As the pandemic drags on, many people are finding themselves continuing to work from home. For some this is a permanent change. It’s a bit strange to think about health and safety when you’re at your kitchen table or sitting at a makeshift desk, but small aches and pains can add up overtime, and harmful habits can cause larger problems down the road.
Here are some tips to help make working from home healthier and more sustainable.
The line between home and work can disappear when you’re working where you relax. Setting boundaries can help you reestablish that line. Set firm working hours, and make it clear you will not be on call, or respond to emails and messages after a certain point. Put your notifications on snooze. Everyone has the right to go home and stop working once they’ve clocked out. Clocking out just becomes a more metaphysical activity when there’s no office to leave and your emails can follow you around wherever you go.
If you’re sharing your home space with others, you might want to set a time or a place where you are not to be disturbed. Some people thrive on juggling distractions and tasks, keeping them more engaged and sharper overall. Others need quiet. Whatever it is that helps you best, communicate this to your housemates and coworkers and set firm boundaries to help you do and feel your best.
Create a start and end routine to your work day. It doesn’t have to be anything elaborate, but just a few small actions can signal to your brain that now it’s time to work, or now it’s time to relax. Get dressed for the day in full office wear or put on makeup. Grab some coffee and sit down at your computer for exactly 9 am every morning. Go for a walk or a run. You could fake a commute, or do a few quick stretches. Anything that helps you get in the mood to work.
As for ending your day, put away or shut down your work computer, out of sight and out of mind until tomorrow. Put on comfortable clothes, or get dressed up to go out. Play some music, run a quick errand, put physical distance between yourself and your computer for a while. Put your notifications on snooze - whatever it is that helps you wind down and make your space fully yours again.
It might not seem like taking breaks is as important when you’re not in an office, but taking even a small break increases productivity and performance.
A break should be something as different from work as possible. This is to say, ideally it won’t be in front of another screen. Get up, go for a quick walk, or just be somewhere that isn’t your workspace. Stand out on your balcony or backyard if you have one. If you’re worried getting up is going to break your concentration, do something productive that isn’t related to your job. Start a load of laundry, do some dishes, pick up those odd bits of clutter.
Keep in mind that most full time jobs have a one hour lunch and two fifteen minute breaks built into the workday. This doesn't mean you have to follow it to the letter, but take some time to relax when you need it.
Looking at a screen all day causes eye strain, and with the pandemic continuing on we’re all looking at screens more and more. To ease some of the strain, make sure you’re using a blue light filter on your screen. Most devices have built in filters, but you can find helpful apps that will do this as well. Just be sure to turn it off for certain programs if you work with colours.
You don’t want to be squinting at your screen, so watch out for glare from nearby light sources and experiment with lighting until you find something comfortable. Increasing font size or getting a larger monitor can make it easier on your eyes as well. And then there’s the fact that when looking at a screen we blink less than we usually do, which irritates the eyes and can cause headaches. Whenever you remember, blink, or even close your eyes for a few seconds throughout the day.
It’s also important to look at something out the window or across the room every so often and give your long-distance vision a little stretch. There’s something called the 20-20-20 rule, where for every twenty minutes working at a screen, look at something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Your eyes will thank you for it!
Sitting all day is bad for your health. While you can’t change the nature of computer dependent jobs, you can take some steps to get yourself and your body mobile and active.
While getting up and moving around is ideal, here are some quick and easy stretches you can do right at your desk. You can sneak these in throughout the workday. A little goes a long way, even if you only stretch out your arms or give your neck a roll, it all helps. But hey, you’re not at the office. This is the perfect excuse to do big, obnoxious stretches whenever you’re feeling a bit stale. It’s a great way to refocus when you just can’t concentrate, and it helps keep the blood flowing and your muscles from getting stiff and sore.
If you want something a little more involved than stretching, you might like some easy yoga. There’s all sorts of videos on youtube that offer yoga for office breaks, things you can do without needing a yoga mat, fashionable yoga clothes, or knowledge of different yoga terms, all aimed at beginners. If you’ve got fourteen minutes you can give it a try without having to do anything but get up from your desk. Plus, there’s no one around to judge if you can’t quite get the pose right.
Exercise in general is great for you. You don’t need gym equipment to get in a bit of a workout at home. The important thing is to get moving, do jumping jacks, go for a run, do push-ups, do squats, dance around your apartment, it all counts.
Being outside has many health benefits, both physical and mental. While many of us relied on our daily commutes to get us out and about, that commute has become the walk from bed to the computer. Make an effort to leave the house. Run an errand or go for a quick walk. Stand on your balcony for a few minutes. Lean out the backdoor. Just feeling the air on your face can do wonders to improve your health and your mood.
With the move to working from home, some people report eating too much, others too little, but most everyone has noticed some change in their relationship with food and how they go about getting it. In a working from home environment it’s easier to skip meals, forget to buy groceries, and just eat whatever is in the kitchen at any time of the day.
It’s going to be different for everyone, but many sources agree that trying to eat solid meals instead of snacking is better for you. Make a time in the day to eat and don’t let it get pushed back by a busy schedule. This is easier said than done in a lot of cases, but make an effort to have filling, healthy food around you can put together without much fuss.
Ergonomic office gear is great if you can get it, and even better if your employer will get it for you. If you don’t have a lumbar support cushion, you can make do by wedging a pillow or balled up sweater between the small of your back and your chair. Getting a mouse is much easier on your wrist than using a tracking pad, so maybe consider investing in one if you’re noticing discomfort in your wrist. Your screen should be at least an arm’s width away from your face and slightly lower than your line of sight. This can be helped along by placing your laptop on a large book, a shoebox, or even an overturned laundry basket. It’s also a way you can make a DIY standing desk, though figuring out the mouse can be a bit tricky.
If some part of your body is hurting, it might be time to look into changing your home office setup. It might not be a big problem now, but if unchecked it can build and build until years from now you’re in serious pain.
When you’re working from home it can feel like you have no excuse to take a sick day if you can work in your pyjamas, or in bed, or take tea and soup interludes throughout the day. Don’t do this. If you must, you can put in an hour or so of work. But it’s important that you take time off when sick instead of trying to work through it. If you have sick days as part of your benefits, take them when you need them! You’ll feel much better much faster, and you’ll be more productive than dragging the whole thing out over a miserable couple of days.
There’s no one fix to make your working from home experience as comfortable and healthy as it can be. For one, everyone has a very different home environment and resources to work with. Then there’s what your remote workplace environment is like. Ultimately it comes down to trying things out. Maybe setting a strict routine helps get you in the zone. Maybe being flexible with each day and each mood as it comes leads to greater productivity and happiness. It’s up to you to explore your options and find whatever it is that suits your needs best.