The global work landscape has shifted in recent years, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic. This period led to a rise in remote work, transforming the traditional office environment into a home-based setting for millions of employees worldwide.
- Establish a daily routine to balance work and life.
- Create a dedicated, distraction-free workspace.
- Take regular breaks to avoid burnout.
- Stay connected with colleagues to combat isolation.
- Prioritise physical health for overall wellbeing.
Listen To This Article
The Rise in Remote Work
According to Statista, prior to 2020, working from home was a luxury for a few and often required exceptional circumstances for approval. However, the pandemic made remote work the norm. Digitalisation has enabled many businesses to continue operating remotely, and there is a strong desire among employees for remote work to stay in some form.
- In September 2022, workers in New South Wales spent approximately 4% of their total working days working from home.
- More than 40% of employed people were regularly working from home in August 2021, according to new data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The Importance of Mental Health in a Home-Based Work Environment
The rise in remote work, driven by global circumstances, has brought about a new era of flexibility and adaptability in the workforce. However, it has also shed light on the importance of mental wellbeing and the need for supportive work environments, even within the confines of one's home.
A cross-sectional study on university staff in Belgium found that burnout symptoms were significantly associated with poor work-life balance, lack of a quiet place to work and being worried about their long-term work situation.
Employers and individuals must work collaboratively to ensure that mental health is prioritised and appropriate measures are implemented to foster a healthy home-based work environment.
1. Establish a Routine
Establishing a consistent daily routine has become paramount in the rapidly evolving landscape of remote work. A structured day not only aids in productivity but also ensures a work-life balance which is crucial for mental wellbeing.
Why it's essential: The significance of structure in our daily lives
A structured routine provides a sense of normalcy, especially in a remote work setting where the boundaries between personal and professional life can easily blur.
Research indicates the blurring of boundaries between work and personal life has led to longer working hours and constant availability due to electronic communication tools. The Lithuanian study emphasises the psychological skills required for detaching from work and the importance of self-leadership skills, which include the ability to act independently, plan one's activities, set goals, and achieve them in a remote work environment.
The study says that self-leadership (the ability to act independently, plan one's activities, set goals for oneself and achieve them) can be purposefully developed through training.”
Tips to consider:
- Setting a regular wake-up time: Just as you would for an office job, set a consistent wake-up time. This helps regulate your body's internal clock and improves sleep quality, essential for productivity and mental health.
- Scheduling breaks: Regular breaks can boost your productivity and reduce stress. Whether it's a short walk, a coffee break, or just a few minutes of stretching, ensure you take time off your screen.
- Having a clear end to the workday: One of the challenges of remote work is knowing when to log off. Set a specific time to end your workday and stick to it. This helps create a clear distinction between work and personal time, allowing you to unwind and relax.
By establishing a routine, remote workers can create a structured environment that mimics the traditional office setting, ensuring they remain productive while caring for their mental wellbeing.
2. Designated Workspace
Designating a workspace is more than just a matter of convenience; it's crucial to maintaining a healthy work-life balance and ensuring productivity.
Why it's crucial: Separating work life from personal life
The overlap of work and personal life can create challenges in maintaining a balanced lifestyle. A study conducted among software engineers in Sri Lanka during the COVID-19 pandemic revealed that having a designated distraction-free workspace significantly impacts work-life balance.
Tips to consider:
- Selecting a Distraction-Free Workspace: Creating a home workspace isn't necessarily just about finding a quiet room; it's about creating an environment that nurtures your working style. It may be beneficial for some to have direct sunlight and a view onto the street. For others this may be distracting and they might prefer a corner nook with just their computer. The focus should be on finding a space that works for you.
- Well-Organised Workspaces Amplify Efficiency: Clutter is the enemy of clarity, and organised space can be your greatest ally in the realm of work. Being orderly is not just about a tidy desk. The way you organise your computer desktop, your home office room and your calendar are all examples of organising your workspaces.
- Personal touches: Your workspace should be more than just a place to grind out tasks; it should be a reflection of who you are. Adding personal touches to make your environment uniquely yours can help your productivity. You can add plants, flowers, pictures of friends and family etc.
