I’ve worked from home full time since 2015 and part-time before that so I am more than used to the benefits and pitfalls.

The Coronavirus pandemic has meant to a lot more people found themselves having to create a workspace at home – surrounded by the chaos of everyday life. From the people I’ve spoken to, it looks like, for many office workers, working from home is going to continue for the foreseeable future and is likely to become commonplace in the future. So as we transition into this new normal, it’s time to take make a conscious effort to make your at-home working environment as healthy as possible. 

Here are my top tips to make working from home, work for you and your health.

  1. Find a way to keep work and home separate

If there is one thing I’ve learnt it’s the importance of being able to draw a line between work and home life at the end of each day so you can properly switch off and recharge. 

Over the past five years I’ve worked from dining tables, small desks in spare rooms and now I’m lucky enough to have a dedicated room for my office. A dedicated space makes it so much easier to close the door at the end of the day and switch off from work. But if you’re working from a dining table or even your bed, it’s even more important to find a way to “close the door” on work at the end of the day.

Try to find a cupboard, drawer, box or basket that you can pack away all or most of your work-related items into at the end of a working day. I know the temptation is to leave everything out because it’s just easier, but if you keep seeing work items when you’re trying to relax your brain will never properly switch off. You’ll find work creeping more and more into your home life, your time with your family and your time for you! 

The ritual of packing up at the end of the day and “leaving work to come home” is also a really important step in switching your brain from work-mode to home-mode and will help you create a healthy separation.

Even with a dedicated space, I make the effort at the end of every day to clean my workspace – throwing away old papers, tidying books back onto the shelf and taking the many cups and glasses which have accumulated back to the kitchen. It makes it so much easier to get into work-mode the next morning if I’m not surrounded by yesterday’s mess!

2. Add a plant

Plants are a great way to purify the air in your office space – you don’t have to take my word for it, this research by NASA (yes NASA the scientific space geeks) evidences the air purifying benefits of plants. Technically to really make a difference you probably need more than one plant, but small steps. Plus research suggests they can help boost creativity and productivity as well as looking pretty and creating a positive working environment.

If like me you’re not particularly green-fingered here are some plants which help purify the air, are easily available and are relatively easy to keep alive: 

  • spider plants
  • snake plants
  • peace lily
  • English ivy (I have a trailing ivy on my bookshelf, it’s just little at the moment but it makes a real difference to how the space feels)
  • aloe vera
  • red-edged dracaena or dragon tree (google this one – you’ll know it when you see it even if you don’t recognise it by name and I’ve seen it in lots of garden centres)

3. Keep a (non-plastic) bottle of water on your desk

Hydration is so important for concentration, mood and keeping your bowels regular amongst other things. But when you’re busy at work it can be easy to forget to drink water. I find keeping a bottle of water on my desk helps me to monitor how much I’m drinking. I have a pretty reusable metal water bottle which I fill each morning with warm water with slices of ginger and cool plain water in the afternoon. I know that if I drink two of these bottles a day I will have had just under 1.5L of water, add in all the herbal teas I drink plus another glass or two in the evening and I’ve easily hit my 2L for the day. Sipping water regularly is better for your digestion than gulping lots in one go so try to find a system that works for you to remember to drink regularly. Maybe a timer on your phone to drink every 30-mins or pair drinking water with another activity you do regularly like at the start and end of each zoom call or every time you check your email.

Why not plastic? Well other than being better for the environment, plastic particles can leach from bottles into water and cause a unbalances to hormones and the immune system, particularly if you’re refilling and reusing a plastic bottle or it’s sitting in the hot sun or close to a radiator. If you do nothing else this week, treat yourself to a new plastic-free water bottle for your desk – oh and drink from it!

4. Stand up or walk around

There’s no getting away from it, movement is important for our mind and body and without the daily commute many people’s step count will be much lower than normal. 

Try to add standing or even better moving around into your daily work schedule. Now unless you have a standing desk I wouldn’t advise standing while trying to work on a computer as your back won’t thank you for that, but perhaps you can stand to make phone calls or do video conferences – why not suggest it to your team or other people on your call so you can stand together?

Or schedule in time to go for a walk before work, at lunchtime or after work – fresh air and light (see point 5) are all important for overall wellbeing. Plus I find if I’m stuck on something with work a change of scene and getting away from my desk often helps me find the answer.

5. Be mindful of the light

Light can have a bigger impact on your health than you might realise. Light exposure plays a vital role in our natural circadian rhythm – it’s what tells our body if it’s day or night and therefore whether to release hormones to wake you up or hormones to make you sleepy. If your body’s natural cycle becomes disrupted, getting a good night’s sleep will be a challenge and poor sleep brings with it a whole host of health risks. But there are simple steps you can take to avoid this.

Limit exposure to blue light – the light emitted from computers, phones and other digital devices.  This light can trick your brain into thinking it’s daytime so try to reduce exposure as the natural daylight reduces. The easiest step would be to not use digital devices in the evening but realistically this isn’t likely to be possible. Many devices now come with a function to switch from blue light to a warmer dimmer light at a set time or you can download apps like Flux which will do the same thing. Alternatively, you can also try blue light blocking glasses – there are many options available online so just find a style you like and will wear!

Increase exposure to natural light in the morning – wherever possible try to get natural light into your workspace during the day – especially before midday. Open your blinds/curtains first thing in the morning to signal to your body it’s time to wake up – a sunrise alarm clock like a Lumie is a great option for winter mornings when you have to get up before the sun. Open the blinds/curtains in your office space or even better get out into daylight for a walk before starting work each day.

So there you have it, a few simple changes you can make to your workspace and working day to keep you feeling your best whether working from home has become your new normal recently or you’ve been doing it for a long time.

Please share any suggestions you have for how you keep your home working set up feeling like a positive, inspiring, healthy environment to work from in the comments below.

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