If you’re looking for home working tips to help you feel happier, more productive and able to take better care of your physical and mental health when remote working, you’re in the right place.
We’ve spoken to a range of experts across wellness and mental health, and have pooled their tips for helping you work from home successfully.
Since lockdown began, many of us have switched to this type of working, and it’s a big change, mentally and physically. The daily commute used to be a big part of our daily structure, and where we got some of our exercise too.
Now that our commute involves walking from one room to another at home, our daily activity might be lower, and that could leave us feeling more sluggish.
Home working tips for a better work-life balance
The lack of a change of environment between work and home also means it’s harder to switch off from work. However, put even just a few of these home working tips to use and you should feel a difference in how much happier and productive you feel when working from home.
It’s doubly important for those who are home working and homeschooling their kids, as that adds to the stress of working and living under the same roof without a break.
Home working and mental health
Lockdown and the big changes in how we’re now working have triggered mental health issues for many people, so it’s important to speak to your doctor or mental health practitioner if you’ve noticed any new changes in your feelings and thoughts.
Protecting your mental health is vital, especially if you have a pre-existing condition, such as anxiety or stress, as Stephen Buckley, Head of Information for mental health charity MIND, explains: “If you already have a mental health problem, it’s possible that the worries of coronavirus may be affecting how you’re coping.
"Therefore, it’s important that we all recognize how it may affect our mental health and ensure we are taking care of ourselves and our colleagues.”
If you’re worrying more than normal, learning how to manage anxiety could be the first step in reclaiming some of the joy you feel your life might be missing right now.
Home working tips in a nutshell:
- Stick to your normal work hours to maintain a sense of routine
- Take a daily walk - consider replacing your commute with a pre- and post-work stroll
- Dedicate a space in your home to work, then shut it away once work is over
- Work near a window to enjoy the health-enhancing benefits of natural light
- Try to maintain healthy eating at home to boost your energy and mood
- Don’t overwork to prove you are working from home effectively - you will burn out
- Stay in regular contact with colleagues via video and phone to stay socialized
- Find a way to mark the end of the working day - try a relaxing shower
Stick to a routine
Home working tip 1: Create a routine
“Having a reliable routine works wonders for mental wellbeing and stress reduction, as it provides you with a method of identifying goals and tasks you want to complete, and prioritizing the things you care about the most," says Gerard Barnes, CEO of mental health treatment specialist Smart TMS.
“For those in self-isolation and working from home, being unable to engage in regular outdoor activities or even losing your commute to work can disrupt one’s routine, sleeping patterns and productivity. Writing down tasks you want to accomplish during the day, for example, will keep you feeling productive.”
Stick to your work hours
When you work in an office, you’re more likely to follow your normal working hours - especially if the building you worked in has specific opening and closing times.
But home working blurs the boundaries so much that we may not even notice how our overworking is increasing. Ten minutes today, 30 minutes tomorrow… It adds up.
“Try to follow your ordinary routine as much as possible," advises Stephen Buckley of MIND. "Get up at the same time each morning, follow your usual morning routines, and go to bed at your usual time.”
Protect your free time
“It’s easy to work longer hours and take fewer breaks when working from home. Why not put a reminder in your diary when you plan to finish working?” Stephen suggests. “Try to take at least a 30-minute lunch break. If you can, get some fresh air and go for a short walk.”
Burnout is real and it isn’t fun. Try to remember that just because you're home working, you don't have to work more than normal to prove you're still productive.
Do your job as well as you normally would and protect your free time. You’ve earned it, so step away from the home computer and enjoy connecting with family and friends, or taking part in your favorite hobbies and sports.
Find a quiet spot
Home working tip 2: Create a space to work in
The best home working tips center around creating a dedicated space for your home office. There’s lots of advice out there about how to create the perfect home office, and the biggest tip is to find a spot that you can shut the door on, or screen off, at the end of the day.
If you’re working in a small apartment, consider hanging a drape or buying a folding room partition to screen off your desk. The idea is, if you don’t see your work space, you won’t think about work so much, and the rest of your home becomes your haven again.
Get the home working tools you need
Make sure you have the right equipment to do your job from home, and if you don’t, speak to your manager about how they may be able to assist you with this.
If you work for yourself, and buy your own equipment, read our guide to the best keyboards for home offices for a comfortable and practical keyboard that won’t give you wrist strain.
Position your desk near a window In an ideal world, always sit near a window so that you're exposed to natural light. Exposure to natural light increases the brain’s levels of serotonin, the feel-good chemical, and helps control our circadian rhythms (body-clock) for a healthier sleep-wake cycle.
