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How a workspace impacts your mental health when working remotely

With the right approach, remote working can be successful and engaging.
people at work

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the way we worked was already changing rapidly. However, the rapid acceleration of the situation has forced many companies to quickly resort to Plan B: remote working. The traditional concept of fixed hours at a fixed workstation has been challenged to its core but an overnight change is never without its challenges, and remote working is no different.

For professionals, one of the biggest strains that this brings is taking us out of our comfort zone. The change of routine, no longer interacting face-to-face and struggling to divide between home and work while it’s all in one place are just some of the challenges that we can face.

A shock to the system

The idea of working from home for longer than a day or two at a time is completely alien to many, and the speed at which the workplace landscape has occurred could have significant effects on the mental health of employees.

Forbes argue that for those who are accustomed to “office life” and a steady rate of social interactions at the office, “the shift to remote work as a result of social distancing procedure during the COVID-19 pandemic might cause a surprising, even if relatively mild, deterioration of mental health.“ According to the 2019 State of Remote Work report, when asked about the biggest problem with remote working, 22% of respondents alluded to not being able to unplug from work, while 19% said loneliness was their biggest issue.

For many companies this will be a trial and error exercise but there are a number of ways of ensuring employee well-being during this difficult time.

Solid foundations: physical health

The link between physical and mental health is undeniable. The way we take care of our bodies has a direct impact on our mood and overall well-being. When we eat well and exercise adequately, we tend to feel better.

Those who work from home should avoid the temptation of unhealthy snacks in the kitchen and other junk food. The sugar rush from such foods has a negative impact on concentration levels across the working day.

If possible, leaving the house for 20-30 minutes exercise per day, be it a walk, a jog, a bike ride or even heading to the gym, is a great way to let off steam and disconnect from work. If you are unable to leave your house, there are also plenty of online tutorials to help you work out at home.

Moreover, adults require between seven and nine hours of sleep per night to rest and perform optimally the next day. Less than that - or more - will mean a drop in productivity and an increase in physical and mental health problems. Reading and avoiding using your phone before bed will also help achieve a good night’s rest.

Maintaining a routine and staying in touch

If you usually wake up at 07:00 and have a coffee while watching the news, or if you go for a run every Wednesday evening, then don’t let remote working change that. It is imperative that those who work from home maintain their routine, from the time they get up in the morning to what they like to do in their spare time. Structure is extremely important for us to remain sharp and alert so that we can perform to the best of our ability at work.

There’s also a need for remote workers to maintain relationships with co-workers and managers. For workers who are used to their group coffee at 10:30, why not organize a quick group call for a quick catch up while enjoying a fresh brew? Staying in touch with colleagues helps to maintain that feeling of belonging and is a good way to take a break from work.

Switching off

The New York Post report that 35% of workers who telecommute said their mental health had deteriorated as a result of doing so amid the coronavirus lockdown, according to a survey conducted by researchers at Keio University in Tokyo, among other institutions. The study showed that 41.3% of this affected group said it was difficult to separate their work and personal lives, followed by 39.9% who said they weren’t able to do enough exercise, and 39.7% who said they had difficulty communicating with co-workers.

When working from home, it can be all too easy to feel like you should be connected to your work device from early morning to late at night. Remote working should not damage efficiency or lead us into bad habits like saying “I‘ll look at that report after dinner.“ A 2019 survey by cloud infrastructure company Digital Ocean found that 82% of remote tech workers in the U.S. felt burnt out, with 52% reporting that they work longer hours than those in the office, and 40% feeling as though they needed to contribute more than their in-office colleagues.

Therefore, the need for employees to follow working hours as they would in the office is vital; they cannot become prisoners to their work. Catching up with friends and maintaining a social life is as important as ever.

For a healthy future

Key measures of success when it comes to remote working will naturally be efficiency and productivity but two that cannot be forgotten are employee morale and welfare. If today‘s workforce is unable to maintain a healthy work-life balance then their work will eventually be negatively impacted. Forbes report that “89% of workers at companies that support well-being initiatives are more likely to recommend their company as a good place to work,” and given the huge proportion of our lives we spend working, the responsibility on companies to actively promote well-being has never been greater.

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