4 tips for reducing stress when working from home

With everyone working from home, there’s been a lot of talk about whether it’s the way of the corporate future. While many love the flexibility, others are missing the company of their colleagues. But there’s a bigger issue at play – productivity is dropping while stress and mental health problems are soaring.

Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom has predicted companies with staff working from home will be experiencing productivity drops of 5-10%. That’s kinda huge.

But what’s causing this productivity drop? No, it’s not children running around or the distractions of chores or Netflix being so readily available. It’s stress.

The office has become our living rooms, our spare rooms and even our bedrooms. We’re working in our downtime areas, and we’re taking time off in the office. And that lack of separation means it’s harder to “turn off” work. You can’t leave work at work when work is at home. Add in the other stressors of Covid-19, and we’ve got more than 40% of US adults experiencing depression and anxiety right now.

With no end in sight for the majority of people forced to work from home, we need ways to separate work from life when both are occurring at home. It must be a priority for both our health and our productivity. But how do we achieve it?

1. Create boundaries on your time

If you’re anything like me, it can be incredibly difficult to stop working when 5pm rolls around. I’m often in the middle of a task and don’t notice the time. After all, it’s not like I’m going anywhere or need to rush to catch the train home.

But creating boundaries on your time is important to ensure you’re taking care of yourself. You might want to try setting an alarm for 5pm. Or if you’re a smart home fan, schedule your office lights to turn red to grab your attention and pull you away from the screen.

2. Have a dedicated workspace

And no, that’s not your couch. Or your bed.

Set up an ergonomic (or as ergonomic as you can manage within your space and budget) workstation in an area of your home as far from your fun and relaxing spaces as possible. If you don’t have the space for an office, set up a corner of your living room (or your bedroom if you have to) and stay out of that area when you knock off for the day.

Take five minutes at the end of your workday to tidy up your space and make sure you don’t have papers creeping into your leisure spaces. Turn your laptop off and leave it there. Turn the monitor off so the standby light doesn’t blink at you. And disconnect your work email, Slack and other work tools from your phone.

3. Touch base with your people

If you’re feeling a bit disconnected, find a tribe of people you can check in with each day. Schedule a daily 20-minute call with your favourite colleagues, not to talk about work or projects, but just to catch up. You’d usually spend that time catching up if you were in the office, anyway, just not necessarily all at once.

Set up a Slack, WhatsApp or other messaging chat with one or two of your favourite colleagues (or friends) so you can check in and chat at random throughout the day. Make sure you turn notifications off so you’re not interrupted when you’re focused or during meetings.

You can also join a Facebook group or two to connect with others in the same situation. You could find groups for people in your professional field or just ones dedicated to connecting people working from home.

4. Take lots of breaks

Stay hydrated and take breaks throughout your day, just like you would if you were in the office.

To optimise your productivity, take a 17-minute break every 52 minutes. That’s oddly specific, isn’t it? Take those breaks to grab a snack or go for a short walk around the block. Your breaks aren’t time to catch up on your emails, check your to-do list or continue reading a work-related book or blog. They’re time away from work and everything associated with it.