Updated: Oct 27, 2020
Under the current lockdown restrictions, many of us have found ourselves working from home for the first time. This is a very different situation from actively choosing to work remotely, and has required adapting to a whole new way of working in a very short space of time. All this has happened against a backdrop of increased anxiety caused by the pandemic and, understandably, it has been a stressful experience for many people.
At present, it is unclear when the lockdown measures will lift and workplaces will be able to reopen. So, to help you manage your mental health and wellbeing in the meantime, here are some tips for working from home:
1. Establish a Routine
Even though you may have gained some extra time in the morning by not having to commute, try to wake up around the same time every day. This will help to stabilise your internal clock and improve your sleep, so that you feel more refreshed and alert throughout the day. Keeping to your usual morning routine can also help you to get into the mindset that you are at work, so get ready, washed and dressed as if you are going to the office.
2. Organise your Workspace
Living and working in the same space can create anxiety and make it hard to focus, so try to set up a dedicated area from which to work. Ideally, this should be somewhere quiet and away from distractions like the TV. You should also avoid working from your sleeping area if possible, as this can make it very hard to switch off at the end of the day.
Make sure that you have got everything you need in one place before you start work, (including chargers, pens and paper etc.) and clear away any clutter. If possible, shut the door to minimise disruptions. Also, make sure that your work area is as comfortable as possible; whilst it might be tempting to sit on the sofa, it is much better to sit at a desk or table. You can use the NHS guidance to ensure that you are sitting at your workspace correctly.
If you are living in small or shared accommodation it may be more difficult to designate an area as your personal workspace, so you might have to get creative. For example, you could create different “zones” in your bedroom by hanging sheets or blankets to visually separate your work area from your sleeping area.
3. Maintain Healthy Boundaries
One of the benefits of working from home is that you can be more flexible. However, this comes with the risk that the line between work and personal time becomes blurred, and it is key to establish some boundaries around your working hours:
Set a working day – if possible, try to keep to your regular working hours, such as starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm. It is easier to stay logged on when your home is also your office, but try to ensure that when your working day is over you can switch off and enjoy your free time. A good tip is to wear your regular office clothes during your working time, and then change into something more casual when you have logged off for the day. This can help you to make the mental switch from “work” time to “home” time.
Take time to “commute” – another way to switch between “work” and “home” states is to set aside some time for yourself before and after your working day. You could spend this time reading, listening to music or exercising – whatever activity you choose, the key is that it will give you the space to make the mental shift between home life and work life (just as your actual commute would have done previously).
Set boundaries with other members of your household – it can be hard to concentrate on work if you are being continually interrupted by the other people in your house. This is particularly the case if you have children at home, as they may find it hard to understand why you can’t spend time with them. Have a discussion with the other members of your household about what you need from them to enable you to get your work done, and share your schedule with them. Remind them that you still have work to do, and that you need periods of quiet time to do it.
Respect other people’s boundaries – it can be easy to send just one more email or text but, even if you are happy to work all hours, others might not be. It is important to be mindful of what impact your behaviour may have on your colleagues.
4. Take Regular Breaks
When working from home it is easy to feel that you have to be available all the time, but it is important to take regular breaks. Spending time concentrating on something else can help you feel more focused when you return to your work, and can boost your productivity.
Try to take a lunch break, and make sure that you spend some time away from your screen regularly. It is also helpful to get some exercise, as working from home means that you might not be moving around as much as usual. If possible, try to get outside for some fresh air (following the latest government guidance), or you could try a short workout video at home. Including some exercise into your work from home routine will help maintain your physical and mental health, and should also help to improve your sleep.
And remember, you were never 100% productive when you weren’t working from home, so don’t expect to be now. There is so much going on, and it is ok not to have a handle on everything – give yourself a break!
5. Stay Connected
Working from home can feel very lonely, but there are lots of ways of keeping in touch with others to help reduce this sense of isolation. For example, try scheduling video calls or picking up the phone to speak with colleagues, rather than sending an email. Or arrange virtual coffee breaks for your team to get together for a catch up. You could even give your colleagues a virtual tour of your workspace, or introduce them to your pets. If you are struggling with working from home, it is likely that others are feeling the same way, and it can be helpful to talk about this and support each other.
6. Get support
Being isolated can be stressful, and it is important to talk to someone if you are having difficulties. Keeping in touch with friends and family can help, or you could see if your employer offers any assistance such as mental health first aiders or employee support programmes.
Mind and the Mental Health Foundation have published advice on looking after your mental health during the outbreak, and you can find contact details for other helpful organisations on our Useful Numbers page.
7. Be kind to yourself
Our final, and possibly most important, tip is to be kind to yourself. These are not normal times, and you cannot expect to carry on as usual. Your productivity may not be as high as before, and you may experience feelings of stress and anxiety. This is ok, and is an entirely natural response to the situation. So be gentle with yourself, be realistic when thinking about how much work you can achieve given the circumstances, and take time to relax when your work is done.
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