There’s no going around it: the coronavirus pandemic has completely revolutionized the way the global workforce works.
While some have always practiced a work-from-home lifestyle, remote work is a whole different world and one that is hard to adapt to for others. Working remotely does have some benefits; many are now saving time and money by being able to skip their old daily commute. However, there are certainly some drawbacks that can impact health and wellbeing.
If you’re already working from home, the New Year is a good time for a reset in what’s working for you and what isn’t. Here are seven tips to help you have a healthier work-from-home environment while keeping your mental and physical health in check.
Set New Expectations
The first and most important step in adopting a full-time remote work situation is to communicate with your manager and co-workers. The pandemic might leave newer remote workers with fear and stress that they are not doing enough work. To avoid the mental strain that comes with adjusting to remote work, set up a time to speak with your manager about expectations. Consider asking your manager what they expect to see from your work, their communication preferences, and how often they’d like to receive updates. You should also consider requesting modifications to your work structure to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Ideally, aim to have these meetings at least once a quarter to help alleviate any feelings of uncertainty as you transition.
Gone are the days of swinging by someone’s desk for friendly reminders. When working remotely, masterfully written communication is key when more things can be lost in translation. If in doubt, always opt to over-communicate. Otherwise, colleagues might come up with their own ideas on what is going on. If something is hard to communicate or explain with the written word, schedule a video call to avoid any chances of misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Designate Space for Work and for Living
To boost productivity, set up a neat workspace by designating an area that is separate from the living areas and activities. Avoid working from your bed or in front of a TV screen. If working from a kitchen table is the only option, designate one seat for work-related activities only.
Setting mental boundaries are just as important as creating physical ones. When working in your “home office,” try not to let thoughts of meal planning or the latest ‘Bachelor’ episode seep into your mind unless on a break. The same goes for your living area and activities. While eating dinner or about to doze off in bed, avoid checking emails on your smartphone or thinking about the emails that will need to be sent the next morning. This is easier said than done!
Make Modifications or Invest In Them
For decades, most workers worked at offices with great lighting, reliable internet connection, and functional desk space.
In an ideal world, a remote workspace would include lots of natural sunlight, a desk with a spacious surface area, ergonomic accessories, and perfect WiFi. But realistically, most people will have to settle with working from the dining room table or a coffee table. Or even in a closet.
If space is available, opt to use a movable kitchen island cart as a standing desk and set up a workspace in a room or area void of all distractions. If you don’t have space and must work in front of a TV screen, set up a curtain or a room divider to block out the temptation of endless entertainment.
If work requires you to sit in front of a computer for long periods of time, invest in blue-light filtering glasses. Research shows that blue-light filtering glasses improve your workday by boosting productivity, avoiding disruptions to your wake-sleep cycle, and preventing eye strains and migraines.
Consider investing in ergonomic products like a chair that supports your lumbar spine or a slanted and vertically-designed computer mouse. Several studies show that chairs designed for back support reduce musculoskeletal pain and improve work performance. Other research also suggests that ergonomic accessories like the kind of mouse you use can prevent carpal tunnel syndrome and other wrist and forearm stress.
Create a Routine and Stick to It
Research shows that over two-thirds of remote workers are experiencing burnout symptoms since the pandemic began. The tension and stress that comes with an unstable economy have prevented workers from taking time off essential to their mental and physical well-being.
One proven method to avoid burnout is to ensure a work-life balance. It’s understandable for the lines between work and life to get blurred. It’s hard to maintain a routine when you no longer have to depend on commute schedules and company-wide lunch breaks. This means that the onus is on you to create a sustainable schedule and routine.
A routine should always include self-care action items and breaks. An effective approach includes creating a habit check-list before starting the workday. The habit checklist should include taking a shower, daily grooming, dressing professionally yet comfortably, and drinking plenty of water.
In addition to a habit checklist, create a to-do list before you start working and rank tasks by priority. Take some time to sit down, think, and write down the agenda for the day. If you prefer to keep everything digital, task management apps like Todoist and Trello are great for organizing your daily to-do list.
To avoid procrastination and feeling overwhelmed, try out the Pomodoro Technique, which has apps and browser plugins. Research shows that procrastination has nothing to do with laziness or self-control. People simply avoid things that make them feel uncomfortable. The Pomodoro technique is a productivity-blasting strategy that helps you break down intimidating big tasks into little manageable steps by setting a timed schedule. Instead of continuously working for long periods of time until all your tasks are completed, the strategy has you break down the workday into 25-minute intervals with 5-minute breaks in between with a longer 30-minute break after four rounds.
Set-Up (Or Create) Opportunities for Collaboration
With social distancing, working remotely can be unbearably lonely. Try to pitch projects that require collaboration with colleagues. If your company has a People Operations team, reach out to set up virtual happy hours and other events that provide opportunities for employees to socialize with one another.
If these options aren’t available, setting up opportunities for collaboration is still possible! The easiest way to socialize while working from home is to find professional online networks or coworking communities. Joining Facebook groups or LinkedIn communities can yield other workers in your field that you can chat with during the workday.
Take Days Off
Overall, the best thing you can do for yourself is to ensure that you are prioritizing your mental health. In other words, don’t be afraid to ask your employer for mental health days. Or even vacation days!
It might seem awkward to ask a manager for time off when working from home, especially when it doesn’t seem like there’s anywhere else to be. But chances are they will be sympathetic to your needs. Like you, managers are also dealing with all the unpleasant side effects of remote working during a pandemic: isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, pressure, burnout, and depression.
Whenever you feel like you’re getting tired or easily irritable, communicate with your manager about scheduling a day off to recharge. However, before taking time off, make sure your team has all the materials and information they need to create an efficient game plan for the day. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, make the most of your days off. Avoid going through any work materials or attending work meetings, if possible. Honor your time off from work, because you deserve it.