Working from home is by no means a phenomenon unique to 2020, but as the country is plunged into a second lockdown, it is once again an unsolicited requirement for many. Not only that, but this new reality might be here to stay, with 82 percent of UK businesses saying that they were considering continuing with at least part-time remote working in the future following the pandemic.
This time, the UK’s workforce is more prepared for the irregularities of working from home. But as the weeks since March have turned into months, and the novelty of commuting downstairs has worn off, it may have also started to become clear that many of these rapidly constructed home working setups weren’t created with the longer term in mind.
From backache caused by dining room chairs, to burnout from overworking, we break down the most common traps people fall into while working from home, and how to remedy them and create the perfect working from home environment.
1. The right setup
Getting the layout of the chair, desk and other work equipment right is probably the most important aspect of working from home. It might seem obvious, but without the ergonomic chair, standard desk height of 29 inches and coffee machine one’s office might normally be equipped with, getting the setup right at home is easier said than done.
The best place to work would be somewhere separate to usual living areas such as your bedroom. For example, a spare room or study would be perfect, especially as at the end of the working day the door could be shut on work and not opened until the next morning, physically compartmentalising work life.
Of course, not everyone has the luxury of an extra room, or often the household has more than one person who needs space to work. In these instances, getting the setup right is doubly important. These are the things to focus on:
A good chair: unfortunately, dining chairs are rarely the right height, and don’t encourage the necessary upright posture. Ideally, the chair will have an adjustable height, be able to roll and have lumbar support for the lower back.
Desk and chair at ‘working height’: the way to check this is correct is if when sitting up straight, the forearms are parallel to the ground, and wrists are not bent up or down when typing. This will help prevent backache and reduce the risk of repetitive strain injury (RSI). Additionally, it’s a good idea to get up and move around every so often, so as not to keep the body in the same position for too long.
Good lighting: having light that is either too bright or too dim can result in eye strain. The perfect lighting is bright enough to read by without needing extra light, and the brightness of the computer screen should be just a little more than that of the ambient lighting.
2. A good internet connection
We have been compelled to engage with a wider variety of technologies during this time to stay connected to each other as well as to work effectively. Everyone has had to adapt to stay in touch, from teaching grandparents to use Skype over the phone to conducting meetings over Zoom instead of in person.
To do all these things, it’s really important to have a fast and stable broadband connection. And with most people working from home at the moment, it’s helpful to remember that the more people using the internet within a household at the same time, the higher the speeds needed. This is particularly true during those video meetings, which are especially bandwidth intensive.
For staying online while working from home, we recommend broadband that is at least superfast – which are speeds of between 30Mpbs and 50Mbps.
3. Burnout and ‘technostress’
This has been perhaps the least anticipated but one of the most widely experienced consequences of working from home. Perhaps in an effort to prove their productivity when they haven’t seen their boss in months and confronted by their computers and emails at all hours of the day, many employees are working longer hours than usual. Just by working from home, there no longer exists a physical separation between work and home life and if someone consistently works longer hours, this can lead to burnout.
In addition to this, the increased use of technology can also have a negative effect on mental wellbeing and can even lead to a condition called ‘technostress’. An example of this when people start to believe that a rapid response to an email is a signifier of their competence at their job, or think that being seen to work ‘out of hours’ helps to signal their credibility. It’s easy to see how this can get out of control, especially when someone is constantly around their computer or laptop.
The solution to these issues relates in part back to the separation of the home office setup, but for those who have no option but to work in their bedrooms, kitchens and sitting rooms, this last piece of advice is especially important: getting into a routine.
Where it might not be possible to physically isolate the workspace from the living space, getting into a routine is another way to introduce boundaries between the two. For example, waking up at the same time every morning, and replicating the morning commute by going for a walk or picking up a coffee will help the mind and body prepare for the day’s work. And again, at lunch, try taking a break away from the computer. Not going online first thing in the morning and making sure not to work through lunch will add more of those all-important boundaries and minimise burnout and technostress.
In this together
It’s helpful to remember that the majority of people across the country are encountering these same issues. Employers, whilst perhaps not having seen them physically for a time, have had more of an insight into workers’ personal lives, and, in trying to balance their own life, also recognise that work and home cannot easily be kept completely separate while working remotely. What’s most important at the moment is that everyone looks after themselves, working from home as best they can, and channelling energy into maintaining a work-life balance – all while recognising that it’s often easier said than done.