Working from Home: Tips for Productivity, Mental Health and Staying Healthy
While not all Americans are able or fortunate enough to work from home, many have transitioned to telecommuting and virtual work over the last week or two. Here are some ways you can get your work done and stay healthy while working from home.
Individuals work from home for a number of reasons. Maybe you’re a stay at home parent, or maybe your office space is under renovation. Maybe you are sick with the flu or, as it pertains to recent headlines, trying to self-isolate as coronavirus cases pop up around the country. Whatever the reason for “telecommuting,” there are ways you can ensure you are being productive, healthy and happy while working from home.
Working from home sounds like a luxury, but it comes with a number of challenges. What if you have connectivity issues with coworkers? What if you need something from your office that you don’t have access to? What if you are bombarded with other in-home distractions like pets, family members and electronics?
Getting your work done is important for businesses, but staying healthy (mentally and physically) is just as crucial for at-home workers. It’s all about creating boundaries between work and personal life, and that can be a difficult adjustment. Here are some tips for telecommuting, working from home, self-isolating or even self-quarantining—no matter your reasoning.
Some of PCMag’s working-from-home-recommendations include:
1. Maintain Regular Hours
Set a schedule and stick to it. Working designated hours, and then stopping when those hours are up, will give your brain time to work and time to rest. While working remotely does mean that there is added flexibility with your personal life schedule, it’s best to stick to a schedule where you can be productive, get your work done and call it a day when work hours are up.
2. Create a Morning Routine
Humans are creatures of habit—and that’s partly because routine helps us mentally and physically prepare for things. Whether it’s having a cup of coffee every morning, doing some morning stretches or taking your dog on a walk, creating a morning routine can greatly help you get ready for the work-day at home.
It’s also important to think about other controls, too. Working in your pajamas might work for some, but it might not be productive for others. Do you feel refreshed working out in the morning or the evening?
3. Schedule Breaks
Just like any working environment, giving yourself breaks is incredibly important to let your brain and body relax. Take a 15-minute walk, go make some lunch or catch up with a loved one on the phone—whatever you do, though, do not work yourself to the bone without letting yourself take a break away from screens, meetings and work. Studies have shown that breaks can actually significantly improve productivity levels and a person’s ability to focus.
4. Leave Home
You don’t have to eat out every day, but it is important to leave your home and give yourself a new space to breathe, work or exercise. This is true for in-office workers too: leave the building at least once a day. Your body needs to move, and fresh air and new scenery do your mind a lot of good.
In the event of sickness or COVID-19, it is still important your get out and take a break from your routine workspace. Yes: isolation, quarantine, and social distancing are all different things. However, you can often control your environment to keep your body and brain health—especially if you are self-quarantining and social distancing.
Isolation is definitely an extreme measure taken for a person who is infected with a disease. A diagnosis of COVID-19 triggers isolation.
“Isolation is when you are sick, either at home or in the hospital,” says Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association. “Infectious disease precautions are then much more rigid than in self-quarantine.”
Quarantine is when, under state or federal law, individuals or groups are essentially on lockdown and unable to leave until it has been confirmed that they are not infected with a virus or disease. Recent examples include passengers from cruise ships where passengers fell ill with COVID-19 and were then required to stay at military bases for 14 days to see if they developed the disease.
Social distancing is a lot more controlled and up to individual discretion. It basically means not shaking hands, staying several feet from other people and avoiding crowds. Most importantly, this means staying home if you’re feeling sick.
In the wake of COVID-19, this has been the biggest reasoning for companies asking employees to work from home, for governments closing schools and for sports programs being cancelled.
“It's about taking stock, how closely you interact with people in day-to-day life,” says Christopher Mores, a professor in the department of global health at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University. “Increase distances. Cut out handshakes. The idea is to try to empower people to break the lines of transmission.”
5. Socialize with Colleagues
Of course, if you are sick or trying to stay healthy in the wake of something like the coronavirus, socializing in-person with others might night be best idea. But in general, if you are working from home, socializing is important.
Loneliness, disconnection and isolation are common problems in remote work life. Take advantage of opportunities to meet people, talk about common interests and have in-person retreats. Making sure you nurture relationships is crucial to mental health—especially when working remotely.
OSHA and Working from Home
Keep these five tips in mind for working from home, and remember that mental and physical health are just as important for remote workers as they are for in-office or on-site workers. However, employers do have legal responsibilities for the safety of an employee’s home workplace, too. The National Law Review lays out the most important, legal takeaways from OSHA.
While employers’ responsibilities for the safety and health of their at-home workers is less than those in the office or onsite, some do still exist. OSHA distinguishes between home offices and other home workplaces.
OSHA’s compliance directive on home offices is pretty clear:
- “OSHA will not conduct inspections of employees’ home offices.
- “OSHA will not hold employers liable for employees’ home offices, and does not expect employers to inspect the home offices of their employees.
- “If OSHA receives a complaint about a home office, the complainant will be advised of OSHA’s policy. If an employee makes a specific request, OSHA may informally let employers know of complaints about home office conditions, but will not follow-up with the employer or employee.”
What about recording injuries while working at home? If an employee is working at home, when could the injury be considered work-related? OSHA answers the question:
How do I decide if a case is work-related when the employee is working at home? Injuries and illnesses that occur while an employee is working at home, including work in a home office, will be considered work-related if the injury or illness occurs while the employee is performing work for pay or compensation in the home, and the injury or illness is directly related to the performance of work rather than to the general home environment or setting.
The regulation offers the following examples:
- “[I]f an employee drops a box of work documents and injures his or her foot, the case is considered work-related.”
- “If an employee’s fingernail is punctured by a needle from a sewing machine used to perform garment work at home, becomes infected and requires medical treatment, the injury is considered work-related.”
- “If an employee is injured because he or she trips on the family dog while rushing to answer a work phone call, the case is not considered work-related.”
- “If an employee working at home is electrocuted because of faulty home wiring, the injury is not considered work-related.”
OSHA 300 Log and COVID-19
In the case of the coronavirus, OSHA has a few guidelines in place for your reference. Employers must record cases of the coronavirus only if the employer believes that the employee was exposed at work, and the case is diagnosed by a laboratory test or healthcare provider as having been caused by the coronavirus, and the case is otherwise recordable.
There is no presumption that an employee who has come down with a case of coronavirus was infected at work. Instead, for the illness to be considered work-related, there must be evidence that it was contracted at work. If there is no such evidence, the case is not recordable.
Read OH&S’s article OSHA Releases Guidance on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19 for other information on how employers should be protecting their workers.
Working from home can be a blessing, but it can also come with challenges. While telecommuting requires some adjustments in habits and routines, it’s important that employees of all kinds work to understand how to life, and work, healthily—both from the office and from the home.