Working from Home: Hints & Habits

In recent weeks, many of us went from commuting into an office environment to returning to our home offices. Another shift in our working routine isn’t ideal, so here are our top tips to help working from home seem a little less gloomy.

1. Prioritise exercise and physical activity #

Working from home more means we will be reducing natural forms of activity, such as walking to the bus, climbing the tube stairs and leaving our desks to get lunch. It also means we will be stuck inside for longer periods of time, missing the fresh air and sunshine vital to keep our immune systems in good shape. Many people will also find their regular form of exercise disrupted if, for example, your gym or sports club is closer to your place of work.

  • If you don’t have a regular form of exercise, the easiest thing is to walk outside, either before or after your normal working hours or at lunchtime. If you don’t normally have time to exercise before or after work, now is the time to speak with you manager about altering your work hours to fit something in. It needs to work for you and be enjoyable, otherwise you will just not stick with it. 
  • Stay connected with friends or close colleague via WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype or Zoom to maintain your commitment and interact socially. 
  • The internet and YouTube are now filled with different online classes and activities. If you decide to try something new, start gently and gradually increase your activity level. Variety is important. 
  • At Pure Sport Medicine, we’re already seeing an increase in overload” injuries resulting from people rapidly increasing the amount of activity they do, e.g. running. Consider investing in a weekly personal 1:1 class tailored to your activity level and your goals. This could be strength or weight training, Pilates or yoga and stretching (or a combination of these). 
  • No other event has made us all realise the important role that exercise plays in keeping us mentally healthy as well as physically fit. Exercise releases endorphins, the happy hormones that all of us need at this time of upheaval and anxiety. It also helps us take a break from staring at our laptops and TV screens and thinking about the latest news reports and work stresses. 
  • When we exercise, it is important to be present in the moment; to focus on where we are and what we are doing. The Headspace App has some great mindfulness exercises to be done in combination with walking and other physical activity, but we can achieve the same goals by being aware of our surroundings, the sounds we hear, our breathing and our heart rate.

2. Establish a routine for getting up and going to bed #

Not having to go into the office may feel like a bit of a holiday to begin with. It’s tempting to stay up late binge-watching TV or to sleep in and work later into the night. While it’s OK to do this for a few days to help get your head around all the craziness, the research shows that effective sleep is produced by having a consistent time of getting up and going to bed. 

This doesn’t mean you have to be an early bird when your natural inclination is to be a night owl. Though society has a tendency to see waking up early as morally superior and more reflective of hard-working tendencies, there is no evidence to support this. 

This period of enforced home working could help you establish a more productive workday because you are allowed to follow your own body’s natural habits. Select a wake-up time that you can naturally observe every day, including weekends. You’ll obviously need to agree this with your employer, but realistically there are very few roles that can’t have an element of flexibility in the current climate.

3. Create a designated working environment #

If you are not careful, work quickly bleeds into home life and you find yourself unable to switch off effectively. A designated working environment isn’t just about having a place where your laptop and paperwork is set up, it’s also about keeping to your regular morning work routine – get up, get showered and get dressed. 

Your regular routine will get you into work mode”, which will help you switch on to work productively, and allow you to switch off once you shut your computer down. A designated workspace that you can leave at the end of the working day is also important. If you work in the kitchen or on the dining room table, you should pack things up at the end of the day so these spaces now form part of home”.

Separate work hours from leisure time. Start work at a specific time, stop for lunch and finish at the end of the day as you would normally. Avoid stopping work in the middle of the day to read a book or watch TV (other than at lunch time) or you may find yourself feeling guilty and continuing to work into the evening when you should have shut the laptop and email down.

Don’t be tempted to do more because you are not spending significant periods commuting. Think of this time as a Marathon not a sprint — it is important not to burn out by overworking initially. Many people (myself included) have thought this would be a good time to get all of those projects on the To Do” list done and tried to make an immediate start. The reality is that we’ve had to continuously re-adjust our lives and this takes huge amounts of mental energy. 

Go easy on yourself for a few weeks and get used to the routine. Things will settle and you are then likely to have some breathing space to look at the project work and get your creative juices flowing.

4. Eat wisely #

Many of us turn to food as a source of comfort when we are stressed and anxious, and the temptation to rewards ourselves with treats is strong.

Try to maintain the discipline of regular meal times where you can prepare a proper meal and concentrate on the food you are eating. Avoid too many carbohydrates like biscuits, crackers and muesli bars and ensure you are getting plenty of protein in your diet. Boiled eggs, cold chicken and salmon are great sources of protein and foods like peanut butter and hummus combined with carrots, cucumber and broccoli make good snacks if needed. Dark chocolate, nuts, berries and Greek yogurt are good sweet treats. 

