Working from home has become a large part of many peoples’ lives over the last two years. And while those of us who have been lucky enough to continue completing our jobs from the comfort of our homes are incredibly privileged to do so, there are some significant issues that tend to pop up with this kind of work. Outside of the fact that folks have been working through one of the most stressful periods in modern history, the main issues with many WFH set-ups are that they’re not properly designed for our physical comfort, and we fail to consider our headspace while working.
According to recent research from IKEA, “2 in 3 Aussies are unhappy with their WFH set up and 68% (two thirds) find it difficult to switch off at the end of the day when working from home”.
For that reason, IKEA enlisted the advice of Leading Psychologist and Founder of The Indigo Project, Mary Hoang. She shared her top tips for improving your WFH set-up in a way that benefits your mental health, along with some insights into the worst habits we tend to pick up when working from home.
Here’s what you need to know.
Our biggest mistake is that we don’t prioritise our comfort
During our chat over the phone, Hoang explained to me that she thinks the most common mistakes we make with regard to WFH are related to our lack of consideration for our own comfort.
“The biggest thing is that we neglect to think about our comfort, forget to take the time to even set up our workplaces so they support our bodies, our mental health, our creativity and our physical health,” she said.
“Now, our bodies play such a huge role in how we feel and most of us aren’t using the right ergonomics. We don’t have the chairs, we don’t have laptop stands, or monitors – they’re not at the right height…”
In short, we’re not taking the right steps to support our backs, eyes and whole bodies well enough and “this all plays into our mood and productivity,” Hoang stressed.
“I guess overall, …I think we’re just forgetting about ourselves,” she said,
This may look like not setting up your home office correctly, or not taking enough breaks from your screen, and that is a dangerous spiral to fall into.
“We let work take over our whole home life, and I think this is really dangerous for our relationships within the home and our relationships with our health… with ourselves, because that just leads to increased stress levels.”
There are things you can do to change your WFH experience
Here, Hoang shared 6 tips on how to create a more positive experience for yourself while working from home.
Stick to a morning routine: “Give to yourself before giving to others. Move your body with some yoga, get outdoors or meditate and make the choice non-negotiable.”
Correct your lighting: “Good lighting can assist in improving focus, creativity and productivity.”
Lighting can be overlooked as an insignificant factor in your working environment, but it’s hugely influential, Hoang explained.
“If it’s possible, we try to bring the outdoors, indoors. People can sit by a window or have a door ajar, so they’re having natural lighting – that’s probably the most optimum. But that’s not possible for everyone, and sometimes natural lighting can also be quite intense and hot and harsh, so it means that sometimes filtered light we need, so we might need curtains or some blinds… and if that’s just not possible at all, it’s having task lighting or some type of mood lighting so you’re not feeling like you’re working at a 7/11.”
Don’t disregard aesthetics: “When our home offices are set up for our comfort and are aesthetically pleasing, we feel more content, less stressed and are less likely to suffer from burnout and fatigue.”
Create boundaries: “Take the time and energy to set up a home office in a spare room or corner of your house which is strictly only for work to create a boundary between the personal and professional.”
On this point, Hoang expanded a little sharing that “I think it’d be 50% of people don’t have a dedicated workspace, like a spare room or an office to work out of”.
“So, if we’re working from a kitchen table or lounge or bedroom, I think it’s really important that we actually have good storage so if you can pack away all our work items, and we’re not just automatically thinking about work because you happen to see your laptop on the kitchen table or stacks of paper that has happen to be around in the living room.”
In short, do your best to keep your work life, and items, contained to one space so you can introduce a sense of separation between them and your personal world.
Clock off: “Don’t let work bleed into your life, minimise screen time and set work hours strictly”.
Hoang explained to me that “one of the things that we can do is to have really clearly defined work hours so no taking emails when you open your eyes in the morning… and then just being really strict, not to sneak in any last emails after dinner or when you’re watching a show.”
Disconnect self-worth from your level of creativity or productivity: “We all have permission to not be making huge leaps and bounds in our careers when we’ve got so much emotional ‘stuff’ to deal with as a result of the pandemic.”
Overall, you want to pay attention to your senses
When it comes to designing a work environment at home, the most important thing, Hoang stressed, is paying attention to your senses as this “can lead to more comfort in our bodies, and having a clear mind for work”.
Pay attention to the details here and you’ll find the end result may surprise you.
“We’ve talked about things like having a visually appealing work area,” Hoang said.
“This can even come into smell, like having candles, or having fresh flowers. Then you’ve got lighting and just how the body feels if you’re sitting in a proper chair. But then the sound as well is a huge trigger for for our emotions, and if we’re listening to the right type of music that is actually relaxing, maybe there’s not too many vocals; it’s not too distracting. Then, what it can do is it can actually slow heart rate to a rate where it’s a little calmer than listening to top 40 music.”
Try and be intentional about all the elements that impact your WFH space and you will hopefully find that not only are you physically more comfortable, but your headspace around work may also improve somewhat, too.