When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many employees found themselves working from home, learning to navigate their professional lives away from the office, away from their colleagues, and away from many of the conveniences an office can provide. But, even before the pandemic sent many workers to their home desks in 2020, remote working—also known as telecommuting—was growing in popularity.
In 2019, The American Psychological Association reported that more than 26 million Americans worked remotely at least part time. That was about 16% of the country’s total workforce. With the pandemic, those numbers quickly rose to about 42% as workers telecommuted to help with social distancing, according to USA Today.
Even after it’s safe to go back to the office, many of those workers hope to be able to continue to telecommute. A recent survey found that many employees who switched to remote working during the pandemic would like to make that switch permanent. And, of those who want to continue working from home, 29% say they’ll quit their jobs rather than go back to the office.
Because working from home is here to stay for many employees, HR departments will increasingly find it necessary to advise employees on best work-from-home practices. These tips can help with remote workplace wellness.
Have a dedicated workspace
A separate home office is ideal, but not everyone has an extra room for an office. However, working from a dedicated workspace—one that’s the same each day even if it’s not a separate room—puts an employee in the frame of mind to stay on task. If possible, avoid making that space the couch or a bed because the workspace should be a place that is mentally associated with being on the clock, not relaxation. Importantly, the dedicated workspace is also a place to walk away from when off the clock, according to Time.
Set work hours and stick to them
A pre-pandemic 2019 study found that 52% of remote workers said they worked longer hours at home than in the office, according to Forbes. Those extra hours contributed to employee burnout. There’s evidence that those who are temporarily working from home because of the pandemic are putting in longer hours than they did in the office, too.
It can be difficult to maintain a desirable work-life balance when both work and life are done at home, but without that balance, workers can burn out. To combat work-from-home burnout, companies should encourage employees to set “office hours” at home and stick to them. Employers should also encourage management to know their employees’ work-from-home hours and respect them.
Get up and get dressed
Getting out of bed and dressing in work-appropriate clothes—business casual is usually fine at home—can signal to the brain it’s time to get to work. It puts an employee in work mode, one where they’re ready to have a productive remote working day. It also ensures their ready for any unexpected video calls.
And for those who may have trouble sticking to their set work hours, changing out of those work clothes at the end of the day may be helpful, too. Changing from business or business casual clothes to jeans, yoga pants, or sweats can mentally signal that the workday is done, helping to prevent worker burnout.
Find the right noise level
Even if an office isn’t considered noisy, there’s usually a “buzz” happening around employees while they sit at their desks. That “buzz” can come from the sound of co-workers having a conversation, music playing through office speakers, or a printer spitting out pages. Workers become accustomed to the sounds of an office and become comfortable with that office “buzz.”
That “buzz” is gone when working remotely, replaced either by silence or distracting sounds. Either can affect a worker’s productivity. Employees should find the right noise level that helps keep their work rhythm going. For the silence, they can put on background music. For distracting noises such as other family members’ conversations at home, they can use noise-canceling headphones to drown the distractions out.
Check-in with colleagues virtually every day
According to CNN Business, workplace loneliness can hurt productivity. Little things like missing good morning hellos or chats when having coffee can contribute to loneliness in work-from-home employees. It’s important to plan for social contact throughout the day. Sometimes social contact happens organically because there are necessary video meetings to attend and phone calls to jump on. On days where social contact doesn’t happen naturally, it needs to be added into the day.
While employees can create their own social connections, not all will. Management should attempt to be aware of which employees don’t have much social contact, and contact them from time to time. A phone call is much better to help combat loneliness than an email or text.
A final tip for being productive when working from home is to regularly stop that productivity for short periods during the day. Take a mid-morning coffee break. Don’t skip the lunch hour and perhaps get outside during that time, breathe the fresh air, and soak up some vitamin D—which studies find is associated with higher productivity.
During breaks, it’s important to move, too. Psychology Today says getting out of the chair and moving, by doing some simple exercise for five minutes such as stretching, yoga, or walking, can reduce the negative health effects of sitting for too long.
Breaks can also help prevent “decision fatigue.” When workers don’t get mental breaks, they often resort to the quickest and easiest decision instead of the best decision. They may also become indecisive, disrupting productivity.
Research shows that breaks support creativity, too. “Aha moments,” when an employee solves a problem or comes up with a new idea, happen more often to those who take breaks.
At Spring Health, we can help HR departments create a work-from-home program for their employees that keeps them productive and protects their mental health. Contact us to request a demo today.