Working from home can be a nice perk. You have flexibility to manage your day and responsibilities, eliminate your stressful commute, are able to throw in a load of laundry before an online meeting, and not have to smell Gary’s smelly microwaved left-over salmon in the lunchroom again. However the task of working from home can have a downside too. It can encourage isolation, a decrease in healthy routines, and even depression. For these reasons I created a list of five very simple tips that I and my clients have found effective when working from home for better mental wellbeing.
1. Get changed, don’t work in your pyjamas
Comfort is very tempting. The idea of rolling out of bed, grabbing a bowl of cereal, and plopping down in front of your computer to start the work day can seem perfect, especially first thing in the morning. While this can be a nice treat on occasion, try not get in the habit of this. Psychologically there seems to be something important about starting a day clean, fresh and ready to take the day on. So get out of those old, worn PJ’s, put on some real pants, brush your teeth and hair, have a shower or wash your face, and get ready for your day as you normally would if you were heading to the office today. You don’t have to put on a suit, the perk is that every day can be a jean-day or casual Friday, just not an all-day pyjama party.
2. Don’t work in your bedroom or TV room
Create a separate work-space from that isn’t right beside your bed or couch. Try to find somewhere bright, ideally with natural light from a window. Make the space clean, neat and appealing. Take time to tidy up after yourself each day. You wouldn’t leave old dishes and dirty clothes sitting out in the middle of a commercial office space, so don’t treat your home office any differently. If someone comes over, you should feel good about showing the space (as well as your attire). Another benefit keeping it in a clean, tidy condition is that it creates more options for the location of your work space, then it doesn’t have to be located in a closet or the basement out of sight.
3. Take breaks… outside if possible
Even prisoners in solitary confinement reportedly get 15 minutes of yard-time. Your day should have more than that. One benefit from working from home is that you can often manage your schedule, or at least your environment. If you can work from your deck on nice days, great. Likely you can’t set up a work-station on your deck or porch but you can take 2-3 breaks a day and get some fresh air from time to time. This can look as simple as walking around the block, throwing a ball for your dog, raking the yard or sitting in the sun. The impacts of nature and time outdoors has been well documented, so use this as a chance to bring this into your work-day, in a way that would be challenging if you work on the 42nd floor of a downtown high-rise. While in theory, you could be done your work-day 20-30 minutes earlier if you don’t take any breaks, your mental wellbeing and need for a balanced work day will thank you if you do.
Believe it or not, those 2 minute chats in the hallway, 5 minutes at the water cooler, or 30 minutes in the break room for lunch, do matter. Even when it’s not with your work buddy but just a normal colleague. Human beings are social creators and a pack animal that needs social interaction to be both psychologically and physically healthy. The lack of this daily connection is in my eyes, one of the greatest challenges of working from home. It’s important you prioritize this need. Spend some of the time you’re saving by avoiding the daily commute and see a friend, join a book club, or go to a class. I am saying this to all. We are all social creatures to some level and we all need connection. Even the self-defined introverts, or those that feel your just too busy and everyone in between. If you did have to go to the office and make the commute every day, you wouldn’t tell your boss you just can’t because you’re too busy. Prioritize healthy socializing in the same way, you won’t be sorry you did.
5. Set boundaries
The more technology has progressed, the more difficult it is to separate our work and home life. We have come a far way from carrying pagers or it being unthinkably rude to disturb someone during dinner. Emails, calls, text, messages, alerts and notifications, and more near constantly barrage us. As much as we may want the break of separating our lives from work, it can be very tempting and only one click away to check that email before bed. Now that “leaving the office”, means standing up from your desk and walking to a different part of the house this can be even more challenging. Now, more than ever, maintaining appropriate and fair work-life boundaries matters. Find a way to separate the two as best you can. Consider having set work hours, only allow yourself to check work emails from your work PC not your phone, take notifications off your personal phone for anything that isn’t personal, or other creative ideas. You will likely have to experiment with creative ways to do so.
Daniel is a registered psychologist working out of Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He counsels individuals and couples in the areas of mental health, relationship, trauma, and men’s mental health issues.