WFH here to stay? 5 healthy ways to remote work
6 minute read
If the perks of Working From Home seem tempting long term, research also shows that it can leave us vulnerable to greater work stress. Vhi Health Coach & Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist Martina Gibbons offers advice on striking the right work-life balance and dealing with the obstacles we encountered in lockdown.
As recently as February 2020, Zoom wasn’t even on the radar for many of us. Now we’ve reached a point where ‘Zoom’ is paired with ‘fatigue’ in an everyday phrase all of us can nod along to – or sigh at the sound of it.
For many, this is a remote work experience we never asked for. However, as the lockdown months passed, many workers learned to adjust and are now comfortable and well set-up in home offices.
You might even prefer it, if it gives you more time for family or stops you having to make unnecessary journeys. As we are unlikely to return to exactly how things were, we must do better than the initial baptism of fire when work, home and schooling responsibilities were all thrown together, competing for attention in a small physical space. If you are continuing with WFH in some capacity, you want to maximise the benefits and minimise the work stress. With that in mind…
1. Don’t be tied to your desk
It is important to schedule a walk or some exercise before sitting at the computer. It is also vital to setting the tone for the working day and can, in one way, replace the commute and the divide between home and work. Along the same lines, while the jokes about working in your pyjamas persist, it is widely recognised that how we dress impacts our readiness for work and overall mood. Scheduling breaks, stretching, moving, getting outside for fresh air and resting regularly are all paramount to maintain energy levels. Meditation can also help you recharge.
2. Set up an afterwork ritual
Your brain will benefit from a signal that tells it work is over. This could be going for a walk to simulate a commute, picking up a magazine or simply saying a phrase like “work is complete” when you shut your computer down. After uttering that magic phrase, if a work-related worry pops into your mind, tell yourself: “I’ve said the magic phrase so I will deal with that when I am in work.”
3. Avoid “multitasking”
Research shows that trying to do multiple things at once cuts into performance. You have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, so what you’re really doing is task-switching. This can waste as much as 40% of your productive time. Stanford researchers found that people who are multitasking can’t remember things as well as their more singularly-focused peers. The next time you’re on a video chat, close any tabs that might distract you, put your phone away, and stay present. It’s tempting but try to remind yourself that the text message you just got can wait 15 minutes.
Indeed, it’s helpful to set aside a specific time to go through all of your emails, then move on to other projects with a clear head and proper focus. If at all possible, block off one day every week where you don’t schedule calls, meetings or even social events. This catch-up time will ensure you won’t feel quite as hassled the rest of the week and help with managing stress at work. If you can’t block off an entire day, schedule a few hours on your calendar so that it is a block that feels as “real” as a meeting.
4. Tackle that Zoom fatigue
Why are video calls so draining? Well, if you’re in a large conference room, you can whisper to a colleague to quickly catch-up. Whereas video forces us to focus more intently to absorb information. Compounding this, our screens make it easier to lose this focus.
The way we process information over video is also unusual. The only way to show we’re paying attention is to look at the camera. But, in real life, how often do you stand within three feet of a colleague and stare at their face? Probably never. This is because having to engage in a constant gaze makes us uncomfortable — and tired. Most of us are also staring at a small window of ourselves, making us hyper-aware of every wrinkle, expression, and how it might be interpreted. Without the visual breaks we need to refocus, our brains grow fatigued.
With all that in mind, some suggestions:
- Turn off your video feed in large meetings
- Schedule total screen breaks between your calls
- Consider scheduling breaks during particularly long meetings
- For external calls, avoid defaulting to video, especially if you don’t know each other well. Many people now feel a tendency to treat video as the default for all communication. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations.
Check your calendar to see if there are conversations you could have over email instead. If you are “Zoomed out” but have an upcoming one-on-one, ask the person to switch to a phone call or suggest picking up the conversation later so you can both recharge. Try something like: “I’d love a break from video calls. Do you mind if we do this over the phone?” Most likely the other person will be relieved by the switch, too.
5. Aim for balance
Finally, let’s go back to that work-life balance. Almost half of the respondents to the Mental Health First Aid Ireland survey (49%) were working over their contracted hours. Research show that your productivity actually drops dramatically when you work over 50 hours, and 10-hour days increase the risk of heart issues. Letting your job consume you is unhelpful and unhealthy, making small problems seem exceptional.
It doesn’t mean that you don’t care about work, it means caring more about yourself. Carving out time for people you love, for exercise, for guilt-free breaks. Remind yourself that few people look back at their lives and wish they’d stayed in the office until 10pm every night. That includes the home office! So, if you’ve been burning the candle at both ends, consider this your permission slip to put on some comfy clothes and enjoy a night off. Your work will be there tomorrow, wherever you choose to do it.
This content is for information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek advice from your GP or an appropriate medical professional if you have concerns about your health, or before commencing a new healthcare regime. If you believe that you are experiencing a medical emergency call 999 / 112 or seek emergency assistance immediately.
Meet our Vhi Verified Expert
Vhi Health Coach
Registered Mental Health Nurse, Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist, Psychologist and Adjunct Teaching Fellow at Trinity College Dublin