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Working from home: A guide to creating a healthy and productive workspace at home

Working from home: A guide to creating a healthy and productive workspace at home

Lifestyle Adam Mackay 23rd March 2022

Continuing off from last weeks guide on overcoming common misconceptions on working from home, we will discuss how to create a productive workspace, tips on keeping in touch, routines, and more.

 

How to create a productive workspace

 

Ideally companies need much longer than COVID-19 allowed to roll out remote working properly. Given the abruptness, everyone managed well. But it wasn’t without some struggle. You might have experienced a lack of equipment, poor internet speeds, inadequate software or a lack of cybersecurity measures. That’s largely because moving towards remote working can take months.

 

Just deciding to work remotely isn’t going to guarantee benefits like improved productivity and well-being. It’s a long-term adjustment, one which both employers and employees need to commit to. And at home, you’re responsible for creating a personalised setup that works for you.

 

Essentials of a good work setup

 

It wasn’t only businesses dealing with the abrupt change. For some of us, we’ve never worked from home before. We had to set up new work spaces quickly. And if you had limited space, it could be quite a tricky task – especially if you’re used to multiple screens.

 

While some workers already had laptops, others had to struggle to get their desktops home. Some businesses let staff take chairs or other office equipment home with them, but it was all a bit of a mad rush.

 

If your employer is moving towards more flexible, remote work post COVID-19, then you have time to re-think your setup and make it suitable for the longer term. An uncomfortable, poorly thought out workspace can affect productivity. If you’ve spent any significant amount of time working from a bed or sofa during lockdown, you’ll know how quickly you realise it’s not the great idea you thought it might be.

 

First things first, you need to designate a place to work that’s as free of distractions as possible. Depending on how much space you have, you might be able to use a spare room or you’ll have to create a dedicated zone. If you have a young family, make sure they understand as much as possible that during working hours, they shouldn’t be interrupting. Of course it’s not always as easy as that, and balancing family life and work has been one of the biggest challenges of the lockdown. But a change towards remote working in the longer term is a chance to establish a much-needed structure.

 

A good desk setup

 

 

Then you need to think about your desk and how it affects your posture. You might assume everyone automatically sits ‘correctly’. But it turns out sitting is a bit of an art and doing it wrong can affect all different parts of your body. Poor posture can cause repetitive strain injury (RSI), headaches or aches and pains elsewhere.

 

Adjust your chair

 

The best chairs for working are adjustable, so that you can move the height allowing you to use your keyboard properly. This is with your wrists and forearms straight and parallel with the floor. Your elbows sit rest by the side of your body, with a 90 degree angle at the elbow joint.

 

Support your back

 

You should also be able to adjust your chair so that it supports your lower back. You can do this by changing the back position and tilt options. Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips.

 

Have your screen at eye level

 

If a screen is too high or low, you’ll be bending your neck all day. Instead, your screen should be directly in front of you (roughly an arm’s length away). If you use a laptop, you can place it on a laptop stand and use a separate keyboard to achieve this.

 

Have the keyboard straight in front of you

 

When typing, you want the keyboard to be right in front of you, making sure your arms are still bent in an L-shape with your elbows at your side. You can leave a gap of around 4-6 inches at the front of your desk to rest your wrists when you’re not typing. Some people use wrist rests for extra comfort.

 

Rest your feet on the floor

 

 

Your feet should be flat on the floor. Some people also use a footrest if that feels comfortable. You shouldn’t cross your legs.

 

Other tips include:

 

Avoid screen glare

Position the monitor away from reflections or pull blinds across the window.

 

Make frequently used objects easy to reach

This includes your mouse.

 

Avoid phone strain

 

Use a headset if you spend a lot of time on calls.

 

It’s recommended you get up and move roughly every 30 minutes.

 

Once you’ve mastered the sitting position, you can’t stay there too long. It’s recommended you get up and move roughly every 30 minutes. It could be a quick lap round the garden, a toilet break or making a drink. The important thing is getting up and moving around. You could also consider walking meetings if you just need to be on the phone and can do it without looking at your desktop or laptop.

 

The importance of routine

 

Creating a routine that works for you is just as important when you work from home – perhaps even more vital when compared to an office environment. It’s all too tempting to wake up and turn your laptop on without showering or even having breakfast. But you’ve barely had time to switch on. Equally, it’s just as easy for a lunchtime to run on for a couple of hours, or for people to be working late into the evening.

 

Of course, different people work best at different times and often flexible working patterns allow employees to suit hours that work for them. But routine is still important. When you travel to your place of work or sit with colleagues who may encourage you to take a break, it naturally creates a routine. Getting a train to the office, for example, means you’ll get up, get ready and have time on the journey for your own thoughts.

