Looking after your wellbeing when working from home

25 March 2020

With many of us now working remotely, some for the first time, it is important to think differently about the way we work together. People will experience this change in different ways, and it will be easier for some than others, for a variety of reasons.  For all of us, it will involve a sudden change in behaviour and routine, all while the impact of the extraordinary global health pandemic continues to evolve.

For staff who may have caring responsibilities, be self-isolating or find it harder to do their work from home, this is an especially challenging time.  Concern for our own health and that of our loved ones as well as dealing with how rapidly the situation is changing will also affect us.  We may also be trying to keep children occupied if childcare and schools are not available.

There are lots of things to consider as we make this transition, and it's important that we take care of ourselves and each other first and foremost. Keeping to a routine, maintaining a work/life balance, checking in on each other and communicating clearly are just some of the ways we can make this transition smoother.  The University is continuing to develop a suite of supporting tools and resources to help you. 

You can check the website for updates here: https://www.anu.edu.au/news/all-news/community-updates

On this page you will find:

 

Tips on setting up a working from home schedule and dedicated work area

Keep a regular schedule

Sticking to a familiar routine as much a possible is important and it helps not just your work schedule but also your sleeping routine. Getting good rest is important, as is making time to ensure you are eating well and finding ways and time to exercise and keep active at home.

The current circumstances mean you may need to adjust your normal routine and schedule but it is still important to keep your alarm set to its usual time and get showered and dressed by the time you'd usually be leaving the house to commute to work.  Don't forget to include periodic breaks for recharging in your schedule.

Although everyone's schedule will be different, here is a sample:

  • 7:00 a.m. - Wake up, stretch, take a local walk (if circumstances allow), take care of kids/animals
  • 7:30 a.m. - Breakfast and family time (technology free!)
  • 8:30 a.m. - Work and check on updates with small breaks every 30 minutes or so
  • 12:00 p.m. - Lunch break, get fresh air, stretch & exercise
  • 1:00 p.m. - Work with breaks every 30 minutes, check in with co-workers
  • 5:00 p.m. - Dinner and screen break! Call a friend, family, or loved one
  • 7:00 p.m. - Self care time

Stick to your agreed working hours

It can be tempting when working from home to sleep in and start work a little later-or to keep burning through your tasks throughout the evening.

This is counterproductive-best practice dictates that you ought to keep to your regular hours for both your health and your productivity. No-one is expecting you to work more (or less!) while you're at home.

Schedule in regular social connections

Put some time in each day where you're catching up and connecting with others about non-work topics, just as you would as work.  Aim for at least one to two connections.  This may not be able to be in person but you can share a cup of tea with a colleague or a friend or groups of people via a video call (Zoom, Skype, Facetime, Microsoft teams), or just pick up the phone and have a chat. 

Don't just rely upon only typing, emails and texting. 

While it is very important that we all strictly follow the physical distancing requirements, it is important to maintaining social connections through the many other ways available to us all.

Continue your commute

As you're not heading out of the house to get to your workplace anymore, if circumstances allow, introduce a local walk into your routine before you start work. This has a number of benefits - fresh air, connection with nature and it punctuates your day. You won't move seamlessly from bed to desk, which is not healthy for your brain or body.

Set up a dedicated work area

Make sure you have a dedicated area where you do work, and nothing else even if it's just a corner of a kitchen table. Treat this as your office for now, and take regular breaks.  This is important for helping you draw a line between work and home and allowing you to "switch off" at the end of the work day.

If you have family or other household members also at home, set up a designated space for you and each family member to work and learn.

If an ongoing dedicated work space is not feasible for your circumstances, consciously set up and pack up your workspace to mark the start and finish of your work day.

Set up your work area and workspace in a way that is comfortable for you - this may include opening windows, setting up in an area away from other members of your family/household, putting on background music and setting temperature controls to your preferred room temperature, air controls to keep the room at your perfect temperature.

 

Tips on how to stay productive when you are working from home

Write a To Do List

Create a master to do list and then identify the two most important tasks for each day and lock these into your calendar for when you are likely to be at your best.  Be sure to communicate with and discuss/agree these with your supervisor during your regular check-ins to ensure that no priorities for your work area have changed.

You only want to use your best brain for your best work. For example, if you are a morning person, undertake your hardest, most important tasks in the morning and leave your administrative and process driven work for the afternoon.

Set Deadlines

Your brain loves a deadline. A deadline provides focus and motivation to get the task done. At your workplace, often this focus and motivation comes from being surrounded by your colleagues and managers who are also working towards their own deadlines.

When you work from home, it can be a lot harder to maintain the same level of focus towards completing a task - the day feels longer, there are more distractions at home, and there is less external accountability.  To stay focussed, you need to set your own deadlines each day.

Remember Parkinson's Law: the economic theory that a task expands to meet the time made available - that is, if you don't set a deadline, the task won't happen.

Batch

Batching is the process of grouping like tasks together and then blocking out slabs of time in your calendar to complete the tasks together. Batching allows you to have one longer concentrated period of time allocated to dealing with tasks in bulk as opposed to jumping in and out of smaller, like tasks repeatedly throughout the day. Batch periods of time to deal with: emails; calls; customers; billing; planning; delivery; compliance; social media and so on

Single Focus

Multitasking does not work. Multitasking (such as having your email alerts on all of the time; taking a call while working on a report; or having multiple screens open) can decrease your productivity by as much as 40%. Maintain a single focus by batching (see above) and work on one task at a time.

Set a Timer

When you are working hard against a deadline you do not want to watch the clock - this is a consistent distraction which means you are multitasking and not 100% focussed on the task at hand which does not help your productivity. For solid, single focussed work try setting a timer or wind up alarm for the amount of time you have allowed for a task. When the alarm goes off, take a break.

