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Mental wellbeing: developing greater resilience when home working

Published 29th November 2017 by Investors in People
Home office working

Home working is on the rise, up 19% in the last decade, and there’s no sign that it’s slowing down, with technology opening up new ways for work to be done remotely.

For staff used to central workplaces, home working is a big transition, making it a key focus for organisations looking to drive both employee satisfaction and performance.

In this article, we look at five ways organisations can help employees develop greater resilience and better mental wellbeing when working from home.

Help staff understand the importance of rituals

When we go to work, we perform a series of rituals that helps us transition from our home life to our work life: we get up, we get ready, we get in the car, we arrive at work, we start work. A similar process happens when we come home from work.

But when we work from home, these rituals are absent, blurring the boundaries between work and home. It becomes harder to transition between the two: work eats up our evenings, for example, as we struggle to forget about the challenges of the day.

Organisations must help staff understand why rituals are so important to boundary-setting and give them tools and ideas to help them set their own when working from home.

Educate home workers on how to control technology

Technology is making it harder for staff to make the transition from work to home: for office-based employees, having work emails on their smartphones is one of the biggest issues.

Organisations must help staff understand why rituals are so important to boundary-setting and give them tools and ideas to help them set their own when working from home.

For home workers, the problem is compounded, because their technology is specifically set up to allow them to work easily and effectively at home. This is still the case outside work hours, making their personal resilience to technology crucial.

Organisations must focus on upskilling employees in e-resilience. For example, this could include switching off email ‘push’ notifications on phones and implementing physical boundaries, such as turning phones off and placing them out of easy reach.

Offer tools and techniques to encourage psychological discipline

Discipline is very important for getting things done and avoiding the brain getting frazzled through multitasking. At home we are solely responsible for our own discipline, whereas in the office our discipline is somewhat influenced by the actions and expectations of those around us.

Organisations should help home workers find tools and techniques that help them create working patterns that work for them. The Pomodoro technique, for example, helps workers stay focused by arranging their tasks into work ‘blocks’ each lasting 25 minutes, interspersed with regular breaks. This helps train the brain to be disciplined in terms of focus, effort and downtime.

Another technique is refreshing the physical environment: novelty helps stimulate cognition and re-focus the mind after a break or in response to fatigue. Home workers could, for example, work in a coffee shop in the afternoon after a morning spent at home.

Create healthy physical workspaces away from domestic life

Organisations are investing significant time and money into workplace design because of the link between physical environment and wellbeing, productivity and performance. We must remember that the environment home workers are in influences their psychological state in exactly the same way.

Physical workplaces at home should be situated as far as possible away from things the employee finds most distracting or associates most with domestic life.

While everyone’s house is different, organisations should help home workers design their workplace to encourage psychological wellbeing. This includes the basics, such as setting up computers to maintain physical health, but also things like the amount of natural light falling on desks and how much ambient noise there is.

Physical workplaces at home should also be situated as far as possible away from things the employee finds most distracting or associates most with domestic life. That’s why people set up home offices in garden rooms. Where a garden room or dedicated home office aren’t available, an under-used guest bedroom is a good option.

Implement active measures to avoid loneliness

It’s easy to forget the social benefits of daily interaction with co-workers. In a Financial Times article, one home worker says that “office banter is a social lubricant… it humanises people.”

Without daily social contact, home workers can experience isolation and feelings of loneliness. Developing new communities, such as in co-working spaces or with other freelancers in the local area, can help them meet their social needs.

Organisations can help by providing flexible working arrangements to accommodate social activities that may be incompatible with traditional 9-5 working patterns.

Where home workers are part of virtual teams, organisations should also commit to managing these well as these structures can help home workers maintain healthy and rewarding relationships with co-workers.