you are having an off day.
To combat loneliness and isolation, a simple trip to the shop is sometimes just the ticket. If you live in a small community and know many people, I am sure you’ll say hello to at least two people, and very possibly stop for a chat.
If this isn’t your situation, instigate a chat with someone in the queue, or the person at the till. Smile at people – although facemasks won’t help your cause right now. Smiling makes us feel connected and can help us deal with negativity. Your smile and cheery small talk may help someone else in the same situation.
Getting out of the house for fifteen minutes and having human interaction is such an undervalued experience. An alternative is to have regular chats (whether by video calls or normal calls) with friends and family. Many activities are happening online now, like quizzes and social meets. Maybe you can try something along these lines to see if they work for you.
It can be difficult to magic up a dedicated workstation if you're limited in space or finances. Good posture whilst working on a laptop for a prolonged period is crucial if you’re to avoid neck and back pain.
The ironing board is a good solution that many have been using during the lockdown. If you have a proper chair with a back to support most of your back, place this in front of the ironing board, and voila!
Alternatively, if you’re without a chair, placing the board in front of the sofa or bed is the next best thing, making a concerted effort to sit up straight, take regular breaks and stretch.
A wonderful alternative is a standing desk. If you have a surface on which to place the laptop, standing whilst working alleviates so much pressure on your body and helps to keep you alert. It can even increase your step count and help burn calories!
Talking of steps and calories, working from home also enables you to fit in exercise more easily.
Instead of avoiding a run at lunchtime as you don’t have the facilities to shower, now you do. Not wanting to leave the office at lunchtime for whatever reason can now turn into a walk around the block or some stretches in the garden. Even taking a coffee break on the balcony or in the garden can boost your mood and allows you to relax.
A quick, high impact workout mid-morning will have you bounding with energy for the rest of the day and can be done in the time you would’ve spent chatting at the photocopier.
A calmer future
Trainers and casual clothing, not having to spruce up for the day ahead, no long journeys, being able to sit with a blanket wrapped around you, your cat or dog curled up at your feet, listening to the radio station that your colleague dislikes, the ability to plough through the washing, fitting in fifteen-minute HIIT routines, freshly homemade food – the positives should far outweigh the negatives once you’ve established your boundaries, routines and eased a load of pressure off yourself.
In turn, relationships with partners and children will improve as you relax more and adhere to your new regime. Take the time to relish and enjoy this period while you can.
Most importantly, remember to breathe, stretch, reach out to people and smile. Upon adopting these techniques, does the envisioned dream of working from home now match up more closely with the reality?