Over the past few years many people have transitioned to a “work from home” set-up. The traditional office space was abandoned, mainly due to the changes that COVID-19 brought, but also because people found that productivity does not necessarily increase in the traditional office space. Working from home has many advantages, but it also has disadvantages. When working from home, it’s important to practice mental wellness.
Working From Home – Advantages and Disadvantages
Working from home comes with advantages. Some of these advantages include more flexibility with schedule, a better work/life balance, or the ability to work and oversee children at home. One person wrote “working remotely has allowed him to spend more time with his family and take better care of himself .” For many people, these advantages are life changing. However, working from home can have disadvantages too. Disadvantages include less social interaction on a daily basis, less connection between co-workers, and more opportunity to become distracted with household responsibilities. The biggest disadvantage to working from home is that some people experience a decrease in mental health. A study done one year after the onset of the pandemic found that “Decreased overall physical and mental well-being after [working from home] were associated with physical exercise, food intake, communication with coworkers, children at home, distractions while working” (Yijing, 2021). Forbes reports that “nearly two-thirds of people working from home feel isolated or lonely at least sometimes.”
Practicing Mental Wellness
There are several things that you can do in order to minimize the negative effects of working from home. Whether you have been working from home for two years or you are just beginning to work from home, there are always improvements to be made.
Incorporate Movement In Your Day
When you are working from home your physical movement decreases throughout your day. If you were working in an office, you might walk from your car to the office, and then around the office to different co-workers’ offices or to different locations in your workspace. However, when you are working from home you might be limited to your desk or kitchen table. To overcome this, it might be helpful to schedule walking or stretching breaks a few times a day. You might throw a frisbee for your dog during lunch time, do a 5 minute yoga flow in between meetings, or take a brief walk around your neighborhood. Physical movement can even be accomplished with a quick trip to the mailbox. Johns Hopkins notes that an increase in physical activity during the workday can lead to more productivity and less healthcare costs on average. Utilize your home and more flexible schedule in order to schedule moments of movement into your day.
Communicate With Your Coworkers
Working at home often means less time interacting with coworkers. You do not get to stop and talk in the hallway, or have a chat in the kitchen. When you work from home, your houseplants and cats quickly become your coworkers. One way to increase your interaction with co-workers is to schedule extra time into meetings to catch up or check in on everyone’s mental wellness. Chances are your coworkers are experiencing the same isolation that you are. A few activities to add into a meeting are doing “highs, lows, and buffalo’s”. This activity is where you identify one high, one low, and one random thing that happened to you during the day. You could also share a fun memory from the weekends, or update your workers on exciting moments in your life. If you set the tone for positive social interactions, the likelihood of your coworkers following are pretty high. Another option would be to discuss your concerns with your supervisor or boss. Talking to your supervisor, and suggesting added time to interact with coworkers might open up more opportunities for social interactions. You might talk with your boss about the effect of low social interactions, and how company culture is one of the most important predictors of employee satisfaction and productivity (Chiaburu & Harrison, 2008). If social interaction is a value for you, this might be a first step in improving your mental wellness when working from home.
Create A Separate Workspace
If you work from home, your office setup is less traditional than usual. You might be working from a desk in your bedroom, or your kitchen counter. Most people that work from home set up their workspace in a common area, or in an area that is convenient for them. However, it might be more effective to set up a workspace that is separate from your daily living space. This is to separate your work from your home. When you are working from home, it might be difficult to compartmentalize your work when you are off the clock. The American Counseling Association notes that creating boundaries between work and home is important to be able to maintain some sense of a healthy work life balance. This could mean setting alarms to signal the “start” and “end” to your workday, or setting up a more traditional office in a less used space of your house such as a guest room or bonus room. For those that have smaller homes or apartments, you might try installing a curtain to separate your office from the rest of your living space. You could also use “signaling behaviors” in order to start and end your workday. Signaling behaviors are anything that mentally remind you that you are entering a specific task. A signaling behavior for work could include moving into your workspace at the beginning of your day, and then intentionally “packing up” your workspace at the end of the day. Creating a boundary between work and life is essential to maintaining mental wellness in your work from home experience. Similarly, if you have young children or needy roommates, you might explore setting personal boundaries so as to not have people or distractions interfering with your work responsibilities. Other people in your home might distract you, promote procrastination, or call you away from important tasks. This could lead to an increase in stress and feeling behind on your work “to-do list”. For most people working from home, an honest conversation with your family or roommates will do the trick. Communicate with your family or roommates about what your needs are when it comes to communication and interactions throughout the day. Be very clear about what your expectations are, and ask them to help you in this process. Open communication and support from your loved ones will certainly lead to an increase in mental wellness, and more satisfaction in general.
Overall, there are many adjustments that you can make to your day in order to increase your mental wellness when you are working at home. Most importantly, it is critical to remember that your work is not your life. A healthy work life balance is more difficult to achieve when the worlds of home and work are blurred. Mental wellness can take a dip when you are working from home. However, take advantage of the benefits of working from home in order to boost mental wellness. The opportunity to grow as a professional is in your own backyard!
At Garrett Counseling, our counselors work with adults in their journey to mental wellness. With offices in Huntsville, Jacksonville, and Boaz, as well as online services, we are here to support you! Contact us today at (256) 239-5662 or online to get started.
Chiaburu, D., & Harrison, D. A. (2008). Do peers make the place? Conceptual synthesis and meta-analysis of lateral social influences on perceptions, attitudes, OCBs, and performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 93, 1082–1103.
Xiao, Yijing; Becerik-Gerber, Burcin DDes; Lucas, Gale; Roll, Shawn C. Impacts of Working From Home During COVID-19 Pandemic on Physical and Mental Well-Being of Office Workstation Users, Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine: March 2021 – Volume 63 – Issue 3 – p 181-190 doi: 10.1097/JOM.0000000000002097