Be mindful of what you are eating to keep your immune system in an optimal state – plenty of fruit and vegetables including lots of leafy greens like spinach, broccoli and kale. A good tip is to try and have a variety of coloured foods in your diet – red tomatoes, blueberries, orange salmon, green beans, yellow peppers etc.

5. What about ergonomics”? #

The most important things in setting up your home/​workspace are comfort and variability. Research has shown there is a poor link between poor posture” and pain. So – there is no such thing as ideal sitting posture” or a correct work set up”. You don’t need an expensive or specific chair or a desk at a certain height. Find a chair that you feel comfortable sitting in and don’t worry about having to sit upright all the time or sitting on the edge of the chair to maintain the arch in your back. It’s completely OK to slouch in the seat for a period as long as you are comfortable. Equally, if you feel more comfortable sitting back in the seat with your back supported, that is fine as well (but it’s not essential!). Have your laptop or computer in a position where your shoulders feel relaxed and comfortable and you can see the screen and ensure your paperwork and other equipment is within easy reach. The worst thing you can do is think that you need to maintain a certain position or only move within the confines of certain space.

6. Instead — get moving! #

Avoid sustained positions and move around regularly. This is the most important thing we can do to reduce and prevent work related aches and pains. When we are working from home, we often have less reason to get up from where we are sitting and can find that we’ve sat for a couple of hours without changing our position. Sustained positions mean we are putting stresses and strains on joints and muscles for prolonged periods, which reduces the blood flow to these structures and causes increases in mechanical pressure. It’s a bit like walking around with your fist clenched or your jaw clenched for a prolonged period. Find reasons to get up and move – make a coffee, reach for a pen, stand up to make a phone call — or just set an alarm to stand up, bend sideways, roll your shoulders around and twist to either side before sitting down again. 

Desk Based Exercises — Jen Touzel, Physiotherapist

7. Set news limits #

At present, the constant talk about Covid-19 is overwhelming. It’s on TV, social media, newspapers and magazines and it’s also the primary topic of conversation amongst friends and family. While there is a benefit to staying up to date with current developments, too much information (much of it speculative) can take a toll on our mental wellbeing. To manage this, there are several things you can do:

  • Ensure you get your information from trustworthy and accurate sources. Consider where you are getting your information from. The most up to date and accurate advice can be found on the Government’s website: https://​www​.gov​.uk/​c​o​r​o​n​a​virus
  • Set time limits. The news is 247 and it is easy to be constantly tuned to the TV or radio. Limit your viewing to certain times of the day and limit the length of time you spend on social media.
  • Avoid checking the news before you go to bed
  • Tell people if you’d rather not talk about Coronavirus. It’s understandable that conversations revolve around current events, but it is completely acceptable not to want to talk about it all the time. Ensure you are not bottling up your feelings or concerns and seek support when you need it.
  • Read good news stories too. There is still a lot of good happening around us. Positive news doesn’t diminish the crisis but it gives a sense of balance and supports our mental health. 

8. Talk to friends and colleagues #

Spending all day at a computer often means our default mode of communication becomes email, add to that the WhatsApp messages and memes and it can be completely overwhelming. 

Working from home means we obviously miss out on face to face interaction and casual conversations with our work colleagues. While many elements of our lives have changed, most of us are still filling time with other things we can discuss with family, friends and colleagues – the challenges of DIY, books we are reading and how much long division has changed since we were at school. 

Make a point to pick up the phone or video call a friend, family member or colleague at least a couple of times a day. Talking provides us with an opportunity to discuss our worries and concerns, to recognise we are not dealing with this crisis alone and to provide much needed support for one another.

Quick Tips #

Prioritise exercise

Exercise is essential to maintaining good mental and physical health and wellbeing.

Establish a routine 

Helps create a more productive workday, allows your body to follow it’s natural habit & promotes better sleep habits.

Create a designated working environment

This helps you switch on and off from work mode’. Pack things up at the end of the day, or leave the room – to switch back into home mode’.

Eat Wisely

Try to stick to regular meal times and be mindful of what you are eating to keep your immune system in an optimal state.

Think comfort and variability at the desk

Don’t feel confined to one way of sitting at the desk, ensure you are comfortable and relaxed.

Move more

Avoid long periods of sitting or sustained positions and move around regularly. 

Set news limits

Limit your consumption of news and social media to certain times of the day and avoid it before bed. 

Keep communicating

Call friends, family or colleagues a couple of times a day to keep connected and support each other.