It’s been almost a year since the first working from home guidance was instructed and, following the government’s most recent ‘road map’ announcement, it seems as though we may have a few more months to go. Alongside that, many businesses and brands are now embracing the remote working life, seeing the many benefits of working from home as outweighing the negatives.
For some of us, working from home has been a welcome change, an insight into how the world of work can work for us. Time previously wasted on a commute, idling in traffic or piled onto a stuffy train, can now be spent cooking, walking, or sleeping in. But for others, it has been isolating, and the prospect of several more months, or a permanent arrangement in the new normal, is a difficult one.
However you feel about working from home, if the lease on your home office has just been extended, there are many ways to make working from home, work for you.
Schedule a commute
The daily commute has shrunk to encompass the journey from the bed to the spare room, and the extra time this has provided has been a gift: That extra hour in bed in bed as soft, morning sunlight filters in through the curtains; long, lazy mugs of hot coffee, instead of a slice of toast rushed over the sink.
However, the one benefit of the daily trek to the office that many people are missing is the structure that comes with it and the peace of having half an hour, or an hour if you were particularly unlucky, to plug into a podcast and mentally prepare for the day.
So, if 11 months in, your working day is more fog-shrouded than focussed, try carving out half an hour for a faux commute.
Wandering the nearby parks and fields before switching on for the day helps to blow away the cobwebs, and not just figuratively. The stale air of a warm, sleepy house is lower in oxygen and increases brain fog and sluggishness. A blast of fresh air first thing in the morning helps to increase oxygen levels in your blood, helping with both concentration and memory, as well as boosting energy levels.
Alongside that all-important injection of energy, immersing yourself in nature in any of its forms has many benefits, not only for health but for mental wellbeing. A study by the University of Exeter found that people who saw more birds, shrubs and trees throughout the day (even in urban settings) were less gloomy than others, and University of Surrey has researched the restorative benefits of birdsong.
As well as birdsong, early morning sun is particularly beneficial for soothing the symptoms of SAD. If you’re tempted to start work as soon as you wake up and finish early (or late, since many studies have shown that homeworking is increasing the length of the working day), consciously increasing your exposure to daylight in the first half of the day can help to boost your mood.
Refresh the air
While office blocks are often mechanically ventilated, the cooler temperatures at home make it tempting to wrap up in your dressing gown, crank the heating, and seal the windows up. But stale air has many adverse effects on concentration, so if you find yourself in a mid-morning slump, you may need to increase oxygen levels in the room.
Throwing the window wide open is the quickest way to do this, and as Spring bursts into life outside, the smell of fresh grass and the sound of birdsong are a welcome bonus, but if it’s still too cool, cracking a window to allow a trickle of cool, fresh air throughout the day can help.
The wellbeing benefits of houseplants are well known, and the mood-boosting effects of having an indoor garden to tend is a welcome break from work. Curating a collection of office plants from NASA’s list of air cleaning, oxygen-producing house plants will help to improve air quality and keep your home office fresh. Sprawling Spider Plants fit nicely into desk corners, while Peace Lilies flourish on bookshelves and Barberton Daisies, a type of gerbera, add a splash of much-needed colour.
Banish mental fatigue
It isn’t just you: Necessary though it may be, many people are beginning to find lockdown tough. Psychologist Dr Christian Jarrett suggests this may result from increased ‘cognitive load’ – we all have more to worry about. Feelings of emotional exhaustion can make it difficult to focus, but trying to reduce exposure to stressful information like news stories (so no more doom-scrolling) can help reduce the amount of pressure we take on, increasing the amount of emotional resilience we have.
If you find it harder to focus on work or are overwhelmed by daunting tasks, there are many tried and tested methods that may help break the day down. The Pomodoro technique (so named for an Italian, tomato-shaped timer) involves picking a task, setting a 25-minute timer, and getting to work (no breaks or distractions!).
When the timer goes off, take a five-minute break – stretch your legs, open a window, or pop outside for some fresh air. Then, after four rounds, take a longer rest break and give yourself 15-30 minutes to relax. For this technique to work best, don’t divide your attention among other tasks – stick to the one, section of one, or list of small tasks you chose at the start to reduce task residue (brain fog resulting from switching between tasks), so that means no checking texts or emails. The effectiveness of the Pomodoro method lies in its simplicity and its ability to reduce distractions.
Tackle emotional exhaustion
Gratitude is an increasingly well-researched way of boosting your wellbeing when feeling overwhelmed. Dedicating time to gratitude journaling can reduce stress and increase feelings of wellbeing (and is a wonderful excuse to treat yourself to some new, sustainable stationery).
While it may seem like there is less to be thankful for right now, mindfully thinking about a small list of things we are grateful for before or after work, and writing them down, or writing gratitude letters to people we are thankful for (they don’t have to be sent) can have lasting effects on brain function, including improved sleep, reduced stress, and better relationships with those around us.
Finally, if there is no time to head outdoors or the weather doesn’t allow for it, bring the restorative effects of birdsong inside. Lush’s spa soundtrack playlist on Spotify features an entire album (Synaesthesia) composed around birdsong, from the chirrups of the garden warbler to the crescendo of the dawn chorus.