 

 

At home, you’ll have to create this routine for yourself. With a structured day, you can do that:

 

o make a good routine stick, you’ve also got to communicate with your colleagues. They need to know when they can expect a response, and when you’re unavailable to speak. When you’re working from home, you need to make these timings clear. Depending on how flexible your employer is, and once your timings are agreed, use your diary to mark out key times. For example, you can block out an hour for lunch. If your timings are likely to change daily, you’ll need to figure out a way of making sure anyone who needs to contact you regularly knows how and when to get in touch.

 

Being constantly ‘available’ to contact is one of the main causes of stress for home workers. It can definitely blur the lines between home and work life. Where you can establish and stick to a routine, it can help set expectations for communications and allow you to create distance between when you’re at work and when you’re at home.

 

Keeping in touch with colleagues or clients

 

One of the good things about an office environment is the colleagues. We’ll get through our days a little easier with a couple of conversations. We often become friends with colleagues. Working from home can feel isolating. In fact, collaboration and communication and loneliness are the two biggest struggles for remote workers.

 

Not only is spending all your work hours alone a bit lonely, it can also make certain projects harder if they require you to collaborate and you don’t have the right tools.

 

You’ve also got to remember that not everyone wants to work from home. The solitary environment doesn’t suit everyone. Although lockdown will have pushed even those who typically thrive in their own quiet company, there are people who would always rather be in an office. They like the social aspect of being surrounded by people.

 

But it turns out there could be an ideal amount of time to work remotely. The people behind the State of Remote Work Report say there is a “sweet spot” in terms of the ideal amount of remote work time that leads to the most contentment.

 

 

There's a strong correlation between people who are happy with the amount of time they work remotely, and with people who work remotely more than 75% of the time.

 

 

It does also suggest that being in the office for some time gives you that all-important change of scenery and social interaction. Just remember everyone is different. Talk to your employer about what suits you best.

 

Whatever the amount of time is that you end up spending at home, you’ll need to keep in touch with other colleagues – people who could also be in their homes, or in an office. For this, not only do you need the right tools, but it’s also about expectations. After all, at a time where there seems to be hundreds of digital products solving the problem with communication, it’s reasonable to wonder why it’s still such an issue.

 

But ask yourself questions such as the following, and you might see how communication with remote working can quickly go wrong.

 

Do you use the same tools as everyone else?

 

Have a quick chat to your colleagues, including those who work predominantly in an office. You might find that you’re communicating in a different way. If you’re all relying on different tools, it can be difficult.

 

Are response times realistic?

 

A lot of communication tools rely on instant messaging. Real-time tools can be problematic if you work flexible hours or you work with teams from different time zones. People can get left behind in conversations or feel guilty about missing some messages.

 

These are just two common communication problems remote teams face. But with the right tools and the right expectations, it’s possible for remote teams to not only keep in touch, but collaborate for great results.

 

Applications for project management and collaboration, such as Slack, Trello or Asana are great ways to keep teams in contact.

 

General productivity tips

 

We all have bad days at work. We can’t always be on the top of our game. In fact, most of us would like to make improvements to our productivity. And there are plenty of ways to do this:

 

Prioritisation

 

When faced with a long to-do list, you don’t just start at the top. To maximise productivity, you need some sort of plan. Whether you write tasks down or have a project management tool you use, you need to think about priorities. It’s easier if all of your tasks are consolidated into a single source – rather than some on emails, some on a post-it and some on Slack.

 

Once you have this master list, you can assess them based on the following four actions:

 

 

But just having a list of tasks doesn’t always help. One popular technique, introduced by Brian Tracy in Eat That Frog!: Get More Of The Important Things Done Today, suggests that when we’re overwhelmed with to-dos, we tend to either:

 

Overthink and procrastinate about the important things on the list – so much so we make them seem impossible or unpleasant.

Solve all the small annoying tasks first to get them over with.

According to Tracy, this is just treading water. Instead, his concept of eating that frog prompts you to do the hardest task on your to-do list first thing every morning – a time when most people are at their most productive. The rest of your day will be a lot more enjoyable.

 

Delegation

 

One important thing you need to remember is that you don’t have to do it all yourself. This can be difficult for people who enjoy having control over every step. But if you’re too busy, you just end up being a bottleneck. Let other people do the tasks they’re capable of doing.

