For many of us, COVID-19 has impacted a lot of things, including how and where we work. The result? Most likely, more freedom in how you structure your workday, changes to your routines and schedules, new or increased responsibilities and possibly extra strain on your physical and mental well-being.
Although your commute may now mean walking to a different room, working from home isn’t always easy. So, how do you balance your time to make sure you’re working hard while taking care of your mental and physical health?
Here are some of the health benefits and challenges that come with working from home, plus four tips to make working from home really work for you.
The many health benefits of working from home
While many people already work from home, a 2021 Future Workforce Report done by Upwork estimates that in the next few years, up to 28% of the workforce (40.7 million Americans) will be working remotely, and many employees see this as a positive. When you’re working in an office, there are various factors that can put a strain on your mental and physical health – long commutes, headache-inducing traffic and lack of movement throughout the workday, to name a few. When working from home, these issues don’t usually come up. There are numerous physical and mental health benefits, and you have more control over how and where you work.
Mental health benefits of working from home
- Better work-life balance – Without the stress and time it takes to drive to work, you may have more flexibility for things like self-care, hobbies and your relationships with family and friends. A good work-life balance has a lot of positive effects – less mental stress, more motivation to get work done, and many others.
- Work how you want – You may be able to get things done according to your own schedule and have a quieter space with fewer distractions.
- More job satisfaction – The time you may get back from no commute can be used to get more done. More productivity may mean more engagement and satisfaction in your job.
- Save money – With no commute and eating at home, your budget will thank you and you’ll have one less thing to worry about.
Physical health benefits of working from home
- More time for you – Without a commute, you may have some extra time to be able to sleep in a little later, take a walk during breaks or do a quick load of laundry.
- Ability to customize your space – Instead of a cube, you can personalize your workspace, including a stand-up desk to keep you from sitting for hours at a time.
- Easier to eat smart – When you may have grabbed fast food for lunch before, you have more time to make healthy lunches and snacks.
- Less sickness – When your only coworkers are your pets or the people who live in your house, there’s less chance of exposure to a cold or the flu. And no commute means less air pollution, making breathing a little bit easier.
Four tips for working from home to improve your health and well-being
While there are tons of benefits to working remotely, it’s not without its challenges. You may find yourself feeling socially isolated without your coworkers around, getting too much screen time, having difficulty disconnecting from work at the end of the day, struggling with lowered productivity, and adopting a more sedentary lifestyle.
Don’t become overwhelmed – here are four tips on how to work from home and to overcome some of these challenges.
1. Establish a routine and schedule
People are creatures of habit and having a consistent routine and schedule can set you up for success. Don’t forget to go easy on yourself – every day doesn’t have to be completely scheduled or look exactly the same.
Create a morning routine
You can keep the same morning routine you had when you worked in an office. Set your alarm, shower, get dressed, grab some coffee and kickstart your day. Or if you don’t work a nine-to-five schedule, come up with a consistent routine to set yourself up for success whenever you’re ready to start your day.
Stay on schedule
Look at your calendar and the tasks you need to complete for the day and week. When you set up a daily or weekly schedule, it can help you maintain a healthier work-life balance. Be prepared if things don’t always go the way you planned – the unexpected sometimes happens.
Try to make space for free time between meetings. Decide which meetings you absolutely need to attend and identify any that you may not be needed for. This may free up time to take care of other work priorities or tasks.
Work when you’re most motivated
If you don’t need to be at your computer right at 9 a.m., and you do your best work later in the morning, adjust your start time if you can – working when you’re most motivated may mean you’ll be more productive.
2. Try to separate your workspace from your home space
You probably don’t want to think about work everywhere in your home, so whether it’s an extra bedroom, a basement or a corner of your living room, having a separate workspace is important to give your brain a break. This will also make it easier to quit working at the end of the day.
Optimize your workspace
Use plants and pictures to personalize it, try to have good lighting or work near a window, if you’re able, and keep your work surface neat. Having a dedicated workspace, set up the way you want it and the way you work best, may help with productivity.
Limit distractions so you can do your best work
Set some ground rules if you live with other people. Establish quiet times or meeting times if necessary and work out of an office space where you’re less likely to be interrupted by the people in your household. Work in a spot that doesn’t have a TV, or any other digital distractions, if you can. And don’t stress if distractions pop up – it’s bound to happen.
Unplug from work at the end of the day
Log off your computer and resist checking your emails once your workday ends as a signal to coworkers you aren’t available at all hours of the day. Don’t check emails in bed – keep those spaces separate. And an end-of-the-day routine like taking a walk or working out may be helpful, too.
3. Make mental health a priority
When you’re working from home, it’s easy to forget that your mental well-being is just as important as your physical well-being. Working from home is often lonelier and more isolating than people expect or recognize, so it’s important to prioritize self-care.
Don’t forget face time
This goes for virtual and in-person interactions. If you’re in a meeting, turn on your camera so communication feels more personal. Chat with coworkers during the day when work allows and take time to socialize outside of work to stay connected. Don’t forget to interact with people that aren’t coworkers, too.
Try to be fully present
Being fully present in all aspects of your life is also known as mindfulness, where you try to maintain awareness of where you are and what you’re doing. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Set aside time during your day for meditation, yoga or simply take a moment to reflect – these are all easy ways to practice mindfulness.
Set your out-of-office message
Many employers offer vacation time, so make sure you take it. You don’t have to go anywhere. Sometimes, a staycation is just what you need to recharge or get rid of to-do list tasks so they aren’t on your mind.
Ask for help
If you find you’re struggling, reach out to family, friends, a coworker or a mental health professional to help you work though whatever it is you’re dealing with. Don’t be too hard on yourself or others asking for help isn’t a weakness, but a strength.
4. Physical health is tied to mental health
When working from home, it’s easy to stay in one spot all day, staring at a computer screen, which may take a toll on you physically. And remember, physical health and mental health go hand in hand. When your body is healthy, it can help your mind stay healthy, too.
Keep your body moving
It’s easy to stay seated at your computer for hours without thinking about it. Incorporate a quick walk or workout into your daily schedule, and make sure you get up and move a few times a day to give your body a break – living a sedentary lifestyle can be harmful. Plus, stepping away from your computer occasionally gives your eyes a much-needed break.
Embrace an ergonomically correct workspace
When setting up your work from home space, make sure your work surface doesn’t require you to hunch over your computer, and check that it’s at an appropriate height to lessen strain to your neck, wrists and back. Use an ergonomic and supportive office chair, or use a pillow for lumbar support, and consider getting or creating a standing desk so you’re not sitting all day. Also, if there’s something you need for your workspace to work more comfortably, it never hurts to ask if your employer can cover the costs.
Fuel your fire
Stock up on healthy foods and make yourself nutritious meals as often as you’re able. Limit snacking, and when you do need a burst of energy, try to choose snacks such as fruits, veggies or nuts. Finally, don’t forget the H2O – more water means more energy and less headaches, and it’s just as important as food for good nutrition.
Take time off if you’re sick
Just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean you should keep working through an illness. If you’re able, take time off to let yourself rest and heal.
Whatever you do, take care of you
If you’re newly adjusting to a home office, or if you already work from home and have for a while, being mindful of how you work remotely can give you the best chance for a healthy work-life balance.
Have questions or need a little extra help improving your mental and physical health? Schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor. They can work with you to make a plan that benefits you.