One impact of the Covid-19 lockdown has been the dramatic increase in the number of people working from home. At the peak of lockdown, in June 2020, the Office for National Statistics reported that almost half of people said they had worked from home at some point, compared to just 5.3% before.
Obviously, this figure will start to go back down as offices reopen. However, there have been suggestions that an increase in the number of people working from home could become part of the ‘new normal’. Given the economic challenges, many employers could welcome the chance of saving money on office space and the associated costs of running an office.
Employers will also be aware of the knock-on benefits of homeworking for their employees – in particular, the removal of the stresses and costs associated with the twice-daily commute.
However, working from home does pose its own challenges. Even if you’re lucky enough to have a separate room to work in, you’re still in the home environment with all the associated distractions.
For the first time for many of us, our homes have now become our everything; our workspaces, classrooms, gyms, and places for entertainment. This means that when we’ve finished work, trying to switch off without a change in scenery can be difficult.
Here are eight tips to help you switch off when working from home.
1. Structure your day
Take breaks during the day and try to fix the time you take these. So, maybe have a coffee break at 10am, lunch break at 1pm, and an afternoon tea break at 3pm. These breaks can include some domestic chores such as unloading the dishwasher or getting the washing in off the line but try and keep that kind of activity scheduled rather than ad hoc.
The key thing is to leave your desk or workstation to enjoy the break, and therefore create proper separation between work and home.
Creating office routines while you’re working at home will mean you will switch off when you’re away from your desk.
2. Go for a walk
Try to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.
One common suggestion is to ‘walk to work’ – so if you’re starting work at 9am, have a half-hour walk beforehand, so the walk effectively becomes your commute.
On the ‘walk to work’, try to make a conscious effort to start focusing on work issues. You can then reverse the process on the ‘walk home’ – emptying your mind of work and start thinking about the evening ahead.
3. Change clothes
One important way of creating a true demarcation between home and work is wearing work clothes. This doesn’t necessarily have to mean formal work wear – one of the big advantages of homeworking is not having to wear a business suit – but try and avoid staying in your pyjamas all day.
Dressing for work helps create the psychology of clocking on and off and provides a clear divide between home and work. In the same way, it’s equally important to change back into home clothes when you’ve finished work. Again, this creates a demarcation, and will help you switch off from work once you’ve finished.
4. Change your working environment
Creating a clear, physical boundary between work and home also helps with the psychology of homeworking.
Obviously, many people have logistical challenges. However, working in a different room to where you’ll normally spend most of your leisure time can make it easier to relax and unwind when you leave it.
If you don’t have the luxury of that kind of space, then try to clear your work at the end of every day. This removes the continual reminder on the kitchen or dining room table during the evening and at weekends.
5. Turn off notifications
Try to make sure you have a ‘hard stop’ when you finish work for the day and avoid the temptation to check emails during the evening. After all, replying to a work query at 8pm doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be read and acted on.
If you have a separate work phone, switch it off when you finish work. If you don’t have a dedicated work phone, maybe think about getting one, or asking your employer for one.
Try and refrain from checking work emails and calls until you’re ready to start work.
6. Change the home atmosphere
One big advantage of working at home is that it’s your own space. As it’s your home, it’s obviously somewhere you feel comfortable, so there’s no reason why that comfort can’t translate into your working environment.
For example, unless you spend a lot of time on phone calls, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t have your choice of background music playing while you work. Many people do say that some background music can help block other noise distractions from your mind and help you focus on your work.
To further improve the working ambience, consider having flowers in the room where you’re working, or light some scented candles.
All these are things you probably wouldn’t be able to do in an office environment, and all should help you feel more relaxed while you’re working. This will make it easier to switch off properly when you stop.
7. Achieve something in the evening
Try to make sure you always have a plan for what you’re going to do in the evening once you’ve stopped working.
It doesn’t have to be detailed or complicated – it could be something as simple as reading a book, watching a film, or cooking a meal. Importantly, however, it will give your evening some focus, and will help act as a mental switch off and prevent your mind from wandering back to work problems.
8. Speak to colleagues during the day
Homeworking can be lonely. The standard ‘working from home’ stereotype is usually of a family – husband, wife, and children. Obviously, this can pose its own challenges, such as childcare and partners potentially having to share the same working environment.
But, if you’re living alone and now working from home, not going into an office environment takes away a key and much-needed source of social interaction.
Many companies are now recognising this and are organising daily catchups and wellness calls for their employees, as well as online social events after working hours.
Even if you do live with others, catching up on ‘office’ chat – yes, even gossip – is a key part of the working environment that shouldn’t disappear because people are now working from home.