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Working from Home – Looking After Your Physical and Mental Health

With the impact of Covid-19 forcing many companies to look at work from home measures, I thought I’d share my own experience of shifting from going to work to working from home.

For many people working from home is a new concept and quite frankly it brings with it a whole host of changes that we may not always be prepared for.

Two years ago I went from working for a huge organisation, surrounded by hundreds of co-workers to working from a home office in our spare bedroom.

Initially it was great.  I could work when I chose to work and if I wanted I could do the whole thing in my PJs with no makeup on.

But it really wasn’t long until the cracks began to appear.  I found I wasn’t managing my time as well as I used to.  I was being distracted by domestic stuff, like hanging out the washing, emptying the dishwasher or dealing with interruptions from my family who didn’t quite get that I still had to work.

The hardest part for me, though, was the sense of isolation.  As an extrovert by nature I feed off the energy of other human beings.  I know many people find they need time alone to re-charge, but for me it was sapping my energy and my motivation.

I’d find myself working from coffee shops just so that I could feel connected with other people and I began to do lots of networking in order to get my ‘fix’ of human contact.

Humans are pack animals.  We struggle to live in isolation.  We like to feel connected to those around us and to feel we’re being included in what is going on.  When we don’t, we feel uncertain and this can lead to anxiety and even depression.

So if you find yourself in the unfamiliar position of working alone at home here are some thoughts from someone who has been there and learned how to cope.

CREATE A ROUTINE

It is very easy to lose routine when we work from home.  But I believe it is essential to set yourself set working hours.  They may not be the same as your normal working hours but being clear about defining work time and down time is important.

Consider  creating a timetable, either using an online calendar such as Google Calendar or the old school way with a pen and paper, plotting out the jobs you need to do and the times at which you’ll be working on them.

TAKE BREAKS

I often find myself sitting at the laptop for hours and hours without a break.  This isn’t good for productivity or for your posture.  Again this is where technology can be your friend.  Use the timer on your mobile phone to sound an alarm at regular intervals and get up and move around, even if just for a couple of minutes.

Make sure you take a lunch break (even if you didn’t when you were at work!) and get away from your desk.  Use the time to eat something healthy.  One of the positives of working from home is that you have access to your kitchen so no excuse not to prepare something fresh and nutritious.

STAY CONNECTED

It can feel very lonely working from home, therefore it is essential that you stay connected with your fellow workers and your manager.  Modern technology is fantastic with software such as Zoom and Skype enabling you to video call one or more people.

If you were always used to sharing a tea break with your workmates, arrange to get together on Zoom at the time you would normally sit down together and chat about whatever you would normally chat about.

Stay connected about work related issues too, in exactly the same way.  There’s a danger that remote workers only ever receive email communication or maybe the occasional phone call but that really isn’t enough to maintain that all important human connection.  Use Zoom or similar to have team meetings where the ability to screen share makes collaborative working from a distance easy.

GET DRESSED FOR WORK

While the idea of sitting in your pyjamas writing emails is appealing (and I still do it from time to time if I’m honest) getting dressed for work creates a mental shift that moves you from home to work mode.  The lines between domestic and work time can get blurred so dressing for work is a way of telling your brain that you’re now at work.

SET CLEAR BOUNDARIES

Family members can often lose sight of the fact that you are meant to be working.  I found it often led to interruptions and I would feel rude if I didn’t stop what I was doing to chat.  In the end I had to be very clear about my working hours and let my family know that during those times it was as if I wasn’t there and I wasn’t to be disturbed.  Far better to set those boundaries at the outset than to wait.

CREATE A DEDICATED WORKSPACE

This may not always be possible but as best you can try to create a specific workspace in the house.  This will again help you to set boundaries.  If you have a spare room that you can temporarily convert into an office, that’s perfect.  You can even put a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door.  However not everyone has the luxury of a spare room, but if possible, try and find an area that you can screen off in some way.  This becomes your ‘going to work’ space and, again, this helps you to mentally associate that space with work.

WATCH YOUR POSTURE

If you don’t have a dedicated workspace at home it can be very easy to get into the habit of sitting with the laptop on your knee on the sofa.  This might be ok for a short period of time, but it’s not good for your posture in the longer term.  At work you will have had a display screen assessment done which looked at how your workstation was set up to ensure that your physical position was optimised.  It’s just as important for home workers.  Do your own assessment making sure that you have your workstation set up as well as you can to reduce any health risk.  Have a look at this article from Bristol University with tips to help you do your own assessment.

Despite some of the challenges of home working I also believe that there are numerous benefits both for the individual and for business.  Maybe one of the positives to come out of the Covid-19 pandemic may be a more flexible and open minded approach to alternative working patterns.

 

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