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Working from home: how to make the best of self-isolation and social distancing


March 18, 2020

The UK Government’s announcement on Monday this week (16th March) – encouraging self-isolation and social distancing – means that many UK workers are joining those across Europe and the globe in working from home.

These are worrying times and many people will be wondering whether they can work effectively at home, while the isolation could adversely affect the mental health of many. Having worked remotely since founding Hoxby in 2015, I can understand people’s concerns, but can confidently say that there are also huge upsides to remote working.

We recently wrote about how having more autonomy over your work increases your productivity. In fact, working from home can actually increase productivity by 13%. This equates to nearly a whole hour’s worth of work per day if you’re doing a 37.5 hour week. And when you factor in the time saved from your commute (an average of one hour per day in the UK), you’ll find you have a lot more time on your hands while you’re working remotely to focus on your wellbeing.

Remote working: use your extra time wisely

It’s very easy to simply fill your extra time with more work. But this approach is likely to do more harm to your mental health than good to your career. It’s going to be tough enough as it is, so think of this as an opportunity to be kind to yourself.

Here are a few suggestions for how to fill your extra hour each day:

#1 Get fit (20 mins)

If there’s one good thing that should come from remote working, it’s having the time to be kinder to your body. Regular exercise is proven to improve your mental health, not to mention your physical health – and now’s a great opportunity to fit some into your daily routine. There are lots of recommendation lists around at the moment, like this one, showcasing online workouts that can get your heart rate up and your body moving from the comfort of your home. So there’s no excuse.

#2 Don’t set an alarm (0 mins)

If you don’t need to beat the commuter rush, you can afford to sleep longer. This will benefit your productivity, focus and wellbeing. There are few things that beat the feeling of waking up naturally (note that young children will make this an impossible dream).

#3 Start a conversation (6 mins)

Isolation can lead to loneliness, which is a great reason to start a conversation. But more companionship isn’t the only benefit. Messaging apps like Slack and Microsoft Teams enable you to have ongoing one-to-one conversations with lots of people – people you might not have had the occasion to chat with in a regular office setting. Get to know the people you work with better by setting aside six minutes each day for a chat – it’ll do wonders for your relationships and could even generate some exciting new ideas.

#4 Eat well (0 mins)

Breakfast on the go, eating lunch ‘al desko’, ordering in because you’re too tired in the evening. Sound familiar? All this rushing about doesn’t make for the best decisions over what to put in your body. Working remotely gives you the opportunity to think consciously about what you eat so you can be kinder to yourself. Enjoy a slower breakfast, make sure you take a proper lunch break – away from screens – and finish work on time, so you can have a leisurely dinner. All without feeling harassed.

#5 Improve your home (12 mins)

Been meaning to fix that shelf for a while? Or tidy up the garden? Self-isolation, so spending a lot of time at home, means staying in close proximity to all those jobs you never have time for. Breaking these tasks down and spending just 12 minutes a day on them will culminate in an hour a week of home improvements. It’s a great way to introduce a short movement break into your day, as well as providing a mental break if you’re trying to switch between projects or tasks.

#6 Work in your pyjamas (0 mins)

I know this is reinforcing a long-held stereotype, but I’m writing this blog in my pyjamas on a Sunday morning. And that’s because I have a window of time while my children are still asleep. If you want to work in your pyjamas for an hour because that’s when you happen to be inspired to work, then just go for it. What matters is your work, not what you’re wearing – give yourself a break and wear what makes you happy. Try to avoid judging the quality of this blog on the basis of knowing I was in my pyjamas – if I hadn’t told you, you’d never know.

#7 Have a tidy (12 mins)

If you’re anything like me, a tidy house means a tidy mind. Not only does clutter increase stress, cleaning actually benefits your mental health – so dig out your Marigolds for 12 minutes each morning and feel great about the rest of your day.

#8 Get a washload done (15 mins)

It’s a cliché, but working from home gives you a unique opportunity to get on top of the laundry basket. Schedule two breaks a day – five minutes for sorting and loading, and 10 minutes to unload and hang. And there you have it – one less thing to do in the evenings.

If you try all of this you’ll reach the end of one week up by: 100 minutes of exercise; a whole hour of cleaning; an hour of home improvements; 5 washloads; and a host of improved relationships. Of course, you could ignore all this and just take the hour to do something else that makes you feel happy. But whatever you do, don’t think about doing more work.

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