Contrary to some common conceptions about working from home, research suggests that working at home has the potential to increase productivity, reduce sick days, and improve employee satisfaction. (3) However, it’s also possible that without proper boundaries and self-care routines, remote work can have a negative impact on work productivity and health.
All individuals working at home can take certain measures to improve their physical and mental health. Continue reading to learn about the impacts of working at home, how to identify personal barriers to productivity and health, as well as our tips for the best ways to work from home.
How working at home impacts productivity and health
Work-life balance is defined as “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.” (22) The increased flexibility that technology provides may be associated with changes to work patterns, such as increased work hours or availability of employees, resulting in poor work-life balance. As a result, daily patterns of sleep, rest, and social interactions may be affected. (2) Further, research suggests that flexible work environments that allow for work at home may result in increased sedentary time (time spent sitting). (16)
Individuals may also experience social disadvantages when working remotely, such as reduced face-to-face interactions with others. (8) When compared to office workers, research has found that teleworkers experience greater negative emotions such as loneliness, guilt, and worry. (12) Social isolation and loneliness have been associated with adverse health outcomes, such as an increased risk of developing certain mental health issues and worsened physical health markers, including increased inflammation and blood pressure. (7)
An article published in the International Journal of Stress Management found that interfering home demands and work demands are associated with work burnout, (17) which may potentially be increased when these two domains overlap. The signs of burnout at work include exhaustion, a negative mindset, and reduced effectiveness. (23)
Identify personal health and productivity barriers
Individuals may experience various challenges or barriers when working from home, including:
- Increased presenteeism, which is the act of working when ill
- Increased stress for home workers who are caregivers
- Increased technological issues and reduced support
- Potentially reduced opportunities for career progression (e.g., reduced visibility) (12)
- Potentially reduced willingness to seek help (5)
- Reduced distinction between life and responsibilities at home versus at work (12)
Top 10 work from home productivity and health tips
Work from home may already offer certain opportunities, such as flexible scheduling and accommodations for individuals with disabilities. (11) There are also simple strategies that can be implemented to optimize the experience for all individuals. The following tips can be used to increase your productivity and improve health and well-being when working from home.
1. Optimize your office space
Poor ergonomic design of an office setup may result in issues including eyestrain and arm, back, leg, neck, and wrist pain. Additionally, noise from your surroundings may increase stress and disrupt concentration. (18)
- Researchers have offered several recommendations on improving your workstation ergonomics, including:
- Use a wrist pad for your keyboard and mouse
- Ensure you have adequate surface and space for moving your mouse (18)
- Use an ergonomic chair that provides lumbar support (21)
- Sit in your chair with a natural posture and your back supported (18)
- Ensure you have enough space below the desk to stretch your legs (21)
- Position your monitor at a viewing angle of about 15 to 30 degrees (just below your direct eyeline when looking straight ahead)
- Reduce glare on your screen by moving your screen or the light source, or using an anti-glare filter
- Take a 15-minute break after every two hours at the computer (18)
Consider using a sit-stand desk, which is an adjustable desk that allows you to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. There are also desk converters available that are cost-effective and achieve the same goal.
2. Stay connected and over-communicate
Working from home doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to lose touch with your coworkers and managers. Social support in the workplace, including peer mentoring and engaged, communicative leadership, can help reduce role stress and emotional exhaustion. (20) Keep your manager and/or team informed of what you are working on and of any obstacles you may be experiencing. Remember to reach out to your manager or human resources team when you need additional support.
3. Use communication tools
Tools that can be used to stay connected include workplace email, instant messengers, such as Slack and Microsoft Teams, and video conferencing applications, such as Google Hangouts and GoToMeeting. Research of teleworkers suggests that workplaces should strive to offer a suite of communication tools that allow employees to choose how to communicate within their organization, as individual preferences may vary. (19)
4. Maintain boundaries between work and home
The communication technologies that facilitate working from home can also contribute to interruptions during non-working hours, blurring the boundaries between your work life and home life. A phenomenon referred to as work-family conflict occurs when an individual’s work demands interfere with their family life. (1)
Setting and maintaining boundaries for yourself is important, and may include creating a physical office space designated to work, as well as keeping consistent working hours (e.g., 9 am to 5 pm). (1) You should discuss expectations for workload and availability with your manager or employer. Additionally, try to disconnect from work duties after hours by turning off your work devices and/or email notifications during non-working hours.
5. Make time for self-care
Remember to prioritize your well-being and the pillars of health, which include a healthy diet, physical activity, sleep, and stress management. You may find it helpful to use a wellness app for your smartphone or device.
6. Try a wearable device to decrease sedentary behavior
One study found that employees prefer certain interventions when it comes to targeting sedentary behavior, including approaches that are focused on prompts, self-regulation, and social connection. (16) Many wearable devices, such as fitness trackers like a FitBit and smartwatches like an Apple Watch, can be programmed to provide reminders to be active at regular intervals. Certain wearable fitness devices have features that allow you to share your performance with friends or complete activity challenges to help you stay accountable. As an alternative to these devices, you can choose to set recurring reminders on your smartphone to prompt movement throughout the workday.
7. Find ways to manage stress
Many stress management techniques can be used to address a stressful problem or incident, as well as the emotions resulting from stress. (10) Examples of stress-management techniques include:
- Emotion-based techniques (e.g., breathing techniques, relaxation, meditation)
- Gratification techniques (e.g., reading, listening to music, creative hobbies)
- Physical activity (e.g., walking, exercise videos)
- Problem solving (e.g., analyzing and planning measures, focusing on the problem)
- Space away from the issue (e.g., sleep, making light by joking about the problem)
- Support from others, including mental health resources (14)
8. Use positive self-talk
A randomized controlled trial in athletes found that using self-talk resulted in increased confidence and reduced anxiety in the self-talk group, compared to no changes in the control group. These results suggest that self-talk can be used as a strategy to improve performance, which is facilitated by the increase in confidence. (6) Positive self-talk may include statements such as “I’m appreciated for the work that I do” or “I’m going to be productive today”.
9. Use self-reflection to improve your mood
Research has shown that when employees reflect on the negative aspects of work, their well-being may be negatively affected. On the other hand, positive self-reflection about work may include thinking about events such as task accomplishment and supportive relationships with colleagues. The benefits of journaling or maintaining a diary of positive self-reflection include increased positive moods. (13)
10. Set SMART goals
SMART goals were originally developed to improve management objectives and goals in the workplace. This framework specifies that when setting goals, they should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-related. (4)(15)
Research conducted with students at the University of West Florida found that when the SMART framework was used for an assignment, students typically began the assignment earlier, updated goals as they progressed through the work, had fewer complaints about teammates in their peer evaluations, and produced a higher quality of work. (9) This framework can be applied to your goals at work or personal wellness goals.
The bottom line
Poor work-life balance can contribute to burnout and impaired health. (24) Work-life balance will vary for each individual and certain factors, such as working hours, may be beyond your control. Following the above tips can help you to increase work productivity and improve your well-being when working from home. When it comes to your physical or mental health, we always recommend working directly with your integrative healthcare practitioner.
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