3. Take Regular Breaks
In the grind of remote work, taking breaks might seem counterproductive. But here's the catch: these pauses are your secret against burnout. Think of it as a "brain reset"—a moment to recharge and refocus. Whether it's a 10-minute meditation, a brisk walk, or a quick guitar session, these intentional breaks can spark creativity and solve problems.
Why it's crucial: Preventing burnout and maintaining productivity
Burnout is a genuine concern in remote work, especially when the lines between professional and personal life blur. A small study published by Academic Conferences International Limited shared that remote work is reported to have both positive aspects, such as greater productivity and quality of life, and negative aspects, such as lack of face-to-face contact and fatigue due to excessive online exposure.
Tips to consider:
- The Pomodoro Technique: This time management method involves working in focused intervals (usually 25 minutes), followed by a short break. After completing four intervals, take a more extended break. This technique can enhance focus and prevent fatigue.
- Stretching exercises: Regular stretching can alleviate physical tension and refresh your mind. Consider incorporating simple stretches into your break routine to keep your body relaxed and energised.
- Short walks: A simple stroll isn't just a break—it's a mental reboot. Fresh air becomes the elixir of creativity, and a shifting landscape morphs into a canvas for new ideas.
Taking regular breaks is not a luxury; it's necessary to maintain productivity and mental health in a remote work setting. Incorporating these tips into your daily routine can create a more balanced and fulfilling work experience. Whether it's following the Pomodoro Technique or taking a moment to stretch, these breaks can make a significant difference in your overall wellbeing.
4. Stay Connected With Colleagues
The transition to remote work has brought about many changes, including the potential for feelings of isolation. While working from home offers flexibility, it can also lead to a sense of detachment from colleagues and the broader work community. Staying connected is essential for both professional collaboration and personal wellbeing.
Why it's crucial: Combatting feelings of isolation
One of the most prominent challenges faced during this period was the isolation among remote workers.
Tips to consider:
- Virtual coffee breaks: Schedule regular virtual coffee breaks with your colleagues. These informal chats can help recreate the office environment and provide an opportunity to catch up on non-work-related topics.
- Team check-ins: Regular team meetings or check-ins can ensure everyone is on the same page and provide a platform for discussing any challenges or concerns.
- Utilising communication tools: Make the most of the available communication tools. Whether it's video conferencing, instant messaging, or collaboration platforms, these tools can help bridge the gap and foster a sense of community among remote workers.
5. Prioritise Physical Health
In remote work, the emphasis often leans towards productivity, deadlines, and virtual meetings. However, physical health is pivotal in ensuring work efficiency and maintaining mental wellbeing. Let's explore the significance of physical fitness and some actionable tips to consider.
Why it's essential: The connection between physical and mental wellbeing
The COVID-19 pandemic brought unprecedented challenges, including shifting to remote work. While offering flexibility, this transition also led to altered eating habits and reduced physical activity among many.
A study conducted in Malaysia during the pandemic observed changes in eating patterns and physical activity among individuals. The research highlighted that these changes were influenced by various factors, including sociodemographic aspects and mental health status. The study underscores the intricate relationship between physical health and mental wellbeing, emphasising the need for a balanced approach.
Tips to consider:
- Home workouts: With gyms and fitness centres being less accessible during specific periods, home workouts have gained popularity. Staying active is crucial, whether it's a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) session, yoga, or simple bodyweight exercises.
- Healthy eating habits: Nutrition is vital to physical and mental health. Prioritise a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid excessive snacking and stay hydrated throughout the day.
- Getting enough sleep: Sleep is the body's natural way of healing and rejuvenating. Ensure you get 7-9 hours of quality sleep each night.
Prioritising physical health is not just about staying fit; it's about creating a holistic approach to wellbeing that encompasses both the body and the mind. Integrating these tips into your daily routine ensures a healthier and more productive remote work experience.
6. Limit News and Social Media Consumption
In our digital age, staying informed is easier than ever. However, the constant influx of news and updates can be overwhelming and detrimental to one's mental wellbeing. For remote workers, the line between work and leisure can blur, making managing news and social media consumption even more crucial.
