Wellbeing and working from home

In part two of our business advice series in response to Covid-19, we look at staff well-being, the pitfalls of working from home and some practical ways to stay happy and productive.

Homeworking certainly isn’t unique to these unusual times – around 1.5 million people work from home as part of their normal routine; however, periods of unexpected, enforced home-working (especially with your spouse, children and dependents in tow) can be stressful and have an impact on well-being and productivity. When Professor Robert Kelly’s children burst into the room during the now infamous 2017 live BBC interview, there was collective appreciation that this was every homeworker’s worst nightmare.

So how can you keep productive and positive whilst being cooped up at home? We’ve put together our 5 top tips for effective home-working during this period.

Stay connected
Possibly the most important piece of advice is to stay connected. Physical isolation doesn’t mean social isolation, and especially during these worrying times it’s essential to maintain some ‘normal’ contact with the outside world. Try and call or chat over video conferencing rather than email to avoid feeling isolated and remember conversations don’t all have to be about work.

“Personal relationships can help us to maintain perspective and elevate mood as well as providing helpful distraction. If you can’t see someone in person, video calls, telephone and text work as well.” From ‘Overcoming coronavirus anxiety‘, the Centre for Wellbeing.

Maintain routine
This falls into the general bracket of self-discipline which is required for homeworking. Get up at a normal time each day, get dressed, define your workspace and have a clear list of what you want to achieve, and psychologically you’ll feel more prepared for the day. Routine may certainly need a little flex if you have the added complication of children at home, perhaps you’re unable to stick to your usual working hours, however some time away from the screen is a good thing.

“In extraordinary times, retaining a sense of normality becomes valuable. At present the UK remains ‘business as usual’ for the vast majority. In other words, keep calm and carry on.”

Take breaks
If you’re anxious about working at home there’s always the danger of overcompensation, or presenteeism. If you’re being productive and achieving what you planned, and are checking in a sensible amount, you mustn’t feel guilty for taking a break. It’s essential for mental well-being and to keep up productivity levels. Many people swear by the Pomodoro technique which is a time management method where work is broken down into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes and punctuated by short breaks.

Go outside and move around
Even if you’re self-isolating you can still get fresh air, and it’s essential for your mental well-being to get outside and move around. With social distancing being encouraged, taking your laptop to the local café or library isn’t advisable, but you’ll still need a change of scene, so the cabin fever doesn’t set in. Use the time you’d usually spend commuting to take a walk, build a bit of exercise into that all-important routine, take a walk whilst on a work call or during your designated ‘lunch time’, or take an online exercise class.

Look after yourself
There are obvious considerations like eating healthily and getting sleep and we’ve talked about taking breaks and exercise to help maintain mental health. But some thought should also be given to your workstation too. Laptops have bad ergonomics and shouldn’t really be used for sustained periods of time. One way around this is to make the laptop work like a desktop by raising it up (a pile of books would work) and using an external keyboard and mouse. The NHS also has some great advice on sitting at your desk correctly.

“Eating a balanced diet, getting plenty of sleep and engaging in activities that help to reduce your stress levels are key to helping you remain as healthy as possibly – physically as well as psychologically.” 

If you find you’re struggling, there’s always someone who can help – please contact Samaritans or Big White Wall for guidance. For students and staff at the University of Surrey, the Centre for Wellbeing is offering online and telephone support, and health and wellbeing help and advice is available on the Wellbeing pages of the MySurrey website.