This piece was written by one of our contributors; physiotherapist – Emma Wrath.
With only 30% of UK employees having worked from home during 2019 (1), the Covid-19 outbreak has meant millions of people across various industries have had to adapt to new styles of working whilst also transitioning workloads onto unfamiliar online platforms and fielding endless conference calls; and all this in a short space of time. That said, working from home can have many benefits for both employers and employees alike, such as improved employee mood, increased productivity and creativity, lower staff turnover, and lower absenteeism, as well as environmental benefits. However, other issues can, and do, arise.
Working from home can create particular challenges such as difficulty separating home life from work; and likewise separating work life from home, but for some people self-imposed pressure can result in working long hours at a time, or distractions from family members or children may cause tension and conflict. Work can infringe on the physical space in your home, making it harder for you to relax, switch off, and finish whatever task it is you are working on (2). With a physical distance now imposed between you and your work colleagues, you are more at risk of feeling disconnected from your employer and the networks built up within your organisation, as well as feeling distanced from the support that work colleagues can often provide us, which can increase the risk of anxiety and loneliness. On a practical note, one of the main barriers to productive working from home is not having a suitable space or the equipment in which to maintain productivity and comfort at home.
Here are some key things to consider when working from home to ensure you stay productive and maximise your working time, whilst still maintaining a healthy work life balance:
- Are you sitting comfortably? – Recommending you use a chair and table may seem obvious but often the urge to work from a bed, sofa or coffee table can be strong, especially with early morning Zoom meetings. You don’t need the latest ergonomic chair but if you need more lower back support use a rolled-up towel or cushion in your lower back for comfort and support. It’s also important to remember to get up, move, and stretch every 20-30 minutes.
- Keep it simple – It’s important that you have the right equipment to work from home. This should include a mouse, keyboard and headset/headphone with microphone, especially if you spend a lot of time on calls. However, care should be taken when buying lots of other gadgets and add-ons that are out there on the market – these often add little value and can be expensive. Most of the time you can build an effective workstation by being creative, using what you’ve got and taking the time to evaluate your set up requirements.
- Adjust your screen height – The top of your screen or laptop should be at eye height. This is because our gaze naturally falls roughly 10cms lower than this. If you are working from a laptop and looking down for prolonged periods, this may cause strain through the back of your neck or encourage you to slump forwards. Simply raise your screen or laptop by placing it on top of a pile of books, or use a laptop raiser.
- Keep it at arm’s length – If you reach out and touch the top of your monitor or laptop it should be roughly at arm’s length away from you. Your keyboard should be close enough to allow your elbows to bend to 90degrees and allow them to rest close to your sides.
- Create an environment that is solely for work – If possible, use a spare room or separate corner which is used only for your work. Over time, you will learn to associate this area with work which will improve your concentration levels and also help differentiate between work and home time. Ensure this area has suitable lighting away from glare to ensure your eyes are not straining. Also consider laying ground rules with family such as closing your door to signal when you are busy or on the phone and unable to speak.
- Less is more – Keep your workspace clean, tidy and clutter free. Try adding a plant or greenery to your desk to improve your mood and productivity (4). Investing in items such as cable ties and document storage can free up space but can also work wonders on your desk aesthetics which overall will have a positive impact on your mood and reduce distractions.
- Routine is king – Routine gives us stability, can reduce anxiety, and helps us to feel in control of our day. If you haven’t already, think about your current routine, could you change it to use your time more effectively? Try keeping to regular mealtimes at a similar time every day and ensure you schedule in time for exercise, breaks, and family/leisure time. Planning your working week from Monday to Friday can help limit the chance of work spilling into the weekends as by doing this we are able to differentiate more clearly between work and the weekends, leading to more restful and enjoyable weekends.
- Go video ‘on’ – For some people this may fill you with dread but having your video on during a video call not only reduces anxiety by helping us to feel connected, but also increases effectiveness of communication. Being able to read non-verbal communication and facial expressions is really important for clear communication and can improve the way we interact.
- Stay connected – Whether you’re the extrovert at the water cooler or prefer to quietly keep your head down, staying connected with colleagues is important. When working from home, companies can lose the benefits of working in the same physical space. Team camaraderie, creativity, and wellbeing are all important factors for line managers and team leaders to consider, in order to ensure that their teams continue to perform and meet their objectives. Scheduling social, non-work related meetings and catch ups to replicate those interactions can go a long way in helping achieve this. With a little more time on your hands, take a minute to ask how your colleagues are, listen, and learn about their personal lives and current demands on them during lockdown.
Despite the way we may currently feel about working from home, it is important to consider the benefits for when life does return back to ‘normal’ and pre Covid-19. Working from home has numerous benefits; not only does it allow those to work in the comfort of their own home, it limits travel time, allows people to spend more time with family, help manage childcare, or to establish a better work/life balance. Perhaps the most important reason is that it can improve productivity and creativity (5) by removing distractions, reducing stress and allowing employees to work autonomously. All of the above helps to support mental wellbeing – indeed, a scientific study of remote working professionals found that there was greater autonomy through online working which led to less frequent occurrence of depression, particularly amongst women. It is believed that the flexibility afforded by working from home allowed the women to manage their work whilst being present in family life, resulting in greater levels of wellbeing (5).
With Covid-19 having possibly changed the way companies and individuals view working from home forever, it is imperative that companies actively support working from home and create a healthy trust culture with employees. Companies and sectors that have previously been reluctant to permit flexible working or working from home have had to acknowledge the current benefits and recognise that perhaps this is how we may continue to work in the future if we want to achieve a healthier workforce.
(1) Office of national statistics (2020) Coronavirus and home-working in the UK labour market: 2019, available online: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/coronavirusandhomeworkingintheuklabourmarket/2019
(2) Baines, S. and Gelder, U, What is Family friendly about the Workplace in the Home? The Case of Self-employed Parents and their Children, New Technology, Work and Employment, 2003, 18, pp. 223-234.
(3) Timbal, A & Mustabsat, A, Flexibility or Ethical Dilemma: An Overview of the Work from Home Policies in Modern Organizations around the World, Human Resource Management International Digest, 2016, 24(7) Avaliable online: https://eprints.lancs.ac.uk/id/eprint/83014/1/Accepted_Manuscript.pdf
(4) Larson, L, Adams J, Deal B, Kweon B S & Tyler E, Plants in the Workplace: The Effects of Plant Density on Productivity, Attitudes, and Perceptions, 1998, Vol: 30 issue: 3, page(s): 261-281, Avaliable online: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/001391659803000301, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177%2F001391659803000301
(5) Kossek. E, Lautsch, B. A & Eaton, S, Telecommuting, Control, and Boundary Management: Correlates of Policy Use and Practice, Job Control, and Work–Family Effectiveness, Journal of Vocational Behavior, 2006, 68(2), pp. 347-367.
(6) Grant, C.A., Wallace, L.M. and Spurgeon, P.C, An Exploration of the Psychological Factors Affecting Remote e‐ worker’s Job Effectiveness, Well‐ being and Work‐ life Balance, Employee Relations [Internet] 2013 35(5) Avaliable online: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/ER-08-2012-0059/full/html, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/ER-08-2012-0059
(7) Kathleen Farrell, Working from home: A double edged sword, Technological University Dublin, 2017, Available online: https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/3994/cba168c66e901492f91f7c5f46e458b6cf3d.pdf?_ga=2.37322592.1173789392.1589822815-107461135.1589822815