Adapting To Working From Home and Safeguarding Your Mental Health

The recent events of the Coronavirus have certainly shifted the workforce, team priorities, and working habits of many companies. Those of us who can work from home have been advised to do so.

Written by Leslie Duroe

The recent events of the Coronavirus have certainly shifted the workforce, team priorities, and working habits of many companies. Those of us who can work from home have been advised to do so.

Whilst it is great to have that opportunity to help deliver your role in the company and to maintain some normality for the business, it can be quite a challenging shift in mindset and work behaviours in a different environment.  

We are social creatures, even introverts like a bit of human contact, and many of us like routine. 

So, adjusting to:

  • not travelling to the office, which sometimes can be good downtime,
  • not having your desk (space) and technology instantly available in an ergonomic setting,
  • not being able to speak to co-workers about work issues/challenges face to face,
  • stopping for a quick coffee and catch up, social engagement, 
  • taking and making phone calls, exchanging meaningful conversations with everyone, under the same roof.

All work-related activities that are familiar, provide a routine that can be helpful and reassuring in getting us ready to make the most of a positive workday. 

But how do you adjust to working from home and achieve the best out of the situation?

There isn’t one single approach that will work for everyone, but hopefully these little quick tips can help you knuckle down and work contently at home, staying positive and healthy.

Create a Routine

The first thing that’s important to do is set a routine, one that works for you in these circumstances. 

Try to avoid thinking you have that little bit more time in bed as you don’t have to now commute!  That is a very natural human instinct, but the sooner you are up and doing the same routine for office work, but at home, then the quicker you will settle into that routine and find your new ‘normal’!  With children now at home as well, then your routine may be made of different blocks of time – time to home school and care for them as well as do your work. 

You could consider using the commute time you save to prepare lunch; it also means you will focus on set times for breaks. If you do have others at home with you, take this into account when looking at your performance expectations.

There will be a time for adjustment for everyone, but the sooner you find your routine, then you will feel more in control and settled. 

Find a ‘Home Workstation’ Location

Having a permanent workstation is helpful for you to work with fewer disruptions. Distractions such as: 

  • having to move to another room frequently, 
  • finding a better sitting position, 
  • a quiet area, or simply vacating the dining table at mealtimes. 

But not everyone has that luxury, so keep your new ‘workstation’ as minimalist as you need so if you must move, it doesn’t take long to settle into the new location.  Try to find a work location that is airy, bright, ideally with a window view to connect with nature and see the light of day. 

Position a plant near you to help keep a positive mind – nature encourages positive thoughts! Try to avoid cluttered areas as they can prove distracting when you must focus on work deadlines. 

Remember – you are working from home so you may not have an ideal ergonomic workstation option.

Be mindful of your posture and seating position. If you start to feel fatigued, move around and change your position – where you can. There are a lot of great tips online on how to modify your home workstation to avoid fatigue, discomfort, neck and, back pain and possible RSI.

Take 5 minutes out to research online and see what you can do to adjust your home workstation to be accessible and comfortable.

Background Noise

Not working in the office means you don’t hear or are part of any work conversations. This could be a good thing as work conversations can sometimes be distracting when you need to focus, but background noise can also bring focus. Total silence can be a negative distraction. 

Background noise at home is helpful to get into a calm mindset. It blocks out home and outside noises that you are unfamiliar with and keeps you connected with the outside world.  The tempo of the music can also be beneficial if you need to get a tight deadline out and the added benefit is you don’t need your work colleagues’ permission (just the others who may also be in the house).

Set Expectations and Boundaries 

When others are in the home it’s important to set clear expectations and boundaries where you can. Let the others know when you have any face time or telephone meetings scheduled, so they can be appreciative of the noise they make. But also let them know it’s ok to balance the interaction with you without making everyone worry that they may be a negative distraction. You need to set a good work/life balance with the others whilst you adapt to working at home and you will need each other’s support.

Your work also needs to consider family commitments you may have. So, don’t feel pressured to be work perfect if you have others at home. This will only impact your health and peace of mind, plus end up with battles at home. Your workday may end up being longer, but with intervals for ‘family time’. If you are confident that you are doing your utmost and meeting deadlines, then how you work those hours shouldn’t be in question. But don’t burn the candle at both ends. Your health is paramount as well as your performance. 

If you live on your own, you should also set expectations and boundaries!  It is very important that you also balance your downtime. But only you know what is good for you – so listen to your body and mind and react accordingly to avoid isolation, fatigue, and anxiety.

Take Breaks and Time Out

Don’t feel you have to be tied to the laptop…clock watching and checking you are visible to others whilst online, this has become known as 'presenteeism' which is not healthy. The priority is to get work done in the best way you can during these circumstances.  The stress of being away from friends and co-workers is enough without the added pressure of worrying if you are being judged/measured!  Take appropriate breaks but make them worthwhile.  Set times to have coffee breaks, move around, don’t sit in the same position for hours. Think like you are at work. Make a drink, snack, connect with friends and co-workers regularly. Get outdoors for at least 20 mins to move physically but also focus your mind.  Avoid negative social media coverage – it can be a mind field, totally distracting, and raise anxiety and isolation levels.

Keep in Touch with Co-workers

We are very fortunate to have access to technology that enables and empowers us to stay connected. Work out a way of setting some time to catch up with everyone using all social media platforms (being mindful of the above caveat) over and above scheduled meetings. WhatsApp groups are a great way to share successes and struggles in confidence. 

ACTION - If you are feeling isolated, make sure you get in touch with a work colleague, friend, or manager. You are not alone or expected to be alone during this time. This is about supporting each other during this time. 

Set a Time to Finish for the Day

When you’re at work you and your co-workers have a routine pattern for leaving the office. When at home, it can be too easy to keep working beyond your normal working hours.  Balance the commitments you have with work and your home but make sure you set a time to finish for the day. Set an alarm to remind you to start saving work, finish any emails, clear up any paperwork and maybe even write down tomorrow's ‘to do' list.

Then finally switch off your laptop and ensure you have quality downtime to recharge ready for the next day!

Author Leslie Duroe

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