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The healthiest way to work from home

How can you transform your home working life to be beneficial for mind, body and soul?
Published 26 Jul 2021
7 min read
Woman working on a laptop on an outdoor table

Working from home is an almost universal preference for employees. Our latest Remote Work Report found that 94% of employees want to continue working from home for at least one day a week on a permanent basis.

Of course, there is a small minority eager to get back to the office on a full-time basis. For many of those detractors – health is a concern. Is it good for humans to be spending so much time alone at home? Are there health risks associated with long periods of time spent WFC (working from couch)? Are we at risk of losing valuable work/life balance?

Well, the answer depends on your approach.

Spending long hours hunched over a laptop on your couch is just as unhealthy as hunching over your office desk all day. Just as you can make healthy changes to your office workday, you can transform your home working life to be beneficial for mind, body and soul.

How can I set up healthy habits?

Healthy habits can be difficult to establish. Ironically, this is because many of us bite off more than we can chew. If you try to overhaul your entire working life at once, it’s pretty unlikely that anything will stick.

This can lead to people feeling like a failure because we believe we lack the willpower to do it. But willpower actually has very little to do with forming positive habits.

“Behavioral scientists who study habit formation say that many of us try to create healthy habits the wrong way,” writes Tara Parker-Pope in the New York Times. “We make bold resolutions to start exercising or lose weight, for example, without taking the steps needed to set ourselves up for success.”

Successfully building a habit doesn’t depend on you forcing yourself to do it, she writes. It’s actually all about making things easier for yourself. Before you start trying to implement these habits, she suggests, consider these points:

  • Can your new habit be tied into an existing one? Try walking around the block during a morning call or doing a quick meditation when you’re in the shower.
  • Start small, and want to do it. If you went from no exercise to running 10kms a day, there’s no way you could keep it up. Keep your new habits small and try to make them as enjoyable as possible.
  • Do it every workday. Habits can take time to create (it could take as many as 19 to 254 days), but doing them everyday will help build them faster. Try to avoid habits that you only do a couple of times a week.

 

What are the best healthy habits for working from home?

1. Take regular breaks

Although one of the major benefits of working from home is being free from distractions, putting your head down and working for hours on end is not a healthy or productive choice.

From a productivity point of view, researchers recently found that employees who took frequent breaks were more productive than those who didn’t. Taking regular breaks – like the suggested 52 minutes on, 17 minutes off model – can help in reducing fatigue, minimising distractions and improving concentration.

According to the BBC, peppering your day with ‘microbreaks’ can also have a powerful mental impact. Taking short bursts of time away from your work can reduce stress, increase engagement and even make the work itself more enjoyable.

Want to maximise your microbreak? Relax by a green space. Natural greenery, whether it’s your house pot plants or a tree outside your window, can have a calming effect – rebooting your brain for work.

And if you want to trick your body and brain into forming a microbreak habit – try this healthy hack. Keep a large bottle of water at your desk and mindlessly sip at it throughout the day. You’ll stay hydrated and force yourself to stand up to make trips to the bathroom.

2. Keep in touch with your colleagues

Have you heard of the term ‘remoteliness’? It refers to the lonely feeling you get when you haven’t seen colleagues for a long time. You may be feeling out of touch with your team or feeling isolated during long hours alone.

Of the respondents to the survey making up our Remote Work Report, 29% said they miss the camaraderie with coworkers when working remotely. But this sense of connection doesn’t have to be abandoned once you start working outside the office.

Start a habit of reaching out to your teammates regularly. Don’t feel the need to make it about work, ask how their weekend was or share a funny article. Even though this might feel a bit manufactured at first, the more you do it the easier conversations will flow. Chances are that the teammate you’re talking to is feeling the same way and is grateful for an opportunity to chat.

This is a great habit to work into your everyday routine, using instant messaging apps like Slack. Let’s say that every day after lunch you check in with a different member of your team – you’ll be feeling reconnected in no time.

3. Stand and stretch

Most people are familiar with that nasty residual ache of hunching over a desk all day.

Working from home, you don’t have to walk to meeting rooms or visit colleague’s desks – which can contribute to a sedentary lifestyle. When everything is accessible from your laptop, it’s all too easy to stay seated for hours on end.

But we really shouldn’t. A sedentary lifestyle can not only make you feel sluggish – it can negatively impact your muscles, your heart health and even your digestive health. This can all be helped with the simple act of getting up, doing some quick stretches and taking a short walk.

If you can, shoot for 10,000 steps a day. This is about one hour and forty minutes of walking in total – could you spread that out into short bursts throughout the day? Walking while taking phone calls, drinking coffee or while doing household chores could make this more achievable than you might think.

Being mindful of stretching and posture will also stop you from falling into bad habits. Make it easy for yourself – elevate your screen to eye level, use a headset for calls instead of holding a phone up to your ear and adjust your work chair so that your lower back is supported.

4. Put clear boundaries between home and work

When you work from home, do you find it harder to ‘switch off’? Do you ever feel like the lines become blurred between your personal and professional life? You’re not alone.

Our Remote Work Report found that a difficulty to switch off and blurred lines between home and work were some of the things we least like about working at home. It can be difficult to stop thinking about that important deadline or get some distance from that big project when your work laptop is staring at you from across the room.

This sense of being too close to work can cause a ‘stress spillover’ if it goes unchecked. A stress spillover essentially means that you bring all work stress home with you – the barrier between work and home life becomes eroded.

There are some simple things that you can do to strengthen that barrier.

Try and keep your working space hidden from your living space as much as possible. If you have a designated office room, try to avoid letting work leak out into the rest of your home (that means keeping the laptop far away from the couch or bed).

If your workspace is also in your living space – say you have a desk in the lounge room or bedroom – try to find a way to tuck it away in the evenings and on weekends. Whether that means packing it down into a box or disguising it with a decorative plant – you’ll find that keeping work out of sight can keep it out of mind.

The same also applies to digital workspaces. Do you have work email or instant messaging notifications turned on all the time? Receiving a work message during your downtime can distract you from valuable rest and relaxation.

Many of us are used to having work connected to our personal phones, but being on and available 24/7 can compromise work life balance and set us on a fast-track to burnout. As we move into a world that works more asynchronously – with different staff members logging on to work at different times, this can put you even more at risk of being subject to notifications all day (and night) long.

Take initiative and identify some clear ‘no-notification’ times for yourself, in which you disconnect from all digital channels. Of course, there will sometimes be urgent communications or emergencies – so let your manager or team know that if they need to contact you outside of work hours, they should send a text or give you a call.

5. For the love of all that is holy, clean your keyboard

Is cleaning your workspace – including your keyboard and mouse – a part of your household chores routine? Well we’re here to tell you that it really needs to be.

We’re sorry to tell you that according to Business Insider, your keyboard is likely dirtier than a toilet seat – regardless of whether you’re working from home or the office. How much dirtier? It could have up to 400 times the amount of bacteria on it. Gross.

We should all be cleaning our keyboards and workspaces a lot more frequently – with microbiologists suggesting that they should get a wipedown at least once a week. Disconnect your computer from power and give your keyboard a good cleansing. Try picking up your keyboard and tapping it on it’s side to dislodge any bits that might be stuck between the keys.

While you’re at it – don’t forget to give your mobile phone a wipedown too as that can get similarly filthy.

Healthy at home

There are lots of little things that you can do to make your working from home experience productive, more enjoyable and a whole lot healthier.

We’re passionate about employee wellness, wherever you’re located. Employment Hero is purpose built for employees to have their healthiest working experience – across physical, mental and financial health. Learn more about Employment Hero’s benefits for employees here.

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