Working from Home: Wellness at Home

As the world settles into quarantine measures, working from home is starting to feel second-nature to many of us. Maybe you’ve found that the ironing board has a surprising range of movement as a stand-up desk, or that the cat provides some good workplace banter. Whatever your set-up, people around the globe have embraced this new way of working.

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Our surroundings have a profound impact on our moods and behaviours. As designers, we understand how a person’s place of work can affect their overall health and wellbeing. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the physical and social environment is the biggest determinant of a person’s health.

From a design perspective, it is vital that our work-from-home spaces have a positive impact on our wellbeing and encourage healthy working behaviours.

From a design perspective, it is vital that our work-from-home spaces have a positive impact on our wellbeing and encourage healthy working behaviours.

SET UP YOUR WORKPLACE WITH WELLNESS IN MIND.

Ergonomics matter. We’re the most productive with a chair and work surface that are at the right ergonomic height. Get creative with what you have – some sturdy books will help raise the height of your screen, and pillows do a great job of adjusting your chair. Test the ‘wellness’ of your home workspace with an online Ergonomic Workspace Assessment!

Connect to Nature. Biophilia is the human need to interact or be close to nature, and research suggests that this can lower blood pressure, reduce stress, and improve learning rates. While working from home, open the curtains and sit in a place with a view to the outdoors. Or, if your vista is a little industrial, a view of your indoor plants works just as well. Sunlight helps us improve our sleep patterns, while having plants in our workspace can boost productivity by 15%, according to Exeter University.  

Balance your lighting. Your home probably enjoys more sunlight than the office, which is great news for your circadian rhythm, but it is not always good news for your eyes. Daylight is harder to control – there can be too little or too much, as well as contrast and glare. Pay attention to the light sources in your workspace and adjust them when needed – if you’re squinting, straining, sitting awkwardly to avoid reflections, or have sore eyes, it’s time to turn on a light, close the blinds, or move your workstation.

Circulate fresh air. Unless you’ve got air conditioning, chances are you’ll need to make a conscious effort to circulate fresh, warm air in your workspace – this might mean opening a window or two. Poor air quality can lead to headaches, dry throats, eye irritation, a runny nose, and it can affect your cognitive functioning.  

CREATE WORKING BEHAVIOURS THAT PROMOTE WELLNESS.

Maintain routine. While it can be tempting to roll out of bed at 9am and start work in your PJs, try to maintain the same pre-lockdown routine – get up at the same time, get dressed, and start work at your usual hour. Maintaining a consistent routine has a huge impact on how you work and feel for the day.

Set some boundaries. When work is home and home is work, it can be all too easy to check your emails or go online first thing in the morning. Unless it’s urgent, make sure you carve out non-work hours and stick to them in your day. This includes scheduling regular breaks. At the office, the breaks come more easily when we chat to colleagues in the kitchen or walk to the café to grab a coffee. Make sure you’re also taking them at home.

Disconnect. We’re spending more time than ever staring at a screen – whether it’s collaborating with work colleagues, catching up with friends, binging a Netflix series, or scrolling through the steady stream of Covid-19 news on our feed. It’s important that we spend time away from technology to avoid burnout and eye strain. Schedule an hour of offline work when possible. Take a walk outside. Read a book. Cook a delicious meal. Shut the laptop down and step away from the screen for a bit.

Keep active. Being at home doesn’t mean you can’t get out for a walk, bike ride, or run in your local area. Without a daily commute, you might have extra time in your day – spend it doing a quick walk around the block (your new ‘commute’!) or a 30-minute workout in your lounge. Exercise releases chemicals like endorphins and serotonin that improve your mood and set you up for a positive start to the day. Pro tip: children work very well as barbells.

Hydrate. Contemporary offices are designed to make hydrating easy with close access to instant hot and cold filtered water. Without this little luxury, you could be hydrating less – waiting for a kettle to boil can feel a bit like watching paint dry. Set yourself up with some architectural ‘design nudges’ by making it easy to grab a fresh glass of water or a regular refill. It’s a good excuse to get up and stretch your legs, too!

Create Variety. As they say, variety is the spice of life. Be more dynamic in the way you work from home – move to the couch to take a phone call, sit on the deck to work on a presentation, and go to the dining room to get through your emails. Finding places away from your main workspace keeps things fresh and mirrors how we work in an office setting: moving from meeting rooms to collaboration spaces and back to our main desk space.

The home setting has already been a source of inspiration for designers in recent years. ‘Resimercial’ Design – a combination of ‘residential’ and ‘commercial’ – brings design elements of the home and ‘homely’ touches like rugs, ornaments, and lamps into the workplace. The aim is to create comfortable, human-centric work environments to reduce stress and promote productivity.

So if our homes already influence workplace design, there’s no reason why we can’t make them great places to work during this pandemic – just as long as we’re doing it well. Taking responsibility for our own wellbeing while working from home is something we can all focus on and control.

And while it’s too early to know what the new normal will look like after this pandemic, creating working behaviours and habits that promote wellness will go a long way in helping us adapt to the new ways we might work, live, and communicate post-Covid-19.

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