According to the Daylight and The Workplace Study by Professor Alan Hedge of Cornell University, workers seated by a window experienced an 84% drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision. They also saw a 2% boost in productivity and a 10% decrease in drowsiness.
Home working tip 3: Eat healthy
Stephanie Snell, a registered dietitian with UCHealth, recommends the following for staying energized throughout the working day: “I focus on foods that are nourishing and filling for snacks. These foods are often fiber-filled, like a fruit or vegetable, with some side of protein or fat. I’m a fan of veggies and hummus.”
Stephen Buckley recommends staying hydrated: “Make sure you are drinking enough water. It’s important to look after your physical health as this has an impact on your mental health.”
"Anxiety is likely to increase during the current crisis, but a well-nourished body is better at handling stress," adds Daniel Mansson, clinical psychologist of Flow Neuroscience, and suggests the Mediterranean diet.
"Traditional Mediterranean food [is known] for its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, and includes whole grains, vegetables (particularly green leaves), fruit, berries, nuts (including almonds), seeds and olive oil."
Stay in touch
Home working tip 4: Chat to colleagues
“Working from home can be isolating,” says Stephen, “so ensure you and your team, if you’re part of one, have regular check-ins virtually. Find an online tool that works for you, whether it’s Microsoft teams, Skype, or by phone. Make sure these regular check-ins are scheduled in advance by having some daily scheduled chat time.”
If you’re managing a team remotely, Stephen has a suggestion for you: “Why not encourage your team to complete a Wellness Action Plan (WAP) and share this with you? Everyone can complete a WAP – you don't need to have a mental health problem in order to feel the benefits.
"It just means that you have practical steps in place to ensure you are supported when you aren't feeling great.”
Home working tip 4: Stay active
“Exercise is one of the best ways to fight symptoms of mental health problems,” says Gerard Barnes, “and people who are less physically active are more at risk of anxiety and depression.” There are also proven mental health benefits of walking, which is one of the most accessible forms of exercise for able-bodied people.
In recent weeks, we've seen home exercise equipment selling fast due to gyms temporarily closing and people looking to exercise more at home. The World Health Organization recommends for adults aged 18-64 to undertake 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity exercise. The best fitness trackers can help you keep tabs on your activity levels - for cheaper devices, see our round-up of the best Amazon Prime Day Fitbit deals.
"Experts recommend between 30-40 minutes of exercise, 3-4 times a week to work up a sweat. People with depression often struggle with exercise, so start small with a 10 minute walk, then add a few minutes daily," adds Daniel Mansson of Flow Neuroscience.
Getting active can involve anything from washing your car and cleaning your house to going for a walk or run (remember the social distancing rules). You can also get free at-home fitness classes with leading personal trainers, with workouts aimed at a wide range of fitness levels. Like the thought of exercising at home? Take a look at our guide to the best treadmills too.
Home working tip 5: Protect your sleep
It’s easy to step outside of your normal wake-sleep routine when you’re working from home; you don’t have to commute, but science says that isn't great for your general mental wellbeing.
Research published in the journal Scientific Reports, and conducted by Jessica Lunsford-Avery, PhD, assistant professor in psychiatry at Duke University School of Medicine, points to adults not only needing to get enough sleep every night – the CDC recommends at least seven hours for adults – but also needing to maintain consistent sleep routines to benefit their mental health.
A consistent sleep routine, according to the CDC, includes going to bed at the same time each night and getting up at the same time each morning, including on the weekends. Other tips include avoiding large meals, caffeine and alcohol three hours before bedtime, and making sure your bedroom is quiet, dark and cool so that you aren't disturbed by light or noise pollution, or by feeling too warm to sleep.
Relaxing before bed is a good way to ready yourself for sleep, and wind-down yoga, meditation and journaling can all help you clear your mind of any worries or to-do lists. Of course, what you’re sleeping on also counts, so make sure you have the best mattress for your posture needs, as well as the best pillow.
Home working tip 6: Get support
There is never any shame in talking about mental health, and now is the time when we all need to support each other more. However, not all of us feel comfortable discussing our mental wellbeing. If you're experiencing issues, speak to your health practitioner as soon as possible to get their expert guidance.
In the wake of COVID-19, demand for tele-therapy has spiked in America and the UK. Sanvello, a UnitedHealth Group company, recently announced free premium access to its digital care delivery platform.
The app has over three million users and offers stress and anxiety management. Mental health app Thrive, endorsed by the NHS, is available to UK residents.
Further mental health resources to discover:
- Mental Health America
- The National Institute of Mental Health
- National Alliance on Mental Illness
- The Child Mind Institute
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention