5 tips to protect your health and wellbeing when homeworking

5 homeworking tips from a freelancer

If you’re about to embark on homeworking for the first time, it can be a daunting prospect. You’ll be pondering the logistics of keeping in touch with your team and accessing your operating systems but it’s just as important to prioritise your own health and wellbeing. Here are my five tips for surviving.

The Coronavirus means that thousands of office workers will be working from home for the first time over the coming weeks and months. It’s a huge cultural shift to go from a packed office with colleagues only feet away to working from a quiet corner of your kitchen, dining room or, if you’re lucky, home office.

Homeworking is an enforced practice for many people at the moment but it’s likely to become much more common in the future. There are obvious benefits to the environment of reducing our commutes while productivity is known to increase at home.

Nicholas Bloom’s TedTalk is a great summary of the benefits of homeworking to people, the planet and business. Check it out here:

If you’re transitioning from office to home and juggling the logistics of how your team will stay in touch remotely, you’ll have a lot on your plate right now. But, it’s just as important to safeguard your own wellbeing as you embark on what could be weeks and weeks of agile working.

Here are my top five tips for homeworking that put your mental and physical wellbeing first:

1. Embrace the perks

Homeworking does come with a lot of benefits so don’t be afraid to embrace them.

Wear your most comfy clothes, forgo make-up and perfect your messy bun technique. You are no longer bound by a workwear policy so let your comfort reign.

Stick on your favourite radio station or Spotify playlist. There are no office politics here – you get to decide what your workday soundtrack will be.

Put on a load of washing, be in to receive your online deliveries, and say “good morning” to the bin collectors and window cleaner that you’ve never met but know exist.

Use the time you would have spent commuting doing a workout, reading the book you’ve not had time to finish or enjoying something that you’ve previously found difficult to fit into your day.

If you’ve worked in an office for a long time, partaking in these perks can be riddled with guilt. But, don’t worry – your productivity is likely to skyrocket at home so you’re not stealing company time with a smattering of domestic pottering in your day.

2. Structure your day

It’s very easy to get distracted when working from home. While you have fewer corporate interruptions – phones ringing, people rocking up at your desk for a chat, meetings that could have been emails – all the things that you’ve failed to do around your own home will suddenly seem particularly urgent.

I find that structuring my day helps to keep me focused and productive. I break my day down into two- or three-hour chunks depending on the volume and type of work I have to do.

I start my day by writing a to-do list that includes the emails I have to send and answer, the calls I have to make and the work I have to complete. If I can’t fully complete a piece of work in one day, I set clear milestones for where I want to be before I sign off.

At the end of each session, I review where I’ve got to and re-jig my priorities or time planning where needed. Stick to this process and you’ll master the trick to successful homeworking: discipline.

3. Be healthy

When I first started homeworking, I could devour an entire pack of HobNobs and several cups of tea in one morning (I was pregnant too so stop judging!). It’s very easy to veer into duvet day behaviours in the heady early days of working from home – but curtail those sugary treats now!

Fill your fridge with healthy snacks and nutritious lunches to ensure you get your vitamins during the day. You won’t have the structure of office breaks so be sure to graze on good stuff not processed crap. Portion control is also key – there’s a danger of over-eating when you don’t have the restrictions of a lunchbox to manage your appetite.

Being healthy covers the physical stuff as well. Your office environment – desk, chair, screen – is designed with your wellbeing in mind but your home won’t necessarily be set up to do the same. Avoid working from the sofa or in bed – it’s comfy but will play havoc with your back after a few days. If you’re working from the kitchen table, make sure your back is supported, you have good lighting and your laptop is positioned correctly to avoid strain on your wrists, back and shoulders.

Mental health is equally important. Loneliness can hit hard when you start homeworking so if you think that will be a problem for you make sure you schedule in a variety of contact methods during your day. Combine phone calls, video chats, emails and quiet working time to provide a number and variety of interpersonal contacts daily.

4. Get outside

Lunch breaks can often be a rare luxury in an office environment. Or, they are hastily taken while still working at your desk and involve shoveling a sandwich into your mouth minutes before rushing off to your next meeting.

Taking a walk at lunchtime is a proven way to reduce stress and anxiety, increase productivity and improve your health. Read this summary if you don’t believe me.

Homeworking offers the perfect opportunity to leave your workspace during your lunch break – and heading outside is the best way to spend that recess.

I have a dog so I have a responsibility to walk her every lunchtime. I stick on a podcast and follow the woodland trails around my estate for about 40 minutes each day, clocking up my daily step count and breathing in lots of fresh air.

But, you don’t need a pooch to head out on foot at lunchtime (although I highly recommend getting one!). Walk to the newsagents to pick up a paper or magazine (remember those printed things we all used to read?), save that trip to the Post Office until lunch, or simply find a route around your neighbourhood that you can walk, run or cycle each day.

I promise that you’ll return to your work with a much clearer mind that powers you through to the daily finish line.

5. Set boundaries

While it’s essential to have structure to ensure you remain focused at home, it’s just as important to set boundaries for your working time.

When your workspace is only feet away from your home life, you can very easily find yourself dipping in and out of work when you should be enjoying some downtime.

Make sure to set your working hours and stick to them. It’s especially important if you’re a people manager – you need to let your team know when you can be contacted and also set boundaries to avoid them overworking.

Try to work away from where you spend time with your family. You need to have a physical transition from “work” to “life” at the beginning and end of the day in order to separate the two things in your own mindset.

Homeworking comes with lots of benefits but certainly has its challenges. Prioritise your own health and wellbeing first and the rest will fall into place.

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