Making your own hours, wearing what you like and escaping a dreary commute are often the dream. Yet according to experts, working from home – even when it isn’t sprung upon you by circumstances out of your control – comes with a host of problems for focus, productivity and health. So, how can we make working from home easier on our minds and bodies?
Feeling isolated? Tech helps
Dr David Cook, an anthropologist at University College London (UCL), has been researching the same group of remote workers for the past five years. “They all start the same way, with the excitement of the utopian dream. But often after only a couple of weeks that turns into boredom and isolation and they find themselves going into co-working spaces such as cafes.” Home-working can become quite a burden quite quickly for most people – which is why we have offices in the first place, he says.
A psychological concept called ‘co-presence’ explains a human need to simply be with others in a workspace. “Co-working spaces are often not so much about being social than about being somewhere you know other people are working.”
While self-isolation makes co-working impossible, technology can help, says Anna Cox, a professor in human computer interaction at UCL.
“I have been working from home with a remote team for five years and we connect by having a daily stand-up meeting remotely across Slack [team messaging software],” she says.
“Everyone then knows what everyone else is doing and gets to see and hear each other.” In fact, speaking to people where you can – instead of relying on email – is a key way to break the sense of existing in a parallel universe at home. “This tech can also prompt staff to congregate in the same way they would around a boiling kettle in the office. For example, by setting up a new Slack channel and calling it Coffee Time and agreeing with a few colleagues to join it at 10.30 every morning.”
Cross the boundary into work – same time every day
You’ve probably heard it a million times by now that keeping the same work routine will keep you well. But this isn’t entirely right. While the best remote workers indeed have a routine, according to Dr Cook, they change theirs to suit their new circumstances.
One of the key parts of that is crossing the boundary into work every morning. You’re not commuting but you can’t just roll out of bed to your laptop (and if you’re working in bed, forget it). “People often say that if they don’t get outside in the morning – even if it’s only a 15-minute walk – they lose sight of where work starts and their home life stops.
“They might end up working all hours in their pyjamas and once your manager/team knows you’re available 24/7, it’s impossible to wrestle back your own time. Get up, create a new morning routine, meditation, listening to a podcast, a walk outside, then have a shower and get dressed.”
The Daily Telegraph