Why it's crucial: Avoiding information overload and anxiety triggers
The term "doom scrolling" has emerged in recent years, referring to continuously consuming negative news online. This behaviour can have significant repercussions on our mental health. This study delves into this phenomenon. It highlights that doom scrolling can lead to mental health issues such as depression, mood swings, isolation, and paranoia. The constant exposure to distressing news can trigger anxiety and feelings of hopelessness.
Tips to consider:
- Designated check-in times: Allocate specific times during the day to check the news or social media. This can prevent the habit of continuously refreshing news websites or apps and help maintain a sense of control over the information you consume. The app “One Sec” forces you to take a deep breath whenever you open social media apps. According to James Clear, your environment plays a significant role in shaping your behaviour. By making the cues for bad habits harder to access, you create friction that discourages the continuation of those habits.
- Setting app limits: Most smartphones and digital devices offer features that allow users to set daily limits for specific apps. This feature can help curb excessive social media or news app usage, ensuring a more balanced digital diet.
7. Set Boundaries with Housemates or Family
Remote work offers the luxury of working from the comfort of one's home. However, this setting can also present challenges, especially when sharing living spaces with family members or housemates. Setting clear boundaries ensures uninterrupted work time and maintains personal space, allowing for a more productive and harmonious work environment.
Why it's crucial: Ensuring uninterrupted work time and maintaining personal space
The excessive use of technology blurs the lines between work and family, leading to conflicts and, ultimately, exhaustion, a recent 2023 research based in Italy found.
This underscores the importance of organisations developing dedicated stress-management programs to help employees cope with the experience of remote work.
Tips to consider:
- Communicating work hours: Clearly communicate your work hours to your housemates or family. This can help them understand when you're available for interactions and when you need focused work time.
- Using headphones: Wearing headphones can signal to others that you're in "work mode" and shouldn't be disturbed. It also helps in drowning out background noise, allowing for better concentration.
- Setting up "Do Not Disturb" signs: Consider placing a sign on your workspace door or area when you're in meetings or need uninterrupted work time. This visual cue can help others recognise when it's not a good time to approach you.
Setting boundaries is not about distancing oneself from loved ones; it's about creating a conducive work environment while respecting shared living spaces. By implementing these strategies, remote workers can balance their professional responsibilities and personal interactions, ensuring a more effective and harmonious work-life balance.
8. Seek Professional Support if Needed
In remote work, the boundaries between professional and personal lives can often blur, leading to heightened stress and potential mental health challenges. Recognising when to seek professional support is crucial for one's mental wellbeing and maintaining productivity and a healthy work-life balance.
Why it's crucial: Recognising when to ask for help
The transition to remote work has brought unique mental health challenges. Online psychotherapy has seen a surge in popularity as a response to these challenges.
Tips to consider:
- Online therapy platforms: With the rise of telehealth, numerous online therapy platforms have emerged, offering various services, from counselling to cognitive behavioural therapy. These platforms provide a convenient way to connect with licensed therapists from the comfort of one's home.
- Helplines: Various helplines offer immediate support for those in crisis or needing someone to talk to. These helplines are often staffed by trained professionals who can provide guidance and resources.
- Mental health apps: Several apps are designed to support mental wellbeing, offering features such as mood tracking, meditation guides, and cognitive behavioural therapy exercises. While these apps can be beneficial, it's essential to recognise when professional intervention is needed and not solely rely on them.
It's essential to remember that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. In the ever-evolving landscape of remote work, prioritising mental health and recognising when to seek professional support can significantly affect one's overall wellbeing and job satisfaction.
The COVID-19 era has flipped the work world on its head, making remote work the new norm. But this digital freedom isn't all sunshine and roses.
- Establish a routine and designated workspace, setting boundaries with your housemates/family when you are working.
- Take regular breaks and schedule check-ins with your colleagues to stay connected.
- Prioritise your physical health and mental health - don’t hesitate to take advantage of professional support.
To increase your mental health literacy, join an upcoming live webinar or get Mental Health First Aid trained online or in person with MiTraining.