Take breaks

Stepping away from work for 10 minutes between each batch of work will improve your productivity and decrease your error rate. To maintain your physical health at work, a small "posture break" every 30 minutes is recommended. Take a few steps around the house, or have a quick stretch regularly to keep your body healthy and your brain active.

Mark the end of the day

Like your new morning 'commute', develop a ritual to end the working day. If you can, put your computer away, tidy your working area and prepare your to-do list for the next work day. If circumstances allow, go for a half-hour walk outside or try an indoor workout activity appropriate to you.

 

Tips for looking after wellbeing for you (and your family) while working from home

Keep a regular schedule

Sticking to a familiar routine as much a possible is important and it helps not just your work schedule but also your sleeping routine. Getting good rest is important, as is making time to ensure you are eating well and finding ways and time to exercise and keep active at home.

The current circumstances mean you may need to adjust your normal routine and schedule but it is still important to keep your alarm set to its usual time and get showered and dressed by the time you'd usually be leaving the house to commute to work.  Don't forget to include periodic breaks for recharging in your schedule.

When caring for family at home as well as working from home keeping everyone to a clear and familiar routine will help your family not only get through the work and learning activities they need to complete, but provides a strong sense of normalcy and calm for all family members.  For younger children, keeping a weekly timetable up on the fridge or common area so everyone knows what the day will look like will help to keep the whole family calm, engaged, productive and healthy during this time.

Stick to your agreed working hours

It can be tempting to set your calendar or skype for business to busy and start work a little later-or to keep burning through your tasks throughout the evening.

This is counterproductive-best practice dictates that you ought to keep to your regular hours. No-one is expecting you to work more (or less!) while you're at home.

Stay connected

Stay connected with family, friends, co-workers, and support systems using technology like Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, WhatsApp, and other video-based options

Agree to connect with colleagues over online calls at the beginning of each day. It provides an opportunity to share concerns, workloads or how you might be able to help each other. It's easier to hide issues behind emails and the written word, but seeing and speaking to other people regularly helps to open up a dialogue and keep communication positive.

Share tips with co-workers and friends on what's working well for you and encourage them to do the same.

Ask them how they are doing and talk about how you are doing.  Share your fears and concerns with people you trust. Chances are they are feeling the same way.

Come up with new ideas like planning a Zoom or Face time connection to exercise together. Share photos of pets enjoying the new routine. Watch movies at the same time while texting or on Skype. The sky's the limit on creative ways to stay connected.

Make the most of working from home

No soggy sandwiches for you anymore! Stepping away from the computer and making lunch from scratch, reading a book for half an hour or sitting outside if you can, will give you a break from screens and continual updates on the global news. Spending some time just taking a breath and being present in the here and now is very important for your health and wellbeing.

Keep yourself positive - Take advantage of being at home to set the mood. Make that nice coffee or cup of tea you keep as a treat, listen to the music no one else in the office likes, let in fresh air or, as the outside temperature starts to drop, turn on air controls to keep the room at the perfect temperature.

Set boundaries on work schedule

When working from home, be sure that you are working reasonable hours. It can be tempting to work more while you have your work at home, however it can also be taxing on your health and well-being, so stick to a schedule with healthy boundaries.

Exercise and stay active

This is not only good for your physical health, but also your mental health. Periodically, get up and move around your home. Walking, stretching, or other light activity-whatever works best and is suitable for you to reduce or alleviate stress and increase endorphins. While our favourite gyms and fitness centres are closed during this time, many are offering free livestreams or app-based workouts for members and the general public, so check online to see what's available.

Learn the facts and seek information from reliable sources to avoid misinformation.

Constant media coverage can keep you in a heightened state of anxiety - try to limit related media exposure and focus on factual information from reliable, trustworthy sources of information - like ACT Health and the Department of Health

Prioritise personal hygiene and limit contact with others

It is imperative that we all follow the basic hygiene principles as recommended by local and international Health authorities to avoid spreading COVID19.  These include:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for 20 seconds and use hand sanitizer regularly. seconds (about two rounds of "Happy Birthday" or pick your tune and sing it when you wash your hands -some song ideas are included here)
  • Use a tissue to cover your sneeze or cough, or when unavailable, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
  • Disinfect with anti-bacterial wipes areas and objects that are heavily trafficked or are touched regularly where you live and work.
  • Avoid contact with those who are sick and avoid touching your face, eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

Practice self-care.

Everybody practices self-care differently, but no matter what this looks like for you, it is important to look after yourself.

Engage in activities that benefit your well-being, bring you joy and distract you from existing challenges. This could include making time for activities and hobbies, communicating and keeping contact with family, friends and colleagues and keeping up a healthy lifestyle including being active, eating well and getting quality sleep.

It might also include meditation and yoga, often offered free online. You may also enjoy journaling, reading, art projects, cooking with new recipes, breathing exercises, mindfulness exercises or listening to a calming podcast or music. Some great ideas on wellness apps are available here: https://eapassist.com.au/wellness-apps/

For more ideas, check out our article on self-care here and this great guide from the Australian Psychological Society which also includes some great tips for talking with children about COVID19

Prioritise sleep

We all know that stress and uncertainty can change our sleeping patterns, so try to be mindful of this. Just like waking, keep to your regular bedtime and maintain at least 90 minutes of wind down time before you go to bed.  Try to keep phones and other screen devices far away from the bedroom and establish a healthy night time routine to prepare for sleep.

Focus on thinking about others

For example, ask yourself "how can I help look after my community."

Thinking about helping and supporting others (as circumstances allow) is a helpful in stimulating positive thinking.

Get fresh air 

If circumstances allow, go outside for a brisk walk and fresh air, but avoid crowds and try to maintain the recommended 2 metre distance with others.