Love it or hate it, remote work is here to stay. The old model of reporting to cubicles or corner offices from 9 to 5 is out. Collaborating with far-flung colleagues from the comfort of your bedroom is in.
Chances are, if you work from home you love it. While some folks miss water cooler banter and lunch breaks with coworkers, poll after poll finds that people report being more productive at home. Job satisfaction is higher. Work-life balance is exponentially better.
This forced social experiment has shown that the old office-centric way wasn’t necessarily the best (more conventional wisdom bites the dust). But that doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides to the new hybrid or work-from-home models either. Social isolation is a real concern. So is the blurred line between personal time and work time, plus the loss of built-in daily structure. Some folks are just sick of the inside of their homes and, frankly, the people they live with.
Overall, I think it’s easier to be healthy when working from home. If for no other reason, people have more time. When the pandemic forced offices to shutter, a survey from the Becker Friedman Institute at the University of Chicago estimated that American workers saved more than 9 billion (yes, billion) hours not commuting between March and September of 2020. That’s in only six months. Now extrapolate that to today, and consider that commuting consistently ranks among the top modern stressors and health hazards.
Still, for the reasons mentioned and more, at-home workers face unique challenges that can eat away at physical and perhaps especially emotional health if they’re not careful. Here’s what I’d do to mitigate that risk.
Make It Stupid Easy To Move
One of the biggest problems with remote work is how easy it is to sit at your computer all day every day. No need to leave your house or even get out of your pajamas. Suddenly it’s dinnertime, and you’ve barely taken a hundred steps, let alone sprinted or lifted heavy things.
Any behavior change expert will tell you that the first step for building new habits is to hit yourself over the head with cues to get it done:
- Leave your kettlebell in the middle of the floor where you’ll literally trip over it on the way to the bathroom.
- Keep a resistance band next to the coffee maker.
- Schedule movement breaks into your calendar and enable notifications.
- Create a sit-stand workspace. Make a game of adopting as many different positions as you can throughout the day. Sit on the floor, stand, kneel, lean. Bounce on an exercise ball or rebounder. Use a balance board or wobble stool. Stand on one foot, then the other.
- Invest in an under desk cycler or treadmill.
- Sign up for my microworkout challenge to get a daily email reminder to move, plus a different exercise to try.
- Challenge your coworkers to complete a certain number of walking meeting minutes each week. Hold each other accountable.
Make it harder to ignore all the cues than it is to get moving.
Set Boundaries Around Your Time
Your boss and coworkers won’t know if you take a break in the middle of the day to mow the lawn, take the kids to the park, run to the gym, or take a nap. That part is great. Unfortunately, though, when your home is your workplace, you’re constantly at work in a sense. Nobody is going to protect your time but you.
First and foremost, do your best to keep regular work hours. Don’t start working first thing in the morning. Don’t open your email or check your calendar or anything else until you’ve had the chance to rise, move your body a little, and get into a good headspace for the day.
Likewise, don’t work late at night. Besides the fact that you shouldn’t be looking at screens right before bedtime, you need time to wind down and let go of any stress from the day. When work-related anxiety keeps you up, rather than giving in and working another couple hours, do a brain dump. Get out a piece of paper and write down all the things you’re worried about. Make a to-do list for the following day and pick the two or three things you’ll tackle first tomorrow.
I’ve beat this drum before, but take frequent work breaks during the day. Five or ten minutes every half hour or so and a longer break every couple of hours.
Use your vacation time. Staycations are all well and good, but try to get out of your home/work too. Don’t bring your laptop.
Dehydration decreases focus, processing speed, and productivity, so drink up. Don’t force it, obviously, but be mindful about drinking to thirst.
Here’s a little movement hack. Every time you go to the kitchen to get a drink, use that as a cue to change your position. If you were sitting before, switch to standing when you get back. Do a set of push-ups while you’re at it.
Watch Your Caffeine Intake
I love coffee as much as the next guy. No doubt, though, you can overdo it. There’s no need to quit coffee entirely, but take care not to use caffeine as a crutch.
Eat Proper Meals
Avoid the temptation to work through breakfast and lunch. You’ll digest your food better when you’re in a parasympathetic state. That means no checking emails or working on a slide deck for tomorrow’s meeting while you eat. Close your laptop, put your phone on the charger, and take half an hour to prepare and eat a meal without stress or distraction. Bonus points for eating outside.
Also avoid the temptation to graze all day, which is easier to do when you’re working a stone’s throw from your well-stocked kitchen. If you’re hungry, eat a meal. If you don’t want a meal, you’re not really that hungry.
Leave Your Home Every Day
Take your laptop to a park or coffee shop for a change of scenery. Go for a walk. Go for several walks. Walking meetings are one of my favorite ways to incorporate more daily movement, but make sure you find reasons to leave your work at home, too.
Speaking of which…
If you’re one of those people who went to an office pre-pandemic, working from home was probably its own novel experience for a while. At some point, though, the luster fades, and you start to feel like you’re living your own personal Groundhog Day. Nothing ever really changes.
Your brain craves novelty. Read a new genre of fiction. Take an online course in a topic you’ve always wanted to learn more about (ideally one that has nothing to do with your profession). Buy a new ethnic cuisine cookbook and work your way through it. Go camping somewhere you’ve never been before.
Buy a Houseplant (Or Three)
I know, I know, it’s cliché at this point. You probably procured several houseplants months ago, gave them names, and talk to them on the regular. If you haven’t jumped on this bandwagon, what are you waiting for? Houseplants offer a host of benefits for mood, productivity, and workplace satisfaction.
Have a Creative Outlet
Music is mine, but it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you have a way to express yourself. “All work and no play” isn’t just a trite platitude. It’s an evolutionary truism, not to mention one of the ten Primal Blueprint laws. Play includes art, music, dance, all manner of self-expression that gets creative and emotional juices flowing. The act of creating provides a necessary counterbalance to the more rigid, “serious” work of, well, work.
That’s what I have for today. What would you add to this list?