COVID-19 sent many of us scrambling to set up a home office. And if you’re like most people, it’s been a love-hate thing. You love the flexibility and the 15-second commute. But you may not always love the isolation or the frequent interruptions from members of your household. As someone who’s been teleworking for over 23 years, I’ve experienced most of the ups and downs. As with anything, I think success and happiness in a home office comes from developing healthy habits and in making a conscious effort to strike a good balance between your personal and professional life.
Opportunity and Flexibility: Home Office for the Win
A home office provides two key things: opportunity and flexibility. These can vastly improve the quality of your life and enhance your sense of personal wellness. When it comes to healthy eating, moving, and being, the home office itself isn’t your golden ticket. But the home office provides the opportunity and flexibility to have the more balanced and healthy life you’ve been dreaming of.
Figuring it all out takes some practice. Right now you might feel like you’re barely surviving. Between the kids and the dog and the unfortunate timing of the UPS guy, it can be tough. You may even have the “grass is greener” syndrome and long for your days back in the office with your workmates. But if the home office is your reality for either the short or long term, there are steps you can take to make the experience a good one, no matter how long it lasts.
Here are a few suggestions to help you maintain your sanity and find a sense of wellness in your home office.
Practical Suggestions for Home Office Wellness
Organize your Space and Time
With a home office, there’s no clear transition between work and home life. It’s up to you to create the boundaries. For example, you may have already noticed that it’s really not practical to work from your kitchen island eight hours a day. That space is for eating and gathering. It’s almost impossible to dedicate this space to work, so you’re always moving things around and trying to blend your home life with your work life.
I work in my kitchen on occasion for a change of scenery, but in general, it’s a recipe for chaos and stress when done on a regular basis. Try to create separate work and home zones – preferably a dedicated work area where you can close the door when needed.
My desk area in my office is an attractive space since it’s part of my home, but it’s for work. When I need my computer for something that is not work-related during off hours, I try to pull it through to another area of the house. This helps me keep my two worlds separate. If it’s not possible for you to carve out a designated work area, at least find a way to keep work and home documents and equipment separate. Otherwise, you’ll feel overwhelmed as your two worlds collide.
It’s also really helpful to carve out dedicated work hours. Although exceptions will occur (this flexibility is part of the beauty of the home office), designated work hours will help protect your work life from encroaching on your home life, and vice versa. If you have other adults or children home during the work day, try to clearly communicate when you can be interrupted and when you need silence. Perhaps post a schedule on your door, or have another visual cue that communicates your availability.
Move your Body
Your morning commute may have gone from a 30-minute ride and a short walk to only about 20 steps from your bedroom door to your home office! When working from home, it is way too easy to become sedentary. You simply must force yourself to take breaks, to get up and move.
Set a timer if needed – maybe a five-minute break for every hour of work. Walk around your office during long conference calls. Or do some stretching exercises while you’re staring at that spreadsheet. All the movement adds up.
I try to start each day with a long walk with my dog Chloe. I know that if I don’t get the walk in early, the day could get away from me. (One of the highlights of my day used to be our daily walks to the bus stop to pick up my boys. I miss that. We’re still walking, but it’s just not the same without the sight of that yellow bus rounding the corner. #covidblues)
Whether it’s a walk or a trip to the gym or an at-home workout, find a time that works for you and stick to it. Working from home generally means we have more time at home and less time on the road. Use this opportunity to get a workout in. It doesn’t have to be long. Even 10 minutes a day, when done consistently, can do wonders for your strength, flexibility, and heart health. You’ll feel so much more energized, productive, and well.
Create your Mood
With no one sitting across the cubicle from you, you can create whatever mood you want. Rock music? Got it. A cozy blanket and coffee in your favorite mug? Why not. Mood lighting? Go for it. Who said we can’t be happy and comfortable while we work?
I personally find candles to be a great mood enhancer. Clear off some space on your desk and light a candle. Or plug in a salt lamp or oil diffuser. And don’t forget plants.
For music, I use the Mood station on Spotify, or one of my themed playlists. When I need to focus, I select tranquil piano music or spa music. Occasionally, I need more upbeat music to get energized. There are no co-workers around, so you don’t even need to wear headphones. Do what works for you.
Why not feel a little more zen while you’re working?
Change your Scenery
If you’re spinning your wheels or your energy is flagging, change your scenery.
I’d ordinarily suggest tapping into the WiFi at your local coffee shop or café to get your work done. When we’re all out and about again, support your local shops and find a quiet corner to work with a mug of your favorite brew. (Just be sure to time your calls carefully so that the barista isn’t announcing your Skinny Venti Vanilla Latte at an awkward moment.) Libraries are another great place to get work done – when they’re open.
But for now, look for times when you can grab your laptop and head to another quiet spot in the house for an hour or two. I find this helps when I need to get past writer’s block. Sometimes I just need the change of scenery, which can work magic. Just make sure the temporary location boosts your productivity and isn’t full of distractions.
This is also another opportunity to get up and get moving. A quick walk can do wonders for your creativity and innovation. I’ve written entire documents in my mind while walking, and raced to get the ideas down on paper when I returned to my office. Nature is the most amazing source of inspiration out there.
Mind your Eating Habits
So by now you’ve realized one of the challenges of working from home is the open access to the kitchen. But the truth is that the candy jar on your co-worker’s desk in your “real” office was a danger too, as were the boxes of doughnuts and the lunches at restaurants. It’s always been up to you to make healthy choices. Don’t let working from home be an excuse to let healthy eating fall by the wayside.
On the flip side, working from home presents a wonderful opportunity to develop healthier eating habits. You can keep your fridge stocked with healthy fruits, vegetables, and other snacks. Leftovers can easily be reheated. You have access to a stove and oven during the day. You can even put dinner in the slow cooker during one of your sanity breaks. Yes, it takes some planning, but so did packing a lunch for the office. Develop a mindset to make your environment work for you rather than against you. At the end of the day, it all comes down to the choices you make, and the rituals you put into place to support those choices.
Home Office Wellness is Up to You!
These are challenging times, but your home office is there to help you through. Do what it takes to stay sane, productive, and happy while you work.
So go ahead and step away from your desk for a few minutes. Grab another glass of water. Do some jumping jacks. Or strike your best yoga pose. Just be sure your video camera is off!