“As we approach the anniversary of the first lockdown, the novelty of working from home has well and truly rubbed off for most. Many people are pulling their hair out, particularly those faced with the double whammy of working from home and home-schooling. It is a challenge to stay sane, but there are ways to create a happy, healthy and productive home office environment.
Monotony and repetition demotivate workers. However, humans also thrive on routine, so the trick is to build regular things into your day that you look forward to, thereby creating a positive routine. Small pleasures and variety are key. While cafes are open for takeaways, take advantage and leave the house when you can to pop out for a coffee or go for a walk, watch something funny on youtube for five minutes during a break, have something to look forward to after work, like a G&T or a treat.
Achieving goals is also motivational so have a to do list each day but be realistic. Set small achievable goals and tick them off when you have completed them. The human brain loves to congratulate itself, so even the act of ticking a completed task off a to-do list releases a small shot of the feel good hormone dopamine. If you are like me, you’ll even retrospectively write things on a list after you’ve completed them, just so you can tick them off.
WhatsApp groups keep people connected and help replicate water cooler chats but be careful of using them solely to vent to each other, thereby creating a negative echo chamber.
Create a professional peer bubble with two other people in which you can discuss goals and share ideas. Choose people from outside your work social circle who can bring fresh ideas. Have regular short catch ups with them. It is also a good idea to create a work buddy system to share information with people who miss meetings because they are ill, home schooling or caring for someone. Look out for people who aren’t attending meetings regularly because that can be an indication that they need some help.
Using technology to your advantage
If you are one of the many people frazzled by constant zoom meetings try to set time limits (none should last longer than 45 minutes), use pre- briefing notes, but as the word suggests, keep them brief.
Block out time in your diary for planning. Many people are reporting that they are required to attend so many video calls, they have no time to plan or indeed do any proper work.
Pomodoro timer apps use the pomodoro time management method to break down work time into manageable 25-minute chunks with five-minute breaks between and are effective in helping to focus on tasks.
If you must check social media, do so at set points in the day, for example morning, lunch and evening. Resist the temptation to have it on in the background as it is a diversion. Get your news in the morning from a reputable mainstream newspaper, radio or TV station and fight the urge to doom-scroll all day on Twitter.
Sharing your workplace with your family
If you are home-schooling while working from home, do not set yourself unachievable targets, like five hours of tuition a day, wrapped around a full day’s work. Ofsted will not thank me for this, but in my opinion, if you can give them two hours a day, over the whole day, you are doing okay. Young brains are elastic. They can catch up. The biggest challenge for children is the missed social element of school, so allow them to socialise safely online, making sure the age relevant parental controls are in place. Encourage an hour’s play time a day.
If you and your spouse are both working from home, try to be considerate. If, for example, one of you has a call and you are sharing a room, try and take it in another room, or outside. Use headphones when listening to audio.
Outside of work times, make the effort to do things together. Eat together, talk and listen to each other. Do something different, even if it’s a board game, so you are not just in a confined space working all day. As a family, get in the habit of eating at the table at least a few times a week.
When workspace and living space combine, you can feel you never leave work behind. Create boundaries between your work time and your non-work time. Never eat at your desk and take regular breaks away where you physically remove yourself from your workspace.
Prepare healthy meals for the week to stop the temptation of reaching for unhealthy convenience food at the end of the day. Try not to buy lots of sugary treats. If they are not in the house, they cannot tempt you.
Stand up as much as possible. If you have a phone call and if it is safe to do so, walk and talk. You don’t even have to go outside. Walk around the house.
Limit alcohol and have more non-drinking days than drinking days.
For better sleep, take regular screen breaks in the day, stop screen time an hour before bed. Read a book instead.
Staying mentally happy
People thrive on the small, everyday interactions they have with others. These ‘social boosts’ release quantities of feelgood hormones such as dopamine, oxytocin and serotonin. Create new ones by reimagining your commute, thereby creating new routines. Go for a walk each morning at the same time and take the same route, and you should start to see the same faces, who you can acknowledge at a safe distance. Buy a daily newspaper from the same shop so you get to know the shopkeeper. Shop local and support your local essential shops. All these actions create a sense of security, community, and routine.
Creating the right home-working environment
It’s important to have physical boundaries between your workspace and your home living space. This is easy enough if you have a separate home office. Shut the door at the end of the day to symbolically draw a line under the day’s work, then go and do something completely different for half an hour, like exercise, yoga or a hobby. This psychologically transitions you from work mindset to home mindset.
If you do not have a home office and if it's practical, pack your work stuff away at the end of the day to reclaim your home.
If you can, when creating a workspace, choose a corner of your house and make sure you are near as much natural light as possible. Rearrange some furniture to create a separate work zone.
If you are doing a lot of video conferencing, invest in a good set of headphones with a built-in microphone and take them off between calls.
Adjustable standing desks that sit on top of your desk or table are a good investment and you can even buy a desk bike, which is probably more novel than practical. If you are pushed for space and are using a bedroom or a spare room and only have a laptop and no desk, an ironing board is a good substitute, as you can adjust the height and sit or stand.
Office chairs with lumbar support are important if you are sitting down for several hours a day. Memory foam sitting cushions and footrests help improve posture and alleviate lower back pressure. Position yourself arm’s length away from your screen with your eye level a quarter of the way down the screen.
If after doing all that, you’re still struggling to keep the kids occupied and focus on a piece of work then take some time out and look up cats and cucumbers on YouTube. Sometimes you need some escapism and a good laugh and that sets the world to rights. P.S not cats were harmed in these video’s. P.P.S Barry the Laughology cat is hard as nails and doesn’t flinch at a cucumber.. yes after watching these, like most of you we tried it.