Millions of workers have had to adapt to working from home in recent weeks, as a result of social isolation measures implemented by Governments to stem the spread of the coronavirus outbreak. In such situations, it is natural that practical concerns take initial priority in the first few days and weeks - setting up temporary home offices, connecting to work networks and considering what the outbreak means for short, medium- and long-term projects. However, with no official announcements yet forthcoming about how long the measures will be in place, many will be considering how to make homeworking sustainable in the medium and even long term as they adapt to new ways of working and interacting with colleagues.
One area that many employees will be particularly considering is their mental health and how it could be affected by such a sudden change in circumstances. Clearly, this is a multi-faceted topic and everyone’s individual circumstances will be different, both inside and outside of work. For this reason and for the purposes of this article, we will be looking solely into work factors which can affect an individual’s mental health and explore ways of alleviating stress and anxiety. Here’s some key elements to consider:
1. Create the best working environment you can
Not everyone is lucky enough to have a home office ready to go – and even those who have may not be used to spending many weeks operating in this space. If you are setting up a home office for the first time, you may not have a wealth of options in terms of location, especially if you are sharing the space with family members or housemates who are also unexpectedly working from home. If you can, try to set up somewhere with lots of natural light and ventilation. It can be easy to overlook how a regular dose of vitamin D from sunlight can really help to affect your mood. If others in your household are working, consider whether you would find a co-working-style set up on a kitchen table more motivating or whether separate spaces could help with concentration. It may even be that you mix things up and move to different locations throughout the day – which might be a necessity if you have children around, too. Ultimately, it’s all about creating a space that you can feel comfortable and productive in – even a few small touches like plants or pictures can go a long way in making your working space feel welcoming and ultimately help with productivity.
2. Prioritise healthy communication above all else
If you are used to working in a central office, where colleagues are mere metres away, it can be difficult to adapt to a new situation where holding a conversation is not as easy as shouting over the desk. The key to making this work when operating remotely is to communicate as often as you can, through a range of different mediums. Although email very much still has its place in disseminating information, try not to over rely on it. Where possible, pick up the phone or use a platform like Skype or FaceTime for a video call. Interacting with your colleagues in this way can help with avoiding loneliness or isolation – and will also often help you to solve an issue much more quickly. If you are a manager, insist that your team catch up as a group at least once per day to align on priorities and engender team spirit.
3. Create boundaries between work and home life
Even seasoned homeworkers can find this a particular challenge, as the lines get blurred between your working space and home. With no commute to worry about, it can be easy to fall into the trap of working longer hours or to stretch tasks out due to distractions. For these reasons, it is essential to implement healthy and build boundaries. Options to consider include:
- Set strict start and end times for your day and do all you can to stick to them
- Ensure that you get out of the house at least once a day for exercise
- Take regular breaks throughout the day, in different rooms of the house. Even ten minutes drinking coffee in the kitchen can make a difference
- Work hard to switch off in the evening, avoiding looking at emails or messages if possible
4. Do not be afraid to be honest with your employer
Even before the outbreak of the virus, mental health had enjoyed a prominent spot on the business agenda for a number of years, as leaders woke up to the importance of looking after the mental health of staff. Whilst all employers are now themselves having to think about how they adapt their operations in the face of huge restrictions on their workforce, this does not mean that you as an employee cannot raise concerns about your individual situation. Whether your query relates to childcare challenges, feelings of isolation, connectivity or equipment challenges or simply a feeling of being overwhelmed, it is important to raise your concerns with your manager and seek appropriate support, just as you would if you were operating in a physical location. If you yourself are a manager, it’s worth considering the following key elements when it comes to the mental wellbeing of staff
- Show empathy at all times
- Ask the right questions
- Possess solid listening skills
- Understand the limitations of the individual affected
- Promote self-care
- Signpost to specialist support