The coronavirus pandemic has led to a massive rise in flexible and remote working. Now, as restrictions lift, many bosses are opting to make the changes of the last 15 months permanent.
Adapting to working from home presents unique challenges for employers and employees, not least among them, learning how and when to switch off. Reports have found that those who have worked from home since March last year have recorded increased hours, some by more than 25%.
The problem has led to the UK government being urged to follow the example of France, by introducing a law to stop remote employees working longer hours.
The “right to disconnect” law states that French workers do not have to look at work emails or take work calls outside of their normal working hours. Supporters of the law state that it reduces the risk of stress, burnout, sleep problems and relationship difficulties.
So, will the “right to disconnect” law be introduced here and what other steps can you take to reduce your risk of stress when working from home?
1. Create or modify your workspace
You might have been settling into home working since March last year, but if the move has recently become permanent, now could be the time to make any modifications you’ve been meaning to make, but not got round to.
You might fully convert the spare room, buy that home office chair you’ve been coveting since the first lockdown, or rethink where a full-time workstation sits.
Whatever changes you make, you’ll want to make sure the environment is comfortable, has sufficient natural light, and allows you to successfully manage the distractions of home life.
2. Give yourself a clear cut-off between home and work
If your workspace is separate from the main house or you have a designated office, that’s great. You should be able to close the door and switch off. If not, be sure to clear away any signs of work at the end of the business day.
Having set routines will help with this, as will ensuring that your smart devices are not connected to work email accounts. Bear the “right to disconnect” principles in mind and create a distinction between home and work.
As well as establishing your start and end time, also add half an hour at the end of the day to tie up loose ends. Tick completed items off your to-do list and move incomplete ones to the list for the next day.
Acknowledging what has and hasn’t been completed and taking control of your agenda for the following day should help to lessen work worries.
3. Remember to take breaks
Be sure to work in short bursts, taking regular breaks to stretch your legs and rest your eyes.
Incorporate exercise into your working day too. Make the most of your former commuting time by going for a morning walk and take short breaks in the fresh air throughout the day.
These will allow you to re-energise and refocus, giving you a fresh perspective and lessening the chance of work pressure getting on top of you.
4. Manage distractions
You might find that it is easier to become distracted when working from home. Having a routine and taking regular breaks will help but they alone might not be enough. Technology might be the answer.
As well as apps like Todoist and Habitica that can help you tick off tasks you want to complete – and even reward you for doing so – you might consider RescueTime.
The app sits on the taskbar of your Windows 10 or macOS 10.12+ computer. Working in the background, it logs the time you spend on different apps and websites, using billions of hours of data collected from other users to set you a “Focus Work Goal”.
It can remind you of upcoming meetings, the need to take a break or nudge you when you get distracted.
If you set yourself a “Focus Session”, the app will even block access to your most distracting apps, allowing you to stay focused and stress-free.
5. Keep communicating
In April 2020, at the start of the first UK lockdown, HA&W’s 6 tips to improve communication if you’re working from home might have provided much-needed early help.
Staying connected with colleagues is vital for your own wellbeing and the good of your business and technology makes it easy.
Use of video conferencing because although emails and instant messages are great for brief exchanges, face-to-face chat is always best.
You could even arrange a brief catch-up for a “water-cooler” chat. Maintaining working relationships through small talk can be beneficial to your mental health and help you avoid stress, so make sure not all your communication is work-related.
When your communication is directly connected to the business, use diarised video meetings to check in with colleagues to make sure everyone is on the same page and provide any support.
Make sure instructions are clear. While digital instructions are easy to refer back to, they are also open to misinterpretation. Consider the context of your message because, without body language and tone of voice, the context might not be obvious.
Be concise, but always follow up with a face-to-face meeting to avoid the added stress of unnecessary confusion.