Recent studies suggest that 1 in 4 Americans will be working remotely in 2021. That is why more employers and employees alike are examining self-care and the “happy factor” more carefully, revealing many advantages of working from home. Wise employers are learning how to help their employees stay positive and maintain their mental health, which is creating a new conversation between them.
Although it’s easy to lose track of time and forget to walk away from the computer every now and then, there are benefits to working from home: no one can steal your lunch, Mr. Micromanager can’t count your bathroom breaks, and Negative Nelly can’t trap you against the water cooler while she regales you with horror stories about other staff. You’re also not stuck behind that train crossing for 45 minutes during your commute!
Working remotely has also allowed some staff to adjust hours to match their natural productive times and allow much more interaction with their families. A home office can also have more personalized space and be more than a cubicle in a sea of cubicles. These two factors improve the environment for workers, who are reporting significant productivity increases.
Unfortunately, remote work has also blurred the boundaries between work and home, with employees putting in more hours and sleeping less. It has created chaos for those who don’t have a dedicated area to work—can you imagine sitting at the kitchen table on a video call while your toddler throws milk-soaked Cheerios at you? Having your partner tell you they are going to the store and not to forget a plumber was coming who you had no idea was coming? And what if you live alone and have absolutely no one but the faces on your screen to talk to?
Here are some techniques to help you stay happy and productive while you’re working from home.
Setting Up Your Home Office
A home office should be more than a desk or table, a chair, and a laptop. Your chair should be comfortable so that you’re not distracted from your task or meeting, and the room should be well-lit to reduce eye strain and improve your mood.
If possible, assign yourself a room with privacy and the ability to shut a door if distractions become too much. If this is not possible, try a room divider (soundproof if possible) and a white-noise generator to screen out smaller disturbances.
Tip: Even if you don’t suffer from Season Affective Disorder, consider a desktop sunlight lamp with a natural solar spectrum. Also, if you’re having trouble getting enough exercise, try a standing desk.
Set—and Keep—a Schedule
Scheduling is where a lot of remote work takes its toll. Not only should you stick to a normal-length workday, but you should also set the alarm every 45 minutes to get away from the computer for a few minutes. Even if you only walk outside your house for a few minutes, you will return to the job refreshed and more productive.
Tip: One of the best things you can do is get out in nature. You can go hiking and get an exhilarating workout. Daily sun exposure can increase serotonin levels and generate vitamin D production.
One of the hazards of working remotely is the loss of social interaction that humans need. Managers need to make sure their teams’ video conference regularly and team members feel the freedom to make contact as they desire.
Tip: Even introverts need outside contact, but make sure you don’t over-draw your “social interaction” credit bank. You will pay with exhaustion and lowered productivity. Try reaching out with chat tools and text-based team interaction services rather than video.
Strategies to Stay Positive
Most positive people have one substantial common denominator—they regularly participate in self-care. To do that, you need to monitor your mental health frequently and regularly. Perhaps you could use your hourly break from the computer to check in with yourself. You might spend part of your lunch hour every day on mediation or a nature walk.
And for those adventurous spirits, you could consider changing your home office location, taking a remote work trip, changing your neighborhood for a view of the mountains or the beach, maybe on a holiday weekend to help you stay more relaxed and happier.
Another excellent strategy for home office wellness time is scheduling connections with loved ones. If you’re on an afternoon break and want to chat with your partner, kids, parent, or friend instead of the team for a few minutes, do it! You are also providing the person on the other end with some much-needed connection time with you, so this one is a win-win.
Make time to eat well and exercise and create a bedtime routine so you can sleep better.
This self-care step is crucial to creating the boundary around your workday and keeping it away from you when you’re not working—more on that in a bit. These strategies are essential enough that you should schedule them into your workday as non-negotiable time, and when you’re tempted to skip one or more during the day, remind yourself who is the most important person to your job—you!
Have a Real Work/Home Transition
Transition simply means moving from one thing to another. Creating a ritual around this passage will help you maintain important boundaries between working from home and living at home to navigate efficiently the great indoors. Here are some tips and strategies to help you invent your meaningful transition rituals.
Going to Work
When you go into the office, you prepare yourself in ways that associate you with your job and position. For instance, you probably eat breakfast to fuel your productivity, groom yourself, and wear clothing that suggests your role within the company. So why would you get up five minutes before you attend a video conference and show up in your pajamas—or less!—with the webcam off?
Eat well, groom yourself for your best appearance and bring your A+ game. If you don’t, you may leave people believing you don’t have one, including you.
Leave your home office, shut the door behind you, and avoid the temptation to work through lunch. Go to another room and enjoy a healthy meal surrounded by anything that will not remind you of work. If you live with others, connect with them as you would if you went to a restaurant with co-workers from the office.
This is perhaps the most crucial transition ritual for wellness. It creates the boundary that turns off the work channel on your internal monitor. Try the following steps for a good routine.
First, write down plans for the next day, even if it’s only one item. Write down what you would like to do for your breaks, even if you end up doing something different the next day. Next, clean off your desk and prepare it for your first listed item.
Then save/close all windows and shut off your computer. If you have a separate room for your home office, turn off the light, walk out and close the door. Even if you have to go back in later, just shut out that environment for a bit. If you have a room divider, slide it over as far as you can, and keep the area out of sight while you’re in the rest of the house.
Then take time with your family. Ask the kids what they learned today; ask your partner or roommate what their day was like; play a board game, or watch a movie with those with whom you share your life. If you live alone, simply go for a walk and interact with neighbors—socially distanced and with your mask.
Be a Happy Remote Worker
Of course, you should design your own transition rituals, daily schedules, and processes. But the question you should always ask yourself when working remotely is this: Will this process improve my situation/mood/wellness? If the answer is no, make adjustments until you have a bullet-proof self-care routine to maintain your mental health.