In April 2020 statistics released by the UK's Office for National Statistics showed that 49.2% of adults in employment were working from home due to the Covid-19 pandemic and various social distancing measures in place.
As we all adapt to the ‘new normal’, organisations are starting to plan ahead for how the new world of work will look going forward. Flexibility is key, with a survey by Robert Walters showing that 87% of employees fed back that they would like more opportunities to work from home post return to work.
It feels like we have been thrown into a worldwide remote working experiment for the period of lockdown, with working and business processes evolving overnight. Thankfully leadership attitudes look to be changing more towards an ‘outcome over hours’ style and coupled with advanced technology and network capabilities employees have continued to complete their responsibilities and tasks from home.
This has given employees a wonderful degree of flexibility, a sense of freedom, motivation, and independence. However, its not all fun and games! The reality of working from home can take a huge toll on your health and wellbeing. We are all squashing the entirety of our lives into our houses and gardens – working, socialising and leisure time on top of the usual living and family life existence. It can be easy to feel like work is life and life is work! Added to this are the extra responsibilities of care-giving throughout this pandemic, and, as I’m sure anyone who is trying to juggle work with having children at home will testify, it's almost impossible to get anything done when you are also responsible for home education and a daily child entertainment programme.
A full house means more food shopping, more cooking, tidying, cleaning requirements...on top of this most usual places to let off steam and re-balance are still out of bounds – gyms, swimming pools, cinemas, spas, libraries, museums, playparks, bars. Happily we are now seeing some of these start to re-open and fingers crossed it won't be too long for the others.
Absence of a daily routine and contact with work colleagues can be really difficult and leave people feeling unsure of their expectations. Emails are so convenient but they don’t give the same opportunity for responsive conversations that dealing face to face allows or the chance to pick up on the social cues of tone and non-verbal communication.
With working from home looking like it will be here to stay in some capacity for the time being, there are a few ways you can try to improve your home/work situation;
- Identify a routine. Just because you are not having to commute to work doesn’t mean you need to start an hour earlier. Set boundaries both in your home life and your work life – if you have children explain to them that you need time to work and you are not on holiday! Enjoy the flexibility that working from home offers, but putting boundaries in place allowing you to work when you need too will help ward off feelings of stress or burnout.
- Dedicated workspace. If you have an office space – perfect. If not, try and carve out a small area you can sit comfortably, undisturbed, and with some natural light if possible. Ideally away from the kitchen so you are not distracted! Add a few nice touches - house plants, photos, and a decent desk light.
- Regular breaks. This is so important in order to keep yourself moving and focussed. You could section your day into chunks of time and allocate tasks to each section. Take regular 5-10 minute breaks even if just to walk up and down the stairs a few times or take 5 minutes out in the garden which will give you essential Vitamin D from sunlight exposure too. Honestly, this is so important as working continuously all day will make you feel stressed and decrease your productivity.
- Posture focus. Staring at a computer screen all day can lead to hunched shoulders and neck strain. Try and maintain a good posture, a good chair can help – one with as supportive a back as possible. This is a helpful resource for setting yourself up in your chair correctly NHS Posture Tips but remember you can also try working standing up, or alternate an exercise ball in place of your chair which engages your core muscles to maintain posture.
- Stay away from the fridge! Being at home all day makes it all too easy to grab a quick snack whenever you feel like it. Try to maintain regular mealtimes and if you need to snack healthy fats, such as nuts and avocado, or protein is always a winner. Anything sugary whilst tasting good initially will just give you a slump and leave you craving more. Don't do it to yourself! Alongside this make sure you are staying hydrated to keep your brain sharp and dehydration at bay. Water is key!
- Schedule in some exercise throughout your week. If you can this is so important, even if just a (socially distanced) walk with a friend. Remember you will be moving less if you are working at home as you won’t have the normal commute, walking to pick up lunch, tea runs etc. Exercise can be a great way to switch off at the end of your working day and prepare for the start of your home life evening ahead. A brisk walk, run or bike ride will do wonders!
- Social interaction. Interaction with others is so important for us all – did you know that social contact gives us a dopamine hit? Try to factor in some time with your colleagues be it via a digital coffee break, or simply using some of the brilliant technology available – Zoom and Whatsapp for interaction and Google Hangout, Slack or Trello for collaboration. This will help boost morale and strengthen healthy and happy company culture.
- Eye exercise. The average adult is now spending over 13 hours a day staring at a screen. This is up from 10 hours in 2019 as Covid-19 has put screen time on steroids - through working from home, digital socialising, online workouts, and so on. Too much screen time can cause digital eye strain and other forms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) leading to nasty headaches, dry itchy eyes and loss of focus. Utilise the 20-20 rule; for every 20 minutes you spend looking at a screen, try focussing your eyes on something in the distance for 20 seconds. This helps relax eye muscles and cuts down on eye strain.
- System updates. Lastly, but still very important is the maintenance of your tech. Whether you are using an office laptop or your own personal device, there is nothing more frustrating or energy-zapping than a slow computer or a printer that won’t print. Schedule in regular clean-ups of your desktop and hard drive, run security checks and updates, delete old files. Make sure you have whatever supplies you need – ink cartridges, paper etc in stock. Give your keyboard a clean regularly as well. These maintenance tasks are all hugely tedious and boring but will make your life so much easier.
Remember that this is a situation that none of us anticipated and you are doing your best in what is a very challenging situation! Be proud of what you manage to achieve and take time out to relax and reset to ensure you are able to give your best to your work life, and your best to your home life.