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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, 26 million Americans worked remotely at least part time. That was about 16% of the country’s total workforce. Today, McKinsey reports that 58%—92 million people—can work remotely part time, and 35% have the option to work fully remote. And when given the chance to work flexibly, 87% take it.
Working from home is here to stay for many employees, and this means HR departments will need 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. 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.
Set work hours and stick to them
In 2020, Forbes found that 52% of remote workers worked longer hours at home than in the office, and those extra hours contributed to employee burnout. This hasn't changed.
A recent study reports that 40% of employees are still working longer hours at home than they did in the office—which could add up to over 193 additional working hours each year.
It can be difficult to maintain a desirable work-life balance when both work and life happen at home, but without that balance, workers can easily burn out.
To combat work-from-home burnout, encourage employees to set “office hours” at home and stick to them. Employers can 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 can signal to the brain it’s time to get to work. It puts an employee in work mode, ready to have a productive remote working day and prepared 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 prevent 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.”
This disappears with remote work, replaced either by silence or distracting sounds. Either can affect a worker’s productivity.
Employees need to find the right noise level that helps keep their work rhythm going. To eliminate silence, put on background music. Research has found that playing classical music can boost productivity and efficiency.
To drown out distracting noises like other family members’ conversations at home, use noise-canceling headphones.
Check in with colleagues virtually every day
Being lonely during the workday also hurts job performance and productivity. Little things like missing good morning hellos or conversations over coffee can contribute to loneliness for fully remote employees.
It’s important to plan for social contact throughout the day. Sometimes this happens organically due to scheduled video meetings and calls. On days when social contact doesn’t happen naturally, employees can intentionally add it to their day.
Invite your People leaders to pay attention to which employees may need more social contact during the workday, and reach out to them from time to time, just to touch base. A phone call more effectively combats loneliness than an email or text.
A final tip for being productive while working from home is to take short breaks during the day. Take a mid-morning coffee break. Don’t skip the lunch hour and consider going outside during that time to 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. 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 can become indecisive, disrupting productivity.
Taking breaks boosts creativity, too. “Aha moments,” when an employee solves a problem or comes up with a new idea, happen more often when an employee steps away to take a break.
Today, many burned out employees are also "quiet quitting"—refusing to go above and beyond at work, completely disengaging and just doing the bare minimum to get by. Read this blog to dig into the nuances of this response, and discover how to proactively address it at your organization.