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Making working from home work for you: your mental health

Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK
24 September 2020

Once you’ve got your desk space set up, factored in ways to eat healthily and figured out how to keep active. Now it’s time to think about the other side of working from home; taking care of your mental wellbeing. Here I look at staying motivated, maintaining social connections, staying focused and enforcing work-life boundaries.

Motivation

One of the main things you might struggle with when working remotely is staying motivated. Many of us have been working from home for several months now, and your initial enthusiasm might have passed. A good way to tackle this is to plan your day in a way that works best for you.

Emma, who often works from home, explained how she approaches her day. “I tend to wake up quite early. So rather than waste the morning, I use this time as my ‘productive’ time when I’m not going to be disturbed. I find this a really great time to get the things done that take a fair amount of concentration and re-reading.”

For those who aren’t early birds, you might not be so ready to tackle your deep-thinking tasks first thing. Instead, work out when you feel most able to concentrate and plan to do those tasks then. We all go through peaks and troughs throughout the day, and working from home can give you more flexibility to schedule your tasks accordingly.

You might also tend to use email more from home as you can’t just turn to someone in the office and ask for their help. To make sure you’re not constantly distracted by emails pinging in, dedicate certain times of the day to sending and responding to emails. Perhaps those times of the day where you’re usually less productive.

If you find it hard to stay motivated don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a very difficult time, and you’re doing the best you can.

Keep your routine (as much as you can)

Over the course of the last few months your situation might have changed, maybe even more than once. You might have been furloughed and are now back working again. Or perhaps you got used to having your children at home and now they’ve returned to school. This might mean you’ve found it hard to create a routine.

Keeping the same routine (as much as possible) that you have when you go into the office helps you to transition better into ‘work mode’ mentally. You might find it helpful to go for a short walk before and after work to help create the structure of a working day.

While it can be tempting to roll out of bed and stay in your pyjamas all day, home worker Michelle advises: “Get dressed and brush your hair and teeth etc. It will make you feel much more ready for the day.”

Staying connected

While there are benefits to working from home, you might also find it lonely or isolating. Many of us work better face-to-face and miss seeing our colleagues in person.

When we began working from home, many of us made an extra effort to stay social by arranging team catch-ups and informal chats over video call. However, months later you might have found these have slipped. Lots of people find video calls tiring, and when meetings aren’t mandatory it can be easy to choose to carry on working instead. If you find this is the case, why not try using messaging platforms as a way to keep the informal chats flowing?

You could also use your breaks to meet up with colleagues or friends who also work from home if you can in a safe and legal way. This could be as simple as grabbing a coffee or going for a short walk. Just remember that not everybody will feel comfortable going out at the moment.

Maintain boundaries

When your home becomes your workspace it’s important to be mindful that those lines don’t blur too much. It can be harder to switch off when you don’t ‘leave the office’ and it can lead to working longer hours. It’s important to make that mental transition between work and home. Make sure you set a boundary and pack up properly when it’s time.

Natalie says: “I make sure I shut down my computer and properly pack it all away, so I’m not tempted to check email or carry on working past the end of the day. I often plan a non-work-related activity for the end of the day to give me that sense of my workday ending and my leisure time beginning. I might go for a walk or phone a friend, or I might go into another room such as the kitchen and start prepping dinner.”

Equally it’s important that when you are working, you keep your focus.

It’s tempting to look at the news and social media frequently at the moment, but make an effort not to if you can to give yourself a break from it. The World Health Organization advises only looking at updates at specific times of the day, once or twice.

Michelle says: “I turn off my phone and any other electrical devices that might be distracting during working hours. I keep mine in a separate room switched off and only turn it on when I’m no longer working.

I also keep a separate work to-do list and a personal to-do list. And I only look at my personal one either during my lunch break or after working hours.”

Working from home can help you to get your errands done, so that you don’t have to do them all in the evenings and weekends. But it’s important to make sure that you only do this during breaks to help keep a boundary between your work and personal lives.

You might also find it helpful to talk to people you live with about the times of day when you need to be left alone to work in peace.

Embrace the positives

While working from home does have its challenges, seek out the positives where you can. A more flexible approach can give you control over your environment and the hours you work. And not having to commute is always a bonus too. Plus, not getting home late means there’s more time to plan something enjoyable into your evening.

Adapting to working from home is a bit of a trial and error, especially in the current situation. Try out the tips above and see what works best for you.

Lauren Gordon
Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK

    • Work routine. Health and Safety Executive. www.hse.gov.uk, published 12 November 2019
    • Rogers T, Milkman KL and Volpp KG. Commitment Devices: Using Initiatives to Change Behavior. JAMA 2014; 311 (20): 2065-66. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.3485
    • Facer-Childs ER, Campos BM, Middleton B et al. Circadian phenotype impacts the brain’s resting-state functional connectivity, attentional performance, and sleepiness. Sleep 2019; 42(5). doi:10.1093/sleep/zsz033
    • Holt-Lunstad J. Fostering Social Connection in the Workplace. American Journal of Health Promotion 2018. 32:1307-12. doi:10.1177/0890117118776735a
    • Mental health considerations. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 12 March 2020
    • Looking after your mental health while working during coronavirus. Mental Health Foundation. www.mentalhealth.org.uk, reviewed 11 September 2020
    • Mental health and psychosocial considerations during theCOVID-19 outbreak. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published 18 March 2020

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