 

It’s also worth learning how to say no more often. It’s tempting to agree to additional tasks or projects, even if you have a full workload. But this just ends up in disappointment and frustration for everyone involved if you can’t deliver. Saying no is all about learning to be realistic about what you can and can’t do.

 

Focus

 

Distractions are one of the biggest time-stealers. For example, say you get 30 emails in a day. If you check your inbox every time you get an alert, that’s 30 distractions. And according to research on multitasking, it takes time and energy to switch between tasks. According to Gloria Mark, who studies digital distraction at the University of California, it takes 23 minutes and 15 seconds to return to the original task after an interruption. What a waste of time. To stop getting distracted, try the following:

 

Eliminate distractions

 

Don’t rely on your willpower. Mute notifications or alerts when you need to focus. There’s even a Chrome extension (Momentum) which reminds you of your focus each time you open a new browser tab. It could stop you aimlessly browsing the web when you should be working.

 

Don’t attend all meetings

 

We need to get into the habit of asking ourselves whether our presence is needed at all the meetings we attend. It can be a bit tricky if you’re not the one organising the meeting, as many businesses have a meeting culture where you must attend. But it’s something to think about if you have the opportunity to raise it.

 

Maintaining a work-life balance

 

There’s a lot of talk about work-life balance. It seems quite an elusive thing to achieve. We all know how work stresses can travel home with us, or what it’s like when home life affects our productivity at work. But it can be an even bigger challenge when your home is also your place of work.

 

After all, it’s where most remote workers would prefer to be. The State of Remote Work 2020 report shows that remote workers primarily work in the following locations:

 

So how do you master the balancing act? The aim is to have a productive working day, one that doesn’t interrupt your own downtime at home. It’s not an easy task, but one that everyone working from home should aim for. You might never complete it, but you’ll definitely feel better for trying.

 

What to do if you’re experiencing workplace stress

 

While the odd stressful day or a certain amount of pressure may be natural in the workplace, no-one’s work should make them feel regularly stressed. Creating balance is important as without it, work stresses can be overwhelming and affect all aspects of our lives.

 

Signs you could be experiencing workplace stress include:

 

- Mood swings

- Being withdrawn

- Loss of motivation, commitment and confidence

- Increased emotional reactions – being more tearful, sensitive or aggressive

Source: HSE

 

You could also be taking more sick days or have noticed an impact on your performance – delivering work late, for example. Nobody wants to do a bad job at work, and this guilt can end up adding to your stresses. If you feel like things are starting to get on top of you, be proactive about it.

 

Although when our stress levels are high, we might feel uncertain, there are ways to regain control. These include:

 

Talking to your employer

 

Workplaces vary. Some operate with small teams and it can be easily noticeable if someone is feeling stressed. Within larger operations, things may go unnoticed. But it’s up to you to talk to someone – whether that’s your manager or a dedicated HR department. The company has an incentive to tackle workplace stress and will want you feeling better. They could suggest things like:

 

Workplace stress

Clarifying your job description and expectations

 

A lot of stress can come from a lack of clarity over job duties and responsibilities. You may have had a lot of tasks added to your workload which shouldn’t really be there. Sorting this out can reduce some stress.

 

Changing your responsibilities

 

It might be that a change of duties is actually what’s needed. Something new can make all the difference, breathing new life into your working routine.

 

Taking time off

 

You may need a complete break from work. Either holiday or temporary sick leave will completely remove you from work. It can help you gain perspective and return to work feeling refreshed.

 

In an attempt to reduce workplace stress, you might also want to tackle how you respond to challenging situations too. For example, at work, a lot of things are beyond our control. We spend far too much time focusing on those and stressing ourselves out. Instead, we should be looking at the things we can control, including how we react to problems.

 

Everyone will experience stress differently, but the following things may help you tackle why you’re feeling under pressure:

 

Are you striving for perfectionism?

 

Perfect is unrealistic. You are essentially setting yourself up for failure, which can result in stress. Instead, just aim to do your best.

 

Are you fixating on the negative side of things?

 

Try and flip negative thoughts into something positive. For example, praising yourself for small accomplishments, rather than criticising yourself for not doing enough.

 

Could you see this in a humorous way?

 

Laughing at things always lightens the mood. It can definitely relieve stress. Although you should remain professional, it doesn’t mean you have to take everything too seriously.

 

Could you tidy up your surroundings?

 

Untidy environments can contribute to stress. Keeping on top of mess and making sure your work area is clutter-free can help in those moments when you feel stressed.

 

This guide was brought to you by Cotswold Co.

 

If you are looking for a property with good work from home space, contact us on 01279 600 567 / hello@mackayproperty.co.uk

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