Looking after your mental health while working from home

December 02, 2020

5-min read

Paris Stevens

"Interestingly, our Working from Home Employee Survey found that the vast majority (74%) of people surveyed are keen to continue with remote working after lockdown is over."

Remember when working from home was a novelty? Us neither.

It seems an awfully long time since the government first announced back in March that commuting to work was off limits without good reason. In those early days it might well have sounded like music to your ears. 

After all, you could roll out of bed five minutes before switching on your laptop, stay in your dressing gown until lunchtime and attend work meetings with half a suit on. You could take full control of the office music, have a snooze in your lunch hour and enjoy unfettered access to the fridge. 

Of course, there was a flipside to all this too. You were perching at the kitchen table or shutting yourself away in the box room, hunched over a laptop that was never really designed for using over long periods. The routines that used to set you up and motivate you throughout the day – going out for a morning run, eating a healthy breakfast, even getting dressed properly – seemed to slide swiftly out of the window. And before long, you realised that you hadn’t seen your work colleagues in person for three months, and even on a video call you’d rarely discuss anything but the day’s work. 

Those passing chats in the corridor, the gossip at the coffee machine or the water cooler, the after-work drinks on a Friday, even the sight of bleary-eyed colleagues first thing on a Monday morning – these are things we’ve all taken for granted for a long time. But what’s become clear in 2020 is that they underpin our mental wellbeing.

They help us to connect our work and social lives together and improve work-life balance, they diffuse stress and tension, they make you feel part of something bigger and, on days when the clock seems to barely move each time you glance at it, they make the minutes tick by that little bit faster.

The UK’s new mental health crisis

It’s not that working from home is the problem in itself. It can be a healthy, flexible and positive way to work, and for many people it allows them to better balance their professional and home lives – which is beneficial all round.

Employee perception of home working

Interestingly, our Working from Home Employee Survey 2020 found that the vast majority (74%) of people surveyed are keen to continue with remote working after lockdown is over. But for those who do, maintaining sufficient contact with colleagues is by far the biggest concern:

  • 56% of people surveyed wanted more social contact with workmates
  • 52% missed seeing workmates face-to-face and spending time with them
  • 46% felt their mental health is being impacted by working from home
  • 45% felt less comfortable and productive at home

In addition, our 2019 Mental Health in the Workplace Survey found that commuting is a major factor in employees taking days off work due to stress and anxiety, with those travelling by train by far the most likely (90%) to take time off. The evidence shows that removing the commute from an employee’s day is likely to have a positive impact on their mental health. 

There’s no question that home working is here to stay, but for many people serious modifications are needed before it can become a viable setup that won’t impact their mental health.

How to improve your mental health when working from home

1. Have a routine and stick to it

There’s nothing better than breaking from the old routine, right? That’s why we love going on holiday so much. But when you apply the same logic daily for months on end, it starts to do more harm than good. 

A clear schedule prevents the day from becoming stressful, as the lines between work and home don’t get blurred, even when they’re the same place. Try to stick to your normal sleeping patterns, going to bed and getting up when you would if you were travelling to the office. Set aside some ‘commute time’ before you log into your work computer if you can – get out for a walk, read a book or listen to a podcast. Eat a proper breakfast, get dressed, do your morning skincare routine – all of these things will make you feel more ready to face the day, and much more focused on work. 

2. Give yourself breaks

People working remotely can put pressure on themselves to be ‘seen’ to be working constantly, for fear of being perceived as slacking. But you’re much more likely to be useful to your colleagues if you’re focused than if you’re staring at your screen every minute of the day.

Taking regular breaks of just a few minutes every hour can do wonders for your concentration – even diverting your attention from the computer to stare out of the window helps. Set aside time to make a cup of tea or coffee, get outside for a short walk or have a quick conversation with someone you share your home with. Just don’t use screen breaks as an excuse to snack every hour!

3. Stay connected with colleagues

Maintaining contact with those you work with isn’t just about regular check-ins via phone or team meetings via video conference – it’s crucial to have informal, natural interactions too. Take the time to talk to teammates, even if it’s not about anything in particular.

And while post-work drinks in the pub or team-building experiences might seem out of the question for now, if you’re an employer looking to keep team morale high during a winter of remote working then our virtual team building activities might be just the thing. From the virtual team quiz to the virtual escape room and even the Christmas party, we’ve found a way to recreate those important bonding moments that drive a team to success – and keep workplace mental health in good shape.

4. Give yourself a home office

This doesn’t mean buying a new suite of furniture or reconfiguring the layout of your home – having a dedicated office space is simply about creating somewhere that you can focus. It’s much better to sit at a desk or table than to sit on a bed or sofa, and if you haven’t got the space for an adjustable office chair use some cushions to support your back. In addition, it’s always worth asking your employer if there’s something that would make you more comfortable, like a monitor.

Try to place your workspace somewhere that you can shut yourself away from distractions like the TV, social media or the contents of the kitchen. Making sure you’ve got everything you need in place before you start work will stop you from getting up, finding other things to do and getting into a cycle of being unproductive – which can lead to greater stress and anxiety.

5. Think about your surroundings

It’s not just about what you’re sitting on, where your computer’s positioned or how much space you’ve got. Creating a positive working environment is crucial to motivation and mental wellbeing. Try to ensure you’re sitting as close to windows as possible, as being stuck indoors all day is depriving you of vital vitamin D that you get from sunlight. Even on a dreary winter’s day, throwing the curtains open and letting in some natural light will help. 

Get some house plants that you can put around your desk. Even connecting to nature in a small way can boost your mood, and peace lilies, ferns and aloe vera are all effective (just check they’re suitable for any pets you’ve got!). Finally, put on some music if it helps you concentrate – you’ll know better than anyone what gets you focused and what’s a distraction.

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