Why having a routine while WFH is so important

We knew it was coming. As soon as the omicron cases started to grow, whispers of working from home began to spread. Now, these rumours have been confirmed with the government recommending that everyone who can should work from home again starting Monday 13 December.

It feels like whiplash, for sure. Just as soon as we’d settled into our new hybrid way of working, which allowed a healthy balance of socialising with colleagues and non-commuting days, we’re back to square one it feels.

While we’re not sure how long this new WFH mandate will last, now that we’ve had a few test runs of the whole home working scenario we should be experts at it, right?

Working from home felt so shiny and new when we were first ordered to do so in the lockdown beginning in March 2020. We bought and assembled our desks and office chairs, curated our backgrounds, and even invested in ring lights for our endless Zoom meetings.

But this time around, there’s a different vibe. We’re exhausted from being told what we can and can’t do. The various storms battering the UK make a lunchtime walk incredibly unappealing and we’re mourning the usual in-office excitement in the build-up to Christmas.

“A lot of people are feeling unsettled about the changes in their work environment, especially as they can be unpredictable,” career coach and consultant, Hannah Salton tells The Independent.

“Humans like routine and predictability, so it’s natural if you’re feeling a little thrown by any changes, especially if you’re also concerned about covid. Try and focus on creating a good routine that works for you. If you miss social contact from the office, suggest a social Zoom lunch with a colleague, or even a virtual glass of wine when you clock off.”

If you’re feeling a bit weary at the thought of working from home full-time again, setting yourself a routine could be a good solution to your woes. Psychologist and Counselling Directory member, Sana Kamran, says a good, consistent routine is “important” for our wellbeing and the only way to achieve this is to take regular breaks between work – so listen to your Fitbit the next time it tells you to get up and have a walk around.

Setting a healthy WFH routine means having a regular bedtime, consistent working hours, and assigning a specific space in the house to work from, which you can keep separate from the living space you relax in.

“Decide what kind of routine you want and write it down,” Salton adds. “It doesn’t need to be strict or complicated – you might want to build in time for a walk or to watch a Christmas film over lunch. Looking after your wellbeing is really important, especially if you don’t enjoy working from home that much.”

The changing directives on whether or not to work from home is affecting our mental health, too. A study released in October from LifeWorks found that 35 per cent of Britons under 40 were experiencing concerns around their mental health in regards to work and 10 per cent say experiences with their colleagues have “not been positive” since the pandemic began.

Paula Allen, global leader and senior vice-president of research and total wellbeing at LifeWorks says younger workers “need more support than can often be provided at home” to do their work. She adds: “Many more are reporting deteriorating workplace relationships which can impact mental health, feelings of isolation and productivity.”

There really is something about the structure of going into the office that can do wonders for our mental health. The simple act of getting dressed for the day, interacting with colleagues and having that stark split between work and home can help us to find balance. Yet, when you’re working from home, Allen says it’s even more important to try and feel as though we have a “healthy balance between those two spheres”.

If you are worried about your mental health now that we’ve been given an indefinite order to work from home again, Kamran suggests leaning into self-care and doing “something nice” for yourself every day.

“Even if it is something small it can still help you stay positive and calm. If things get overwhelming or stressful, communicate them to your employer,” she adds. “An open and honest conversation is important. Employers need to be empathic and understanding during these tough times. Having regular meetings to check in on their staff and their mental health is important because we don’t have that face-to-face interaction anymore, so being explicit about asking or offering support is the way forward.”

Want to read more tips and methods to use while WFH? We’ve detailed them here.

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