• Mel P - Mel is a Mental Health Blogger and Owner of the Balanced Mind.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Working

Having the flexibility to work from home has been growing in popularity over the years. More and more employees have been requesting that flexible working conditions are added to the terms and conditions to better fit in with their life. And many employers have seen the benefits in granting this through reduced office space and costs.

And yet, working from home has historically been heavily stigmatised by fellow office workers; rarely being mentioned without the emphasised “Working from home” air quotes. And still a lot of Managers were against this flexible approach, assuming their teams would lack self-discipline and there would be a reduction in productivity.

And then Covid19 happened. The world sprung into chaos as everyone tried to settle into the ever changing “new normal”. Companies were forced to close their offices and the employees that could work from home were told to do so.

Will things ever go back to the way it was? And is that even what we want?

For me personally, I worry about a nation of home workers. Having done this myself for around 11 years now, I can see the pros and cons for this way of working. It did mean I had the opportunity to get some dogs which really did make my house a home and supported my overall mental health. But overall, I missed the people and interactions, and struggled with this way of life.

In the end, I left my job where I was predominantly home working, in favour of a balanced life where I would be part office based and part home based. For me this was the perfect solution.

But when we entered a Global Pandemic, I lost my contract and finally got a new role 8 months later for a company that is a mere 380 miles away from where I live. In fact it’s in another country. Working anything other than remotely is simply not an option. And it is hard establishing new relationships over zoom. It can also be hard to gather the information you need when communication happens in planned meetings instead of next to the coffee machine each morning.

So with this in mind, I have put together my list of do’s and don’ts for home working that I have picked up over the years. Hopefully this will help you to get into a better routine and maintain a home life balance.

Get the right equipment

There is a reason why your office is equipped with monitors and office chairs. Leaning over a laptop whilst sitting on the sofa or at a table will not do your posture any good and you will end up having musculoskeletal problems. Ask your employer to supply you with the equipment you need to do your job safely.

Let your work and home life merge into one

It can be difficult to find a work space in our homes and many of us do not have the luxury of spare rooms to work in. But do try to get into good working habits. Surrounding yourself with your drying laundry, or having a cluttered workspace, will make it difficult to stay focused. And likewise, it can be hard to switch off if you are surrounded by work. Start and end your working day clearing away anything that you don’t need to help you maintain the balance between work and home life.

Go outside

Going outside comes with lots of benefits to your mental health. Vitamin D and exercise are both natural mood enhancers. But actually, this can also help you to make the psychological break between your home and work life.

Commuting to and from work provides us with time to prepare for the day, to reflect on our thoughts, as well as time to let go and unwind. This is so valuable and without it, it can be struggle to separate work and home. So try starting and ending your day with a walk where you can. Even if that’s just round the block. This routine will help your brain compartmentalise your day and to create positive work patterns.

Isolate yourself

Working from home can make it so much harder for us all to communicate. It seems as though we need a meeting just to be able to speak to someone and then it is all about what is on the agenda and our take away actions.

And ironically, even inundated with meetings, we seem to know less. The amount of information we would pick up in informal chats with our colleagues used to be so valuable. I know for me, having calls with my colleagues has been a lifeline to me at times. We all need that space to vent or discuss plans for the weekend (I can’t wait for the time when we have plans for the weekend to discuss once more!). It is ok to call someone for a chat when you need it and remember, it helps to build strong working relationships.

And likewise, it can be so easy for people to go unnoticed in this remote world we find ourselves in. Your colleagues may be silently struggling unnoticed. So please remember to take some time to check in with your colleagues and teams to make sure they are doing ok.

Dress for work

I am sure this won’t be a popular suggestion as I know people have loved the opportunity to work in their PJs at times, or dress the top half of their bodies that are seen. But again, dressing in “work clothes”, can really help the psychological divide between work and home, making it easier to focus and concentrate. I think it can also really help your self-esteem so that you ‘feel’ more professional too.

Stay chained to the desk

This is one that I really struggled with when I first started working from home. At times when I couldn’t concentrate I would just sit and stare at my laptop waiting for inspiration or motivation to strike. After all, I was being paid to be there. And rarely did it in these situations.

It is important to recognise that it is ok to take a 10 minute break away from the laptop. I have found taking some time away to put the washing on, or unloading the dishwasher actually helped me to focus better when I come back. We are often at our most creative when our mind is given the space to wonder.

As long as 10 minutes doesn’t turn into a 6 hour binge of the latest box set drama, it is ok to take breaks. You have no reason to feel guilty for doing so.

Get lots of light exposure

Try to work in a part of the house that is exposed to lots of natural light if you can. If this is not possible, make sure there is lots of light available. Maybe invest in a daylight imitating lamp. This will help your natural body clock to maintain a healthy routine as well as preventing your eyes from becoming strained and damaged over time.

Let your mobile phone distract you

With technology at our finger tips, it can be so easy to be distracted by a notification beeping from our phones. But having a look at that email that has come through, can lead to time being wasted by “just having a quick look…..” on all your social media channels. This is a distraction your mind does not need and will disrupt the flow of what you are working on. It’s time to turn our phones on to silence and put them out of view when we can.

Work with your natural peaks and troughs in energy levels

This is such a powerful tool at your disposal. We all know some of us are early risers, whilst others need a few coffees to kick start the day. Learning the times you are at your most and least productive can really help optimise your work output.

Although I am not able to control when every meeting gets added to my diary, for me I try to keep 2pm – 5pm as my high value tasks as this is when I work at my best. And the low value tasks like answering emails, I try to keep to first thing in the morning when I am at my least productive.

Optimising your work schedule in this way can really make such a difference and locking in uninterrupted time means that you can maintain a good flow of work.

Adapting to our new normal

The truth is, the world has changed and it is unlikely to go back exactly how it was. And I think lots of positives have come with that. But with it, we all need to find new ways of working.

I hope this list has given you some handy hints and tips to help you find a work life balance.

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