Home is where the heart – and the office – is

Home working
Home is where the heart – and the office - is

The concept of home working has been around for a few years. With more and more companies considering requests for flexible work arrangements, alongside increased accessibility of the technology that is needed to support remote working, the figures have doubled over the last decade. 

Even so, roll the clock back to 2019 and, according to a BBC report, there were only around 1.5 million of us regularly working from home in the UK. And 70% of workers had zero experience of this way of working. That is, until early 2020.

With social isolation measures compelling people to abandon their daily commutes and offices in their millions, home working has, overnight, become the norm for the majority of office-based workers. It can be hard to adapt to this very different way of operating, so we’ve put together some best practices to help you keep healthy, motivated and productive.

Keep to a structure

Try to create a structure for your day that emulates your normal routine in the office. The first challenge of the day is to resist the snooze button. Get up and shower and dress as normal. One of the benefits of home working is no commute, so think about how you could spend that time productively. Whether it’s reading, or exercise, or preparing a meal to save time later, you’ll appreciate that bonus time if you do something positive with it.

Designate a time to start work, and, just as importantly, a time to take breaks. You may have your working hours dictated to you, but if you have some freedom to work when it suits you, you can plan your commitments around when you are naturally most productive. And when your workday is done, turn off your computer and put things aside until tomorrow. And if you want, then you can put your PJs on!

Create a work zone

We don’t all have the luxury of a fully fitted home office but do try to zone off an area for work rather than trying to do it from your sofa. A table and chair in the corner of a room is all you need. It’s partly psychological – it’s hard to feel motivated and in work mode whilst lying on your bed with your laptop on your knees. But it’s also about keeping work and home separate. If you’re not careful, you end up with files all over the house, and you can feel like you are in the office 24/7. Confine work to one area, and it’s easier to shut the door on it at the end of the day.

Look after your physical health…

Kitchen tables are not ergonomically designed to protect your spine. So do make sure you have a safe and efficient arrangement of your chair, desk and technology equipment to prevent muscle ache or repetitive injuries.  

You can easily adapt what you have – use a cushion if the table is too high or put books beneath the legs if too low. To find the ideal desk height, when seated, your arms should be bent to 90 degrees and the desk should be at the height of your forearms. 

To set the height of your computer, keeping the top edge of the screen in line with your eyes will ensure you keep your neck in a neutral position. You can then easily scan down, which is a natural and easy movement for your eyes. 

Regular physical breaks are important, so as long as you are not self-isolating, get out for that allowed exercise every day, even if it’s just a walk around the block.  

… and also your mental health

As if a global pandemic isn’t enough to worry you, working remotely can damage your mental health. The chances are you’ll be alone in your workspace. The usual hubbub of colleagues’ conversations and other office noise that normally punctuates your working day will be missing. And of course, in normal times you are engaging with co-workers regularly, whether formally in meetings or informally as you chat at the coffee machine.

You can find that you go a whole day working at home without speaking to anybody, and this is one of the biggest challenges many people face. The result can be a feeling of isolation. Make a real effort to pick up the phone and speak to colleagues directly rather than relying solely on electronic communications. One company we know has a morning coffee meeting over Zoom. It’s mainly for their staff, but they’ve opened up the invitation for customers and suppliers to join as they want to. It helps promote a team feeling and keeps them connected to each other and the business. Those breaks we mentioned are essential for your mental health too, with research showing that short breaks throughout the day are more beneficial than less frequent, longer breaks. Stand up and have a stretch, make yourself a cup of tea and relax for 10 minutes at regular intervals throughout the day. If you can create your work zone by a window, you’ll benefit from reduced blood pressure and improved focus by being able to look outside. Not possible? Then a picture on your wall of beautiful scenery can have the same effect as the real thing.

Use downtime productively

You might find that working from home is more productive and you can complete your usual amount of work in a shorter time frame. Or your company’s business may well slow, and you find yourself less busy than normal. Look on this as an opportunity for self-development. What you can you do to acquire new skills or improve existing ones? There are any number of free webinars and online courses available at the moment. Whether it’s learning Italian, improving your IT skills or learning to cook Thai, this may be a golden window of opportunity to learn something new.

Times are certainly tough for many at the moment, but if you try to look at this period as one of opportunity, you will come out of the end of it with renewed vigour for returning to normal – whatever that new normal may be.

How are you coping with lockdown? Do you have any hints or tips on using it productively? Do share your ideas by